The Wild Side of North American Prehistory Essay Example
The Wild Side of North American Prehistory Essay Example

The Wild Side of North American Prehistory Essay Example

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  • Pages: 8 (1990 words)
  • Published: November 29, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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During the early 1800s, the American public had a strong fascination with the mysterious and extraordinary wonders hidden in North America. Many individuals eagerly catered to the public's appetite for adventure and enigma that lay within their nearby mountains. People were enthralled by the incredible and these were the times of traveling exhibitions showcasing oddities and fraudulent peddlers selling miracle cures. This nationwide ambiance made it easy for people to believe in any supposed archaeological finding, regardless of its implausibility.

The American public and some members of the archaeological field eagerly embrace the incredible discoveries as truth, often disregarding clear debunking evidence. These findings, which offer glimpses into the history of the nation, held significant fascination during the Pre-Civil War era.

P.T. Barnum, known for his art of "Humbuggery," was a prominent hoaxer who captiva


ted public attention through deceptive displays. His various exploits showcased his supposed "discoveries" and took him on a nationwide tour. One of Barnum's notable sideshows featured Joice Heth, an elderly black woman who claimed to have served as George Washington's nurse and was believed to be over one hundred-sixty years old. However, it was later revealed that she was actually only seventy years old.

Although it was widely known that Barnum was deceiving the public, he still achieved success. In 1865, Barnum wrote a revealing book about his deceptive methods. A commentator mentioned that he never harmed the public with his deceit.

Due to the lack of professional archaeologists during that time, hoaxes were able to easily spread across the nation without facing significant challenges. Only a few notable professionals, namely Atwater, Squirer, and Davis, were pursuing true archaeology, all of whom were self-taught. Additionally

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there were a small number of geologists and linguists studying Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit. Anyone with enough desire could engage in archaeology during this period.

The public has been defrauded by hoaxes on several occasions. One notable example is the Grave Creek Stone. The incident takes place in the Ohio valley, where numerous mounds can be found. In 1775, Nicholas Creswell came across a mound that he claimed was over one hundred feet tall and had trenches surrounding its base. In 1805, Meriwether Lewis mentioned a tree atop the mound that was believed to be at least three hundred years old. By 1820, Atwater estimated the height of this significant mound to be merely ninety feet. However, in reality, it measures only seventy feet in height.

The Tomlinson family were the owners of this important mound which, in 1819, underwent a quick examination revealing "this elevated and honorable burial mound ... housing numerous human skeletons." Joseph Tomlinson received accolades for his efforts in maintaining this historic landscape feature.

Later, Abelard Tomlinson decided that the immense mound required further excavation for public viewing. They excavated a central shaft and a ground-level drift, but did not come across the expected abundance of skeletal remains. However, they did stumble upon a vault lined with timbers and covered with rocks. Inside this vault, they found two skeletons, shell beads, and a bone ornament. Another vault was located thirty-four feet above the lower one, which contained a single skeleton adorned with over two thousand shell beads, copper bracelets, and more than two hundred pieces of Mica. Upon expanding the tunnel entrance, they discovered a mass burial of ten skeletons.

The main point of interest

was not the burial itself. Henry Rowe Schoolcraft visited the site more than five years after the initial excavation and claimed to have found a "curious relic" among broken stone implements, pieces of ancient pottery, and similar objects in the building that housed the collected artifacts. This artifact, known as the Grave Creek Stone, is approximately one and three-quarters inches long and has three lines of inscription. It is said to have been taken out of the mound, but it is not known with which vault it was associated. It was likely unearthed along with a load of dirt in a wheelbarrow, and there is no accompanying contextual data for the Stone. Additionally, there are conflicting accounts regarding its discovery.

In 1845, Schoolcraft published his conclusion stating that the Stone contained twenty-five alphabetic characters from various languages of the Old World. He referred to the Stone as "Intrusive Antiquity," suggesting that it did not originate from Indian heritage.

There were numerous endeavors to decode the inscription on the Stone. Here are a few of the published interpretations of the stone. "The Chief of Emigration who reached these places has fixed these statues forever." "The grave of one who was assassinated here. May God avenge him by striking his murderer, cutting off his existence." A French interpretation suggests, "You impose what you say, shining in your impulsive clan and rapid chamois." Certain investigations determined the inscription to be Lybian or Numidian. Individuals attempted to establish a link between the Moundbuilders and a written language. They aimed to use the Grave Creek Stone as substantiating evidence.

Several experts of the era offered their views on the Grave Creek Stone. In

1856, Sam Haven commented that if the stone was authentic, it was singular and lacked any similar or comparable artifact. E.G. Squrier twice expressed his skepticism, stating that there was no sound justification for believing that the Moundbuilders possessed a writing system.

They reached these conclusions through various tests. In 1877, geologist Matthew Canfield Read from Ohio made an effort to approach the matter objectively and impartially. He posed four questions about the Grave Creek Stone: 1) Is it written in alphabetic characters? 2) If it is alphabetic, does it correspond to a known language? 3) Is it a genuine artifact? 4) If it is both alphabetic and authentic, what does it signify? Read had to gather this information nearly forty years after the stone was discovered. He contacted the main individuals involved to obtain their recollections of the events pertaining to the Stone's finding.

Aged about seventy, Alberlard Tomlinson, the mound's owner, wrote Colonel Wharton, a witness to the discovery, and C.B. Catlett, who claimed to have found the Stone. Tomlinson denied Wharton and Catlett's involvement. Moreover, Tomlinson's description of the shaft and drift did not match the records. Hence, Read concluded that Wharton and Catlett's accounts were the most accurate. Catlett, who had been dumped from a wheelbarrow, described finding the Stone in a pile of dirt outside the mound. The exact origin of the Stone remains unknown.

The inscription had several problems. To determine if it was alphabetical, Read conducted a test. He instructed a teacher, a school girl, a druggist, and a professor to write down twenty-five random symbols using only straight lines that did not resemble any characters they knew. The results were

astonishing. "In every case, an inscription was created with as many indications of being alphabetical as the one being discussed [Grave Creek]." All four tests yielded characters that could be pronounced Cyprotic, Pheonician, Pelasgian, Coptic, Gothic, or Runic. Some characters were even recognizable in English.

In his conclusions, Read stated that the characters on the Stone do not indicate their age, whether they are alphabetical, or if they are derived from a known alphabet. The inscription is similar to what one would expect from a regular attempt to create an inscription. Any of the labors could have produced this type of inscription.

Despite these findings, the debate surrounding The Grave Creek Stone should have been settled. The eager amateur frequently disregarded attempts to debunk it. However, in 1974, the issue resurfaced when Barry Fell presented a fourth translation. He identified the language as Phoenician and interpreted the inscription as, "The mound raised-on-high for Tasach / this tile / (His) queen caused-to-be-made." It is worth noting that Fell's translation refers to the Stone as a "tile" and its length is only one and three quarters.

In 1930, Andrew Price, the president of the West Virginia Historical Society, inadvertently unraveled the mystery of a particular inscription. Upon a casual glance at the inscription, part of it appeared to create the figure "1838." Utilizing his understanding of printers' skills, he deciphered the inscription to read "Bill Stump's Stone, Oct 14 1838." It seemed as though someone had crafted this inscription as a form of personal entertainment.

Price's previous research on this topic exhibited numerous unmistakable indications of a parody. His discoveries are regarded as unverified. Therefore, there is no definite interpretation of

the Stone, if one even exists. Many reputable experts during the time of its discovery and currently have confirmed that this Stone is indeed a fraud. Despite the substantial evidence opposing the credibility of the Stone, there appears to persist a certain inclination to exhume this obsolete matter and provide it with a translation.

Other archaeological discoveries have caused similar levels of excitement. Take, for example, the Cardiff Giant, which was unearthed by well diggers in central New York in 1869. After four doctors declared that the Giant was a fossilized human, the community was in an uproar. Taking advantage of the growing crowds that the Giant attracted, its owner William Newell and his relative George Hull capitalized on the opportunity by selling admission, food, drinks, pamphlets, and more. Eventually, Newell sold the Giant to local citizens for $37,000 with the intention of displaying it on a larger scale. However, it was later proven to be nothing more than a fraudulent scheme. O.C. Marsh even stated that it neither represented a fossil nor a well-crafted piece of art.

Hull ultimately admitted to fabricating the Giant. He bought a piece of gypsum in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and had it crafted in Chicago, treated, and aged. It was then shipped to New York and carted by heavy wagons to the Newell farm, where it was buried a year before being discovered. Hull's expenses amounted to about $2,200. His motive was to prove an evangelist wrong about the existence of Giants mentioned in the Bible. After three months, Hull confessed that the Giants tour lasted almost a year. The Cardiff Giant, now seen as a piece of nineteenth-century folk art,

had a successful stage career showcasing American gullibility.

Around the same time (1877) in Davenport, Iowa, Reverend Jacob Gass stumbled upon unique tablets. These included three inscribed slate tablets, with one called the Calendar Stone. Additionally, two stone pipe effigies of elephants were revealed. It was later discovered that Gass had been involved in trading counterfeit pipes. The Calendar Stone slate clearly showed compass markings and had nail holes from a nearby building's roof slate. The childlike drawings on the tablets were proven to be fraudulent. It is difficult to believe that these stones could have been dug up without any dirt adhered to them. There is no contextual evidence supporting the existence of these tablets or pipes. The Davenport Conspiracy is even less credible than the Grave Creek Stone.

Finally, we examine the Michigan Relics, which consisted of over seventy-five unbaked clay figures. The majority of these figures were small tablets engraved with bogus hieroglyphics. Due to their composition, the clay images easily dissolved in water, making it implausible for them to have remained underground for an extended period. Among the relics was a small vault/box with a lid resembling a winged lion, reminiscent of the Arc of the Covenant. Interestingly, the lid was dried on a machine-sawed board. Despite the publication of these fraudulent findings, the Michigan Relics embarked on a traveling exhibition entitled "Deposits of Three Thousand Years Ago."

This episode reveals that people at that time were more inclined to believe what they wished rather than the truth. A divide existed between genuine professionals pursuing knowledge and amateurs driven by the desire to entertain and profit. Archaeologists faced significant challenges during this era as

they dedicated themselves to debunking these increasingly abundant frauds. Even when objects were proven to be hoaxes or inauthentic, there were still attempts to pass them off as genuine antiquities. Our American history is rife with individuals willing to undermine the esteemed profession of archaeology for financial gain.

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