My first critical examinations of the ancient tumuli, forts, excavations, ditches, and lines of embankment that abound in Ohio, were made during the years 1837 and 1838, while engaged as a member of the Geological Survey of the State.
The first and second geological reports of the Corps show what progress had been made in the work of describing these venerable ruins, when the Survey was suspended for want of funds.
Long before that time plans and descriptions of many of them had been made, some of which are quite accurate; while others, particularly those described in the travels of Ashe, and the compilation of Priest, are often fictitious. The plan of the great work at Marietta, by the Rev. S. Harris, made in 1802; the Papers of the Ohio Company, edited and published by Dr. S. P. Hildreth; and the surveys of Dr. John Locke and Mr. James McBride, are worthy of reliance. The "Antiquities of Ohio," published in 1819 by Caleb Atwater, is by far the most complete of the early publications on this subject; and considering the new and inaccessible state of the country at that time, and the discouragements and difficulties of making detailed examinations, his plans are m general as correct as could be reasonably expected.
The course which I have pursued has been to visit in person all the known ruins, and if any one had previously examined and correctly described them, to give him credit for the plan, adding, if necessary, some written explanations. When the Geological Survey terminated, about one-third of the works had been examined, and Mr. Joseph Sullivant, of Columbus, Ohio, who took a deep interest in these mysterious remains, proposed that I should continue their survey with a view to a joint publication, he bearing the actual expenses. Under this arrangement, in 1839 and 1840, I made examinations of nearly all the remaining works then discovered, but nothing was effected towards their publication.
In 1845-6 Messrs. E. G. Squier and E. H. Davis, of Chillicothe, commenced a systematic exploration of the numerous earth-works in the rich valley of the Scioto, and finally extended their researches throughout the State of Ohio, and the West.
The results of their labors are extensively and creditably known as composing the first volume of the Smithsonian Contributions. At the request of these gentlemen, I furnished them with such memoranda and plans as they desired, which may be seen in their work, duly credited to me.
Such of my Surveys as were repeated and published by Messrs. Squier and Davis, were, of course, superseded, and became useless; for I find, on comparison, that their plans in general agree exactly with mine, and the exceptions are such as could scarcely be avoided where low walls, almost obliterated by time, or concealed by thickets and standing grain, are to be delineated.
There remained, however, several works not yet described, and it is to this class, with one exception, that the present communication relates.
This memoir may therefore be regarded as a supplement to the descriptive part of the first volume of the Smithsonian Contributions; and so far as Ohio is concerned, the two may be said to present the descriptive part of the whole subject of ancient mounds, forts, pyramids, and similar constructions.
Those who choose to speculate upon the objects for which these works were made, the character of the people who built them, and the relation the latter held to races at present known, may rest assured that they have reliable facts on which to proceed.
My object has been throughout merely to present additional facts for the use of the antiquarian, performing the part of a common laborer, who brings together materials wherewith some master workman may raise a perfect edifice. Though the ancient works of Ohio may not all be described, because they are probably not all discovered, yet it can scarcely be doubted that a type or sample of every variety must now be in the possession of the public.
A number of the works described in this paper are of a remarkable character. They consist of heavy excavations, ditches, and moats, without the usual exhibition of walls and embankments.
With regard to the geographical range of artificial mounds and other ancient structures to the northward, I have seen them as far as Point au Chêne, on the Mississippi, in Minnesota, about latitude 47° N. Those of Wisconsin are very numerous, but they are low and of small dimensions. They are about to be described by I. A. Lapham, Esq., of Milwaukie, and I think it will appear that they belong to a different race or a different era from those of Southern Ohio. In fact, those found near the south shore of Lake Erie differ from both, and are probably due to a different age or people.
I do not feel inclined to attribute the great works of Central and Southern Ohio to the progenitors of our Aborigines; but in regard to those of Wisconsin and Minnesota there is room for doubts and ample discussion on this point.
Cleveland, 0., April 3, 1850.