THE structure not less than the form and position of a large number of the Earthworks of the West, and especially of the Scioto valley, render it clear that they were erected for other than defensive purposes. The small dimensions of most of the circles, the occurrence of the ditch interior to the embankments, and the fact that many of them are completely commanded by adjacent heights, are some of the circumstances which may be mentioned as sustaining this conclusion.37 We must seek, therefore, in the connection in which these works are found, and in the character of the mounds, if such there be within their walls, for the secret of their origin. And it may be observed, that it is here we discover evidences still more satisfactory and conclusive than are furnished by their small dimensions and the other circumstances above mentioned, that they were not intended for defence. Thus, when we find an enclosure containing a number of mounds, all of which it is capable of demonstration were religious in their purposes, or in some way connected with the superstitious of the people who built them, the conclusion is irresistible, that the enclosure itself was also deemed sacred, and thus set apart as "tabooed" or consecrated ground,—especially where it is obvious, at the first glance, that it possesses none of the requisites of a military work. But it is not to be concluded that those enclosures alone, which contain mounds of the description here named, were designed for sacred purposes. We have reason to believe that the religious system of the mound-builders, like that of the Aztecs, exercised among them a great, if not a controlling influence. Their government may have been, for aught we know, a government of the priesthood; one in which the priestly and civil functions were jointly exercised, and one sufficiently powerful to have secured in the Mississippi valley, as it did in Mexico, the erection of many of those vast monuments, which for ages will continue to challenge the wonder of men. There may have been certain superstitious ceremonies, having no connection with the purposes of the mounds, carried on in enclosures specially dedicated to them. The purposes of the minor enclosures within and connected with the great defensive work already described on the banks of the North fork of Paint creek, (Plate X,) would scarcely admit of a doubt, even though the sacred mounds which they embrace were wanting. It is a conclusion which every day's investigation and observation has tended to confirm, that most, perhaps all, of the earthworks not manifestly defensive in their character, were in some way connected with the superstitious rites of the builders,—though in what precise manner, it is, and perhaps ever will be, impossible satisfactorily to determine.
The general character of these works has already been briefly indicated. They are mostly regular in their structure, and occupy the broad and level river bottoms, seldom occurring upon the table lands or where the surface of the ground is undulating or broken. They are usually square or circular in form; sometimes they are slightly elliptical. Occasionally we find them isolated, but more frequently in groups. The greater number of the circles are of small size, with a nearly uniform diameter of two hundred and fifty or three hundred feet, and invariably have the ditch interior to the wall. These have always a single gateway, opening oftenest to the east, though by no means observing a fixed rule in that respect. It frequently happens that they have one or more small mounds, of the class denominated sacrificial, within the walls. These small circles occasionally occur within larger works of a different character. Apart from these, numerous little circles, from thirty to fifty feet in diameter, are observed in the vicinity of large works. They consist of very slight embankments of earth, and have no entrances or passage ways. It has been suggested that these are the remains of ancient lodges or buildings. The accounts which we have of the traces left of the huts of the Mandans and other Indians, at their deserted villages, render this supposition not improbable. It sometimes happens that we find small circles embracing large mounds: these can hardly be regarded as of the same character with that numerous class already noticed.
The larger circles are oftenest found in combination with rectangular works, connected with them directly, or by avenues. Some of these circles are of great extent, embracing fifty or more acres. They seldom have a ditch; but whenever it occurs, it is interior to the wall. As in the case of the square or rectangular works to which they are attached, (and which, it is believed, never have ditches, exterior or interior,) the walls are usually composed of earth taken up evenly from the surface, or from large pits in the neighborhood. Evident care appears in all cases to have been exercised, in procuring the material, to preserve the surface of the adjacent plain smooth, and as far as possible unbroken. This fact is in itself almost conclusive against the supposition of a defensive design, especially as we have abundant evidence that the mound-builders understood perfectly the value of the external fosse in their works of defence. The walls of these works are, for the most part, comparatively slight, varying from three to seven feet in height. Sometimes they are quite imposing; as in the case of the great circle at Newark, Licking county, Ohio; where, at the entrance, the wall from the bottom of the ditch has a vertical height of not far from thirty feet. The square or rectangular works, attending these large circles, are of various dimensions. It has been observed, however, that certain groups are marked by a great uniformity of size. Five or six of these are noticed in the succeeding pages; they are exact squares, each measuring one thousand and eighty feet side,—a coincidence which could not possibly be accidental, and which must possess some significance. It certainly establishes the existence of some standard of measurement among the ancient people, if not the possession of some means of determining angles. The rectangular works have almost invariably gateways at the angles and midway on each side, all of which are covered by small interior mounds or elevations. In some of the larger structures the openings are more numerous. A few of this description of remains have been discovered which are octagonal. One of these of large size, in the vicinity of Chillicothe, has its alternate angles coincident with each other, and its sides equal.
Another class of works, probably akin to those here noticed, are the parallels, consisting of slight embankments seven or eight hundred feet in length and sixty or eighty feet apart. Indeed, so various are these works, and so numerous their combinations, that it is impossible, through the medium of description alone, to convey an adequate conception of their character. If we are right in the assumption that they are of sacred origin, and were the temples and consecrated grounds of the ancient people, we can, from their number and extent, form some estimate of the devotional fervor or superstitious zeal which induced their erection, and the predominance of the religious sentiment among their builders.
Their magnitude is, perhaps, the strongest objection that can be urged against the purpose here assigned them. It is difficult to comprehend the existence of religious works, extending, with their attendant avenues, like those near Newark, over an area of little less than four square miles! We can find their parallels only in the great temples of Abury and Stonehenge in England, and Carnac in Brittany, and must associate them with sun worship and its kindred superstitious.
It was originally proposed to include within another division those structures which were regarded as anomalous, or to which it was impossible to assign a definite purpose. Reflection, however, has tended to strengthen the opinion, that those works not manifestly defensive were connected with the superstitious of the builders, and that all the enclosures of the West (except perhaps some of the petty circles to which allusion has been made) were either military or religious in their origin. Those only which are obviously defensive have been classed under the head of Defences, and all others have been thrown together into this chapter. It is not impossible, therefore, that some which follow should be included in the former division; nor is it improbable that a few were designed to answer a double purpose.
37. "I have reason to agree with Stukely, that the circumstance of the ditch being within the vallum is a distinguishing mark between religious and military works.—Sir R. C. Hoare on the Monuments of England.