Granville, as we have seen in the quotation from his voyage on page 177, speaks of finding pieces of silver amongst the Virginia Indians, "grossly beaten," and used for purposes of ornament. Having shown that the copper found amongst the Indian tribes of the north was probably obtained from the native deposits around Lake Superior, we have little difficulty in accounting for the presence among them of small quantities of silver, derived from the same locality, where it also exists in a native form. That the silver in use amongst the mound-builders was principally if not wholly obtained there, seems incontestible. In no instance does it appear to have been smelted.
A variety of silver ornaments were discovered some years ago in one of the mounds at Marietta, Ohio, under very singular circumstances, and in a remarkable connection. The circumstances have been detailed by the accurate pen of Dr. S. P. HILDRETH, in a communication to the President of the American Antiquarian Society, dated "Marietta, Nov. 3, 1819."
"In removing the earth composing an ancient mound in the streets of Marietta, on the margin of the plain, near the fortifications, several, curious articles were discovered. They appear to have been buried with the body of the person to whose memory the mound was erected.
"Lying immediately over, or on the forehead of the body, were found three large circular bosses, or ornaments for a sword-belt or a buckler: they are composed of copper overlaid with a thick plate of silver. The fronts are slightly convex, with a depression like a cup in the centre, and measure two inches and a quarter across the face of each. On the back side, opposite the depressed portion, is a copper rivet or nail, around which are two separate plates, by which they were fastened to the leather. Two small pieces of the leather were found lying between the plates of one of these bosses; they resemble the skin of a mummy, and seem to have been preserved by the salts of copper. The copper plates are nearly reduced to an oxyde, or rust. The silver looks quite black, but is not much corroded, and in rubbing is quite brilliant. Two of these are yet entire; the third one is so much wasted that it dropped in pieces in removing it from the earth. Around the rivets of one of them is a small quantity of flax or hemp, in a tolerable state of preservation. Near the side of the body was found a plate of silver, which appears to have been the upper part of a sword-scabbard; it is six inches in length and two inches in breadth, and weighs one ounce. It has no ornaments or figures, but has three longitudinal ridges, which probably corresponded with the edges or ridges of the sword; it seems to have been fastened to the scabbard by three or four rivets, the holes of which remain in the silver.
"Two or three broken pieces of a copper tube were also found, filled with iron rust. These pieces, from their appearance, composed the lower end of the scabbard, near the point of the sword. No signs of the sword itself were discovered, except the appearance of rust above mentioned. Near the feet was found a piece of copper weighing three ounces [now in the Museum of the Antiquarian Society of Worcester]. From its shape it appears to have been used as a plumb, or for an ornament, as near one of the ends is a circular crease or groove, for tying a thread: it is round, two inches and a half in length, one inch in diameter at the centre, and half an inch at each end. It is composed of small pieces of native copper pounded together; and in the cracks between the pieces are stuck several pieces of silver, one nearly the size of a half-dime. A piece of red ochre or paint, and a piece of iron ore [hematite] which had the appearance of having been partially vitrified [polished?], were also found.
"The body of the person here buried was laid upon the surface of the ground, with his face upwards, and his feet pointing to the southwest. From the appearance of sevcral pieces of charcoal and bits of partially burned fossil coal, and the black color of the earth, it would seem that the funeral obsequies had been celebrated by fire; and while the ashes were yet hot and smoking, a circle of these flat stones had been laid around and over the body. The circular covering was about eight feet in diameter; and the stones yet look black, as if stained by fire and smoke. This circle of stones seems to have been the nucleus over which the mound was formed, as immediately over them is heaped the common earth of the adjacent plain. At the time of opening it, the height was 6 feet, and diameter between 30 and 40. It has every appearance of being as old as any in the neighborhood, and was, at the first settlement of Marietta, covered with large trees. It seems to have been made for this single personage, as the remains of one skeleton only were discovered. The bones were much decayed, and many of them crumbled to dust on exposure to the air."
Engravings of the silver-plated discs and also of the embossed silver plate supposed by Dr. Hildreth to have been a sword ornament, are herewith presented. These articles have been critically examined, and it is beyond doubt that the copper "bosses" are absolutely plated, not simply overlaid, with silver. Between the copper and the silver exists a connection, such as, it seems to me, could only be produced by heat; and if it is admitted that these are genuine remains of the mound-builders, it must, at the same time, be admitted that they possessed the difficult art of plating one metal upon another. There is but one alternative, viz., that they had occasional or constant intercourse with a people advanced in the arts, from whom these articles were obtained. Again, if Dr. Hildreth is not mistaken, oxydized iron, or steel, was also discovered in connection with the above remains; from which also follows, as a necessity upon the previous assumption, the extraordinary conclusion that the mound-builders were acquainted with the use of iron,—the conclusion being, of course, subject to the improbable alternative already mentioned.
Leading, therefore, as they do, to such extraordinary conclusions, it is of the utmost importance that every fact and circumstance connected with these remains should be narrowly examined. If there is a reasonable way of accounting for their presence, under the circumstances above described, without involving us in these conclusions, unsustained as they are by collateral facts, we are justified upon every recognized rule of evidence in adopting it as the nearest approximation to the truth.
The existing tribes of Indians, it has been demonstrated, recently and remotely, often buried in the mounds, placing the arms and ornaments, in short, whatever was valued by the possessor while living, in the grave with him at his death, It has been shown that in some instances they opened the mounds to the depth of six or seven feet, and buried at or below their bases.—(Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, pp. 146, 147, 149.) It has been shown, also, that partial burial by fire was occasionally practised by them, or by races succeeding the builders of the mounds. That it was a common custom among the Indians to cover their dead with stones, is also well known. The occurence of these remains in the position above described, does not, therefore, necessarily establish that they belonged to the race of the mounds.