SQUIER AND DAVIS: FORGOTTEN PATRONS OF AMERICAN ARCHAEOLOGY
While conducting on-going research for the fifth novel in The People of the Stone saga, THE CORN MAIDEN'S GIFT, it has been impossible to ignore the incredible contributions made to the great mound sites, particularly those of the Hopewell period with which the new novel deals, by two often neglected pioneers of scientific archeology. Ephram Squier and Edwin Davis, working as amateur surveyors at a time when little or nothing was known about the first native peoples, left an incredible and indespensible record of achievement for later archeologists and others to follow. This is certainly true in the mid Ohio, and especially the Scioto, valleys where those two men did the bulk of their work a century and a half ago. Their influence on the later work of Cyrus Thomas, Fredrick Putnam and others was instrumental in forming the first clear view of the Moundbuilders as both descendants of long-existing native peoples, as well as seeing these peoples as distinct cultures spread over a vast region of time and space in the eastern half of the U.S.
MOTIVATION OF SQUIER AND DAVIS
It can never be known for certain what would have motivated two men in the 1840's to spend their spare time (that alone was a somewhat alien concept then) in rowboats getting drenched and muddied along countless little streams, or hacking their way through snake-infested, brush-covered terrain to accurately survey and map everything from huge mound complexes to single structures, year after year. At a time when speculation about the many mounds that dotted the Ohio Valley, and elsewhere, generally ran to the more fantastic explanations, these two business men devoted much of their practical lives to compiling a record of threatened sites, applying both a vision and the skill to execute it that is without parallel in the annals of American archeology. Their 1847 publication of the results of years of surveying and mapping left a record without which little knowledge of the vast number of destroyed sites in the region would have been possible. Furthermore, it would have been virtually impossible for men like Thomas, Putnam, John Wesley Powell and others to even contemplate the research, and then draw the amazing conclusions that they did fifty years later, without the existence of this unique record. As someone who has literally stood on now lost sites with a copy of a map of Squier and Davis in my hand as a guide to what was once there--but is now lost--one is almost in awe of both their achievement and the sheer quality of the work they managed to complete under circumstances most of us would avoid, even if we were being well paid for it. For those who have not had the privilege of looking at their excellent maps, there are many Google sources for these two names that would give any reader of this blog a better idea of what these two remarkable men did.
INFLUENCE OF SQUIER AND DAVIS
The contribution of Cyrus Thomas to satisfactorily settling "the moundbuilder question" with the publication of the Bureau of American Ethnology's classic report of 1894 is frequently sited as the key factor in the way subsequent scholars, collectors of all types, archeologists, etc. came to view the various moundbuilding cultures that once covered nearly half of the U.S. for a period of nearly three thousand years. By his own account Thomas investigated around two thousand individual mound sites, causing his various teams of assistants to excavate and report on many of these. His breakdown of the time periods and different culture areas that fall within the greater Moundbuilder Periods remains the staple way of viewing these peoples today. The incredible work of Squier and Davis, if nothing else, allowed Thomas to concentrate much of his own research in the greater Mississippi and Tennessee valleys, since those two pioneers had, he believed, done such a thorough job in recording the important sites of the critical mid Ohio Valley region. Fredrick Putnam, working more in conjunction with the Peabody Museum than the B.A.E. and Smithsonian groups, however, relied heavily on Squier and Davis maps for his equally important excavations in the Ohio Valley. More importantly, because many of the sites surveyed and mapped by Squier and Davis were large mound embankment complexes and other structures that appear to have been unique to that region and were in the process of being destroyed even then, the view of the vast extent of the high Hopewell cultures centered in that region we now possess would have been impossible without the maps they made. Many of the great complexes (Newark, Marietta, etc.) and enclosures had disappeared in whole or in part by the time of the late 19th century excavating period that followed. Even the work of Putnam and his associates, which concentrated on the earlier phases of moundbuilding (while Thomas and his crews generally looked at the later sites) would not have been possible without the accuracy of the earlier Squier and Davis report.
As someone who has spent many hours cruising the Ohio, Scioto, Muskingum, Kanawha and other river valleys where the moundbuilders left their marks for over three thousand years, I have come to believe that this particular region was not only at the epicenter of much of the moundbuilder's origin and culture, but often marked the initial changes in new phases that subsequently appeared and expanded to other regions. So many truly unique places, including the Great Serpent Mound in Ohio, most of the early large Adena mounds, and the incredible complexes such as Mound City in Chillicothe, Newark, Marietta, etc. are visual evidence of the prehistoric importance of this region. When we factor in all those many places that are now lost forever, which Ephram Squier and Edwin Davis devoted so much of their lives to recording, one can only get a truer sense of the critical importance of this area. While so much of 20th century archeological research and reporting has been focused on the more recognizable monumental structures of the Southwest, there can be little doubt, I feel, that much of prehistoric and later Native American culture found its first seeds planted in the fertile valleys of the great American heartland, which time and again served as a both a nursery and a crossroads for the later dissemmination of those ideas. That is why I chose to set my own book series, THE PEOPLE OF THE STONE, covering the fifteen thousand years of American prehistory in this particular region and why I will be forever in the debt of these two often forgotten pioneers. It is hard to imagine two more interesting lives being lived out at a time when the country's focus on the origins of its native peoples was either non-existent, or used for more reprehensible political purposes, mainly land grabs and removals of native peoples. who might otherwise have been able to show long standing and pre-existing claims. We will never know why those two gentlemen scholars chose to take up their notebooks and surveyors rods and chains. We can only say: Thank you both. I for one, would love to have met you and then spent an afternoon rowing your boat, or marching off your surveying chains on some since forgotten or lost mound enclosure, speculating on its purpose and the people who built it somewhere along a misty stream in the heartland of prehistoric America.
The origins of the Moundbuilders is explored in the fourth novel of The People of the Stone saga, A DARK WINGED SHADOW, now available through this website, Amazon, and other book sources. It is a tale of political intrigue, family conflict, and romance set at the time the first great mounds are being constructed. It is based upon the excavations of real mounds in the Great Kanawha Valley of West Virginia with which the author is intimately connected.
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