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Indian Art, Tools and Weapons

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Axe and Balista - Plate 15

Axe and Balista – Plate 15

If we were to judge the Chinese by the tools and implements which they employ, as these were exhibited for the first time to the British public in 1842, at the Chinese Museum at Knightsbridge, London, or as since shown by other collections in this country, without the fabrics produced by them, we should certainly underrate their skill and type of civilization and refinement beyond measure. This fact denotes how cautious we should be in judging of the arts of a people who are, by any possibility of just theory, descended from that mixed race,1 or, what is more plausible, from the purer Mongolia family of northern Asia. It is astonishing, certainly, how exquisitely formed a pipe, spear-head, javelin, war-club, fish-hook, awl, or other implement of the present race of Indians, will be made by them, with no other tool but a rude knife, and other aids in the work, which no instructed mechanic would ever use. Among the articles attesting a mechanical or artistic power, of the antique or mound period, are well-wrought needles of bone, shuttles, discs of porphyry, axes, knives of chert, block-prints for clothing, rope-makers reeds, suction tubes of steatite, and various other implements denoting much aptitude in many arts. Descriptions of these several objects are given, in the sequel, with carefully drawn plates of each instrument.

It is from a consideration of these antiquities, which have been disclosed by tumuli and the plough, that the true state of arts and fabrics of the mound and fort builders must be inferred. We are appealed to by these monuments of history, not to overrate nor underrate that state, whatever was its type, which we are not disposed to place high in the scale of civilization. But it appears, nevertheless, to have embraced a transition period between the pure hunter and the agricultural state, and to have felt the incipient impulses of an abundant and reliable means of subsistence, some fixed power of government, and the expansive influences of interior commerce, so far as the exchange of articles in kind went.

This incipient state of a commercial element, and the first steps of a kind of centralism in government, acknowledged by this ancient people, is shown by the remains of antique mining ruins, such as those on Lake Superior; where the supplies of native copper were got; also in the area of Indiana, where there appears to have been some attempts at metallurgy, perhaps post-Columbian; and the antique traces of the same species of labor existing in the valley of the Unica, or White River, and of the Arkansas river, and, perhaps, the recent discoveries of antique gold mining in California. Accounts of these are appended. These attempts, which evince industry and skill beyond the wants of the mere hunter era, are probably of one epoch; and admit of being grouped together. The whole of the western and northern antiquities of the highest class, embracing every monument of the kind, north of the contemplated territory of Utah, and the country north of the Gila, to which the Toltec and Aztec civilization probably reached, may be viewed together by the antiquarian, as forming the SECOND type of American antique civilization. That this type was of a transferred Americo-Shemitic character appears probable from renewed inquiries on the languages. That it was distinct from the Toltecan system, which ran to empire and idolatry, is also probable. It clearly included the various and conflicting tribes, whose strife for independency and wild liberty and loose leagues, without the true principle of confederacy, drove it to an opposite system, and led to final disunion, tumult, and downfall.

This ancient group of tribes, who have left their remains in the Mississippi Valley, and appear to have culminated and fallen there, before fresh hordes of adventurous hunters and warriors, had no coin; no science beyond the first elements of geometry, numbers, and natural astronomy; and, necessarily, (from this want of coin,) no fiscal system. Yet there were, evidently, contributions in kind, to enable them to work together on the public defenses and tumuli, which remain. So much seems clear.

There was another element besides their tendency to monarchy, which separated the Toltecan from the Utah, or northern type of tribes. It was the strong bias to idolatry which led them to found their monarchy on it; while the northern tribes preferred the simpler worship of their gods of air, without temples or an edifice of a local character, except elevated places for offering incense and supplications. When these could not be secured by the selection of geological eminences, they raised artificial heaps of earth. The west has hundreds of such geological or drift mounds. This was the history of the tumuli. The idolatry of image worship was not tolerated by the masses generally, but entered into the limits of their southern borders, as we perceive by small images of stone or pottery, found in Mississippi, Tennessee, and Western Virginia. They were wild worshipers of the elements. They loved to imagine a god who could ride on “the wings of the wind;” who could revel in the clouds, or walk the blue arch of heaven. In every historical sense, they ” sacrificed and burnt incense on high places.”2 The minor and more remote tribes, who had fled across the Alleghenies probably at an earlier date, in the attractive pursuit of the deer and bear, and in quest of that wild freedom which they loved; do not, when their habits and traditions and character are closely scrutinized, appear to have been of a radically different stock from the mound-builders; for these Algonquin tribes worshiped the same gods of the winds and mountains. Even in Massachusetts, where there is not an artificial mound, and nothing which can be dignified with the name of an antique fosse, they had, agreeably to John Elliot, the apostolic missionary of 1631, their ” Qunuhqui aye nongash,”3 or high places, where the sagamores and powwows lit their fires, and offered incense.

Footnotes

  1. The Chinese Nations and Languages. Knickerbocker, Vol. V., No. 5, 1835. 

  2. II. Kings, xv. 4. 

  3. Eliot’s Bible. 

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