Friday, August 14, 2009

Drawing the Line

In America, England, Australia.... just about anywhere, you can find history. Prehistoric peoples wandered the land and cluttered it up with burial mounds, henges, rock carvings, standing stones... you name it. All kinds of stuff that was so very important to them. Then Historic Man came along and decided everything would look nice plowed over and plundered. Then Modern Man came along and decided he could profit by building as many shopping and eating establishments as possible, and making sure there was plenty of parking to go along with it.

In the Uk recently an ancient long house was excavated quickly so a car park could go in on schedule. Here in Ohio archeologists had to move fast to save some very important artifacts so that a new runway could go in at the airport. Even at Stonehenge, that most famous of monuments, there is a sign at the car park saying that some 3000 year old giant carved trees had once stood on that spot, somewhere under the tarmac!

Obviously, these ancient sites meant a lot to their builders. Obviously, modern man needs places to sleep, shop, and eat pizza. So where do we draw the line? In a recent post here I was moaning about the loss of so much Native American prehistory here in Ohio. "Why oh why did they have to destroy so much?!" I cried! Then I looked at "Prehistoric Earthworks in Ohio by William C. Mills, from the 1914 Archeological Atlas of Ohio. There were thousands of earthworks, including burial mounds, ceremonial temple mounds, fortifications, village enclosures.. and then there were petroglyph sites, stone piles, and others. That's a lot of red dots on the map! See this link if you don't believe me:

So where Do we draw the line between preserving the past and making way for 'progress'? A compromise would be nice, such as living alongside the monuments from the past, but in many cases it's much too late for that. The decision should have been made years ago.

In all fairness, most people simply do not care about the past... just a bunch of rocks and dirt, some people say. So let's have a dialog here.

"The Native Americans moved into Ohio perhaps 15,000 years ago!"
"Yeah, but we is here now."
"Only because 'we' forced them from their homes!"
"Might makes right, loser!"

Never mind... this kind of conversation inevitably leads to disaster, since both sides have very different points of view. The truth is.. in most cases it is too late. Here in Ohio I've been told that everything was plowed over, so that even the monuments we see today are not truly their original selves. I've been here two weeks now, and in two different walks have seen evidence of artifacts that were ground into pieces.. broken pottery, a broken adze, a piece of clay pipe... the last two were not far from a certain burial mound I featured here, so even that was 'spoiled'.

Even in our attempts to preserve the past, I believe we are failing. Some believe that letting the land go fallow is allowing the sites to be seen in their 'natural' state. Well, just what IS their natural state? We are not sure of the purpose of many of these sites, so how do we know what they should look like? The Native Americans did not have lawn mowers, unless you count sheep, but letting grass grow on earthworks is a better method of preserving them than letting them grow fallow.

Case in point, the Jeffers Mound as seen in the photo above. The Jeffers Mound is all that is left of a vast complex that included huge earthworks, a burial mound, a ceremonial mound (the Jeffers Mound), two circular enclosures, and longhouses. Who knows what else? The land was farmed for years until it was subdivided and sold into housing lots. Mr. Jeffers thankfully did not sell the land the Jeffers Mound was on, so this is all that remains of this once great complex.

Now look at the photo above... can you even see the mound? It's like 25 feet high, but I had some people with me on the visit and they all saw a 'bunch of bushes' until I pointed out to them that it wa a mound. What bothers me though is the trees. If left in the woods, nature would eventually destroy these mounds on it's own,(see first photo above of Cole Earthworks) but this mound is supposedly being preserved, and there are 40 foot high trees growing out of it! That means there are 40 feet of roots burrowing through the mound, and when those tipping trees fall, there goes the mound.

Oh well... let's just help nature along, shall we? This site is just wasted space, innit? Let's put up a bus shelter with matching car park and put this space to use, eh?

Just remember one thing, though. These ancient peoples lived a long time ago, so we say 'their time has passed', and plow over the graves of their ancestors. Well, how would you feel if those were YOUR ancestors being plowed over? It could happen, you know. And not just in the movies. Case in point, the Pool family. They plowed over the two mounds I mentioned in my earlier blog, and lived here for some time in the 1800's. Not too long ago, right? And their gravestones were found 'somewhere south of Highbanks Metro Park, and no one is sure where their bodies are. Their stones now sit together in a little fenced off area... a 'pretend' burial plot.

And progress and history march on... :0)

Cheers, JOHN :0)

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Site-seeing: a Lesson Learned

I have to point out that when it comes to ancient sites, it is best to see them in person, as opposed to simply reading about them in a book or on the net. These sites were made by people, and I believe that to truly understand them, we should look upon them in person and try to imagine them when freshly made. Even if the pyramids of Egypt were made by slaves, I'm willing to bet that some of those slaves stopped to look at these wondrous monuments and say to themselves, "I made that!".

Of course, they were probably summarily executed afterward, but still, there's always that bit of pride that comes from doing something special.

Now then, we can't always see sites in person, and although the net is no substitute for experience, it does come in handy as a reference tool. And here is today's lesson... If you are going to go visit a historic site, then please do some research ahead of time, or you too might find yourself in an embarrassing predicament such as the one I am about to discuss. :0)

So. My first Saturday morning in Ohio, and I am very anxious to get out in the field... any field... and see the sights. I had heard the day before that a local park featured some Adena Burial mounds, and so had to go. The weather was fair, and having done no research at all, I set out for Highbanks Metro Park, and their burial mounds.

Yes, I did no research at all. Why? I figured, "it's a park, there'll be signs, how hard can it be?"

And it wasn't! A few minutes after entering the park, I pulled into a parking lot and there it was... a huge mound, recently mowed, and standing there so majestically! This was my fist view of an Adena Burial Mound, and wow, was I impressed. I ran around taking about 50 photographs from every angle, including panoramic views, and climbed the summit several times to capture the scenery. I recorded everything, and then, exhausted, set out to find more.

It was at the next parking lot that I found a map. A map that showed the wondrous mound behind me to be a Sledding Hill for local youngsters to risk their little necks in winter time. NOT an Adena Burial Mound. No, the two Adena Burial Mounds, and the Cole Earthworks, were only accessible by hiking through wooded trails... about a mile in each direction... to each site.

And then the rains came.

It rained so hard and so long that when it ended, and the sun came out, I felt safe enough to hike those trails after all. And so I set out.

And then the rains came. Again.

Believe it or not, but there were actually other people in the woods, in the rain, jogging or hiking. I met one couple who said the Weatherman had predicted zero percent chance of rain for today. Hmph.

So, regardless of weather I continued, and eventually came to a rock with a plaque that said Adena Burial Mound. I rounded the corner and there it was. A tiny little bump in the earth, behind a little fence, with golden twilight sunshine casting a glow over its little patch of grass.

My first burial mound. To some it may not seem very impressive. It's just this little bump in the grass, on top of a wooded hill, surrounded by trees. Very wet trees, at that.

But this is why I like seeing sights in person. It was quiet there, and that golden glow of the filtered sunshine gave the place a special atmosphere. A quiet almost holy atmosphere that gently guided one into quiet contemplation... a contemplation that made me realise that here was someone buried. A once living human being that was loved, or respected, or feared enough for his or her people to create this little mound for them on top of this hill, so that they could be remembered.

And suddenly that little bump became very meaningful indeed, and I wished at that moment that all the people who plowed over, built over, or ruthlessly plundered the dozens or other burial mounds in the area to destruction could have seen those little bumps in the landscape in this same manner. These are burials. They meant something to somebody once, and we should respect that.

I walked two hours in the rain that day... got muddy, and caught a cold, and my bones are still aching. But it was worth it. Every minute.

Cheers, JOHN :0)