Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth

Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth

Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth

Mound Builders of Ancient America: The Archaeology of a Myth

Excerpt

The monuments of past civilizations lie scattered about the world in varying states of repair. Some are shattered by neglect; some are carefully tended, the object of pious cultural pilgrimages. Each land has its shrine of antiquity: Egypt her pyramids, England her Stonehenge, Greece her Acropolis. Out of the jungles of Cambodia rise the towers of Angkor. The isle of Crete offers the sprawling palace of Minoan Knossos. The stone cities of the Mayas adorn flat Yucatán.

In the continental United States the relics of the past are, for the time being, more meager. One day, hopefully not soon, tourists from other worlds will stare in wonder at the stump of the Empire State Building and the remains of Grand Coulee Dam; future archaeologists will plot our highways and will speculate on the possible ritual functions of the Pentagon. But in our own day we have little to show for our prehistory. In New Mexico and Arizona are the only ancient settlements of the American Indian that have survived: the cliff dwellings of Mesa Verde, the giant communal houses of Chaco Canyon, the many other village sites of the people we call the Pueblo Indians. Outside the Southwest, though, the architects of ancient America worked in wood and earth, and little of their work has endured. For signs of our past we must look, not to vast monuments of imperishable stone, but to subtler things: the arrowhead in the forest soil, the image carved on the face of a cliff, the potsherd and the bead.

When our forefathers came here in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this was a great source of regret to them. They lamented the lack of a usable past. Many of them were educated men, aware of the archaeological treasures of Europe and the Near East. They expected to find in this green New World those traces of awesome antiquity on which romantic myths could be founded; they did not like to feel that they were coming into an empty land peopled only by naked wandering savages. Even as they transplanted the tra-

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