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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
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Chapter V. — Intrusive Elements of Art From Europe and Asia.

SCANDINAVIAN sagas and records 807 inform us that, in the year 1000, Biorn landed on the American shores of the north Atlantic, in a flat country, which he found to be covered with forests. The following year Leif, son of Eric the Red Head, followed in his track from Greenland. He first discovered a rocky and barren country which he called Helluland, now known as Newfoundland; and then, sailing in a southerly direction, arrived at some lowlands covered with evergreens and forest trees, which he named Markland, subsequently the Acadia of the French, or Nova Scotia. Continuing his voyage in the same direction during two more days, he again saw land, which presented the appearance of a finely wooded shore, with mountains in the distance. Sailing thence, he came to an island, and subsequently to a river, which he entered, and landed on its banks. This country received the name of Vinland.

It is conjectured that Vinland comprised the area at present occupied by the States of Maine and New Hampshire; and the island appears to have been that of
Monhagan, contiguous to the coast of Maine. An
ancient inscription, traced in letters resembling the pointed Runic characters, has been found on the face of a rock on that island, from a plaster cast of which, transmitted to me by Dr. A. C. Hamlin, of Bangor, the drawing on a
reduced scale, herewith submitted, has been made. This inscription has not been critically examined, but appears to belong to an early, and, perhaps, to the eccentric age of the art. Dr. Hamlin, in presenting the subject to the notice of the section on Ethnology, at the late scientific meeting held at Albany, expressed the opinion that the Vinland river, which the Scandinavians entered, was the Kennebec, the mouth of which is distant only about two leagues from the
island of Monhagan. In confirmation of this opinion he stated, that when the first settlements were made on the Kennebec, about the year 1657, the settlers, as they cut down and cleared off the trees, found the remains of chimneys and mouldered ruins, which had been overgrown by the forest. 808

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This new theory of the location of Vinland will not have to encounter the nautical and astronomical objections, which have been urged against the geographical position previously assigned to it in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, by the learned association of Copenhagen; a location which is farther, by several days' sail, towards the south and south-west, than the sagas indicate. It also avoids the mal-interpretation of the figures and devices on the Dighton Rock, which are not of Scandinavian origin, or of any alphabetical value whatever; but, as I have suggested in a paper read before the American Ethnological Society, in 1843, 809 and also in my Ethnological Researches, 810 are in the ordinary style of the Indian kekeewin, or mnemonic pictographs. This kekeewin is a rude ideographic mode of communicating thought, by which triumphs in war and hunting, deaths, and other subjects, are commemorated by the Indians. Chingwalk, an Algonquin, versed in this species of the peculiar knowledge of his people, pronounced it to be one of their ancient muzzinabiks, made when their internal wars were rife; and, taking figure by figure, readily explained it to be the record of a victory gained by the chief of the tribe (probably the ancestors of the Pokanokets), over their enemies. 811 A daguerreotype copy of the inscription is herewith submitted. 812

During the establishment of the settlements made in the Onondaga country, in western New York, subsequent to the close of the Revolutionary war in 1783, when settlers were enabled to enter that ancient part of the Iroquois dominions, numerous monumental traces of European occupation were discovered, which excited a local interest. Most of them, however, were found to be the result of the labors of the early French missionaries during the seventeenth century. None of these once enigmatical remains could, it is believed, date farther back than A. D. 1650. A single vestige of an earlier date was brought to light, as the agricultural laborers cut down the forest growth. This was a boulder, on which was inscribed the digits 1520, and Leo VI., which date is eight years subsequent to the discovery of Florida. This
archaeological relic, which appears to have been the head-stone of a grave, was noticed in a previous work in 1845, 813 and is herewith presented, as re-figured from the original preserved in the Albany Academy. 814

Mr. Jefferson gives a description of an ancient Indian mound, which was opened in eastern Virginia. 815 After the settlements were extended into western Virginia, antiquities of this kind, some of which were of larger dimensions, were frequently found in the forest. At the period referred to by Mr. Jefferson, they were regarded by the Indians as merely places of honorable interment for the remains of their great men; and he states that they were, even at that time, visited by parties of Indians,

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journeying through the country, for the purpose of spending a short time in pious reflection and communion with the dead, according to their beliefs. When the settlements reached the Ohio valley, where these rude mausolea of the Indians were very numerous, the changes of manners and customs brought about by the introduction of European society, had led the Indians to drop the practice. Indians of the modern generation were unacquainted with the purport of these mounds. Replies given by the older sagamores to queries propounded, were vague, and may be regarded as having been designed, in some measure, to repress that inquisitive spirit among the emigrants, which is known to be distasteful to the natives, and is calculated to arouse the suspicious character, and awaken the superstitions of the Indians.

During the process of opening the great
tumulus at Grave creek, in Western Virginia, in the year 1838, and the extension of a gallery to its centre, a small inscribed stone was discovered, in connection with the remains of a
human skeleton and its accompanying mementoes, which appears to possess an alphabetical value. This curious relic, a drawing of which is given, 816 appears to reveal, in the unknown past, evidences of European intrusion into the continent, of which no other vestiges have, thus far, been discovered. Copies of the inscription have been transmitted to London, Paris, Copenhagen, and Lisbon. Mr. Rafn, with considerable confidence, pronounces it to be Celiberic; but no interpretation has, however, been attempted.

During a visit which Mr. Thomas Ewbank made to Brazil and South America, he had his notice directed to some antique instruments made of bronze, belonging to the
ancient Peruvian epoch, of which he has furnished descriptions for pages of this work. 817 The introduction of this element appears conclusive.

We must regard the invention of the distaff as one of the oldest forms of human art. This ancient implement, as well as the blow-pipe, were certainly employed at the period of their highest development by the semi-civilized tribes of Mexico and Peru. Among the Aztecs, the mode of forming the spools of cotton thread from their peculiar distaff, or spindle, which revolved in a bowl, appears, from the picture writings, 818 to have been a laborious art, which it was necessary for the mistress of a homestead to teach to the children at an early age. The arts of
spinning and weaving, as now in use among the Navajo and Pueblo tribes of Mexico, have been illustrated in antecedent pages. 819

The Rev. George Howe, of Columbia, South Carolina, has described, in previous pages, 820 what appears to be an ancient Indian crucible for melting gold, which was found in one of the present gold diggings of North Carolina, nine feet below the solid surface.

Prior to the introduction of the steel and flint, the Indians produced fire by percussion. The method employed for this purpose was to cause an upright shaft, resting in

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an orifice, to revolve rapidly by means of a string and bow. Descriptions of this process have been furnished in preceding pages. 821

No trace has been discovered of that ancient and simple invention, the potter's wheel. All the pottery of America was made by hand, from the most elaborate vases of Peru and Mexico, to the rude akeeks used by the natives of the Mississippi valley, and by the hunter tribes of New England.

To this resumé of the traces of foreign art found in America, must be added the evidences regarding the mining for native copper in the basin of Lake Superior. This topic has been elaborately discussed by Charles Whittlesy, Esq., of Ohio, whose descriptions are given in prior pages. 822 The theory of foreign art is not, however, without objection. The process employed was rude, and does not appear to have been beyond the capacity of the ancestors of the present Indians, who, judging from a survey of our antiquities, possessed a higher state of art prior to the discovery of America by the Europeans. The excavations seem to have been made during short intervals in the summer, by parties who came thither for that purpose from more southerly positions, whence their food was necessarily procured. No degree of art in metallurgy was developed equalling, certainly none surpassing, that known to be possessed by the Toltecs and Aztecs. It is therefore a more rational inference to refer the mining art of the northern tribes to that source, than to indulge in speculations which would assign to it a foreign origin. 823

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document:
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