I have always been intrigued with the tailings from the mine of science. I mean those facts that do not fit the mold, those anomalies that should not exist, those wild points that lie far off the curve. One of my hobbies is collecting and organizing these homeless facts. These waifs are curious and most intriguing. Either they are all false, or science still has much fundamental work to do. But I leave such probems to the reader; I advance no pet theories. All I have done is collect, categorize, and reproduce this anomalous information. Perhaps you, the reader, can make something out of it. At the very least, I hope you will be excited about the vast unknown territory that still lies ahead.
The vehicle I have selected for presenting these curious tidbits is the “Sourcebook,” in which original reports and articles from a wide spectrum of sources are reprinted. I have taken a conservative and “responsible* 5 approach by choosing the majority of the reports directly from the scientific literature. By design I have concentrated on reported facts and avoided articles that advocate sensational hypotheses, such as ancient astronauts and colliding planets. The reader will find, however, that the data I have admitted are very strange indeed and may well support even stranger theories. The cosmos seems a most complex and subtle organism.
To carry on the work of collecting anomalous scientific data from over 200 years of literature, I have formed the Sourcebook Project. The object is to prepare a separate series of sourcebooks in each major field of science. These collections of unexplained and difficult-to-explain data can then be analyzed and cross-correlated to try and make sense out of the disparate data. To my knowledge, this is the first modern, science-wide attempt to collect and or-
ganize data that “don’t fit.” Work is progressing well, and Sourcebooks have already been published in the fields of astronomy, biology, geology, geophysics, and archeology. The present Bantam paperback is a selection of reports from Sourcebooks already published directly by the Sourcebook Project. Further information about the Sourcebook Project and its publications may be obtained by writing the Sourcebook Project, Glen Arm, MD 21057.
William R. Corliss
Fossil Human Footprints
Geologists have no problem visualizing dinosaurs treading ponderously over a sandbar, leaving in their wakes footprints that are ultimately silted in, petrified, and preserved for men-yet-to-evolve to wonder at. But human footprints in rocks many millions of years old? Impossible!
The word “impossible” is apt because if human footprints in ancient rocks are genuine, either men existed long before evolution stipulates they should or our geological dating schemes are seriously in error. When ostensibly human footprints are discovered in very old sedimentary rocks there are two ways out: (1) declare the footprints to be the distorted tracks of animals; or (2) claim that the tracks were engraved by Indians of yore. The Indian theory has a good deal going for it because ancient man did engrave handprints in abundance plus some fingerprints and footprints on rock walls. The Indian theory collapses, of course, when the prints are found only after the removal of overlying rock strata.
In the accounts that follow, both of the above theories have been introduced in way of explanation. One case, that of the Nicaragua footprints, may be legitimate because man probably did occupy the land in question during the period of recent lava flows. Most of the footprints described here are in much older rock. Furthermore, they represent only a small fraction of the data available. The evidence is so prolific that we may have to face up to some serious
inconsistencies in the now-standardized histories of the earth and man.
The prevailing theories of earth and man are based upon seemingly overwhelming, interlocking evidence. But so were Ptolemy’s theory of planetary motion and the dogma of fixed continents and ocean basins. Fossil human footprints, the butt of ridicule of geologists and archeologists, may represent but a hairline crack in our Temple of Science. All who appreciate anomalies must therefore welcome fossil human footprints to the arsenal—the more trivial the evidence seems, the bigger the crash when a false edifice topples.
REMARKS ON THE PRINTS OF HUMAN FEET, OBSERVED IN THE SECONDARY LIMESTONE OF THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY
Schoolcraft, Henry R.; American Journal of Science, 1:5:223-230, 1822
I now “send you a drawing of two curious prints of the human foot in limestone rock, observed by me last summer, in a detached slab of secondary formation, at Harmony, on the Wabash; together with a letter of Col. Thos. H. Genton, a senator in Congress from Missouri, on the same subject. The slab of stone containing these impressions, was originally quarried on the west bank of the Mississippi river, at St. Louis, and belongs to the elder fioetz range of limestone, which pervades that country to a very great extent.
These prints appear to have been noticed by the French soon after they penetrated into that country from the Canadas, and during the progress of settlement at St. Louis, were frequently resorted to as a phenomenon in the works of nature. But no person appears to have entertained the idea of raising them from the quarry with a view to preservation, until Mr. Rappe visited that place five or six years ago. He immediately determined to remove the stone containing them to his village of Harmony, then recently transferred from Butler county in Pennsylvania, to the banks of the Wabash; but this determination was no sooner known than popular sentiment began to arraign his motives, and people were ready to attribute to religious f anati-
cism or arch deception, what was, more probably, a mere act of momentary caprice, or settled taste. His followers, it was said, were to regard these prints as the sacred impress of the feet of our Saviour. Few persons thought of interposing a charitable remark in favour of religious tenets, of which we can judge only by the peaceful, industrious, and devotional lives; the neat and cleanly appearance; and the inoffensive manners of those who profess them. Still less could be conceded in favour of a personal taste for objects of natural history or curiosity, of which this act is, at least, a proof. Be this as it may, Mr. Rappe contracted with a stone mason to cut out the block with the impressions, paying him at the same time a liberal price for his labour, and ordered it to be transported by water to his residence in Posy county, Indiana. Visiting this place during the last summer, in the suite of Governor Cass, Mr. Rappe conducted us to see this curiosity, which has been placed upon mason work in a paved area between his dwelling house and garden. The slab of stone thus preserved, forms a parallelogram of eight feet in length, by three and a half in breadth, and has a thickness of eight inches, which appears to be the natural thickness of the stratum of limestone rock, of which it is a part. This limestone possesses a firm and compact structure, of the peculiar greyish blue tint common to the calcareous rocks of the Mississippi valley, and contains fossil encrinites, and some analogous remains, very plentifully imbedded. It is quarried at St. Louis, both for the purposes of building stone, and for quicklime. It becomes beautifully white on parting with its carbonic acid and water, and those who have used it, observe, that it makes a good cement, with the usual proportion of sand.
The prints are those of a man standing erect, with his heels drawn in, and his toes turned outward, which is the most natural position. The distance between the heels, by accurate measurement, is 6 l A inches, and between the toes, 13V£ inches; but it will be perceived, that these are not the impressions of feet accustomed to a close shoe, the toes being very much spread, and the foot flattened in a manner that happens to those who have been habituated to go a great length of time without shoes. Notwithstanding this circumstance, the prints are strikingly natural, exhibiting every muscular impression, and swell of the heel
Impressions of human feet in limestone rock.
and toes, with a precision and faithfulness to nature, which I have not been able to copy, with perfect exactness, in the present drawing. The length of each foot, as indicated by the prints, is lOVi inches, and the width across the spread of the toes, 4 inches, which diminishes to 2^ inches, at the swell of the heels, indicating, as it is thought, a stature of the common size.
This rock presents a plain and smooth surface, having acquired a polish from the sand and water, to which its original position periodically subjected it. Upon this smooth surface, commencing in front of the tracks, there is a kind of scroll, which is two feet and a half in length. The shape of this is very irregular, and not equally plain and perfect in all parts, and would convey to the observer the idea of man idly marking with his fingers, or with a smooth stick, fanciful figures upon a soft surface. Some
pretend to observe in this scroll, the figure of an Indian bow, but this inference did not appear, to any of our party, to be justified.
Every appearance will warrant the conclusion that these impressions were made at a time when the rock was soft enough to receive them by pressure, and that the marks of feet are natural and genuine. Such was the opinion of Gov. Cass and myself, formed upon the spot, and there is nothing that I have subsequently seen to alter this view; on the contrary, there are some corroborating facts calculated to strengthen and confirm it.* But it will be observed by a letter which is transmitted with these remarks, that Col. Benton entertains a different opinion, and supposes them to be the result of human labour, at the same period of time when those enigmatical mounds upon the American Bottom, and above the town of St. Louis, were constructed. The reasons which have induced him to reject the opinion of their being organic impressions are these:
“1. The hardness of the rock.
“2. The want of tracks leading to and from them.
“3. The difficulty of supposing a change so instantaneous
and apropos, as must have taken place in the formation
of the rock, if impressed when soft enough to receive
such deep and distinct tracks.”
To those who are familiar With the facts of the existence
♦The following are the facts referred to. At the town of Her-culaneum in Jefferson county, Missouri, two supposed tracks of the human foot were observed by the workmen engaged in quarrying stone in the year 1817. These impressions, at the time, attracted the general notice of the inhabitants, and were considered so curious and interesting that the workmen who were employed in building a stone chimney for John W. Honey, Esq. of that.place, were directed to place the two blocks of stone containing these marks, in the outward wall, so as to be capable of being examined at all times. It is well known to those who have visited that section of country, that the custom of building the back walls and the pipe of the chimney, in such a manner as to project beyond the body of the house, is prevalent among the French and other inhabitants; and consequently, the above arrangement, while it completely preserves, at the same time exposes the prints to observation, in the most satisfactory manner. I examined them in that position on my first visit to Missouri, in 1818, and afterwards in 1821, when I took drawings of both the prints. They are however the impressions of feet covered with the Indian shoe, and are not so perfect and exquisitely natural as those at Harmony. They were situated in the same range of secondary limestone, and distant from St. Louis 30 miles.
of sea and fresh water shells, ferns, madrepores, and other fossil organic remains, in the hardest sandstones and limestones of our continent, the hardness of the rock, and the supposed rapidity of its consolidation, will not present objections of that force, which the writer supposes. But the want of tracks leading to and from them, presents a difficulty, which cannot, perhaps be so readily obviated. We should certainly suppose such tracks to exist, unless it could be ascertained that the toes of the prints, when in situ, pointed inland, in which case we should be at liberty to conjecture, that the person making them, had landed from the Mississippi, and proceeded no further into the interior. But no enquiry has enabled me to ascertain this fact, the circumstance not being recollected by Col. Benton; and others, who have often visited this curiosity while it remained in its natural position at St. Louis.
The following considerations, it will be seen, are stated by Col. Benton, as capable of being urged in opposition to his theory of their being of factitious origin.
“1. The exquisiteness of the workmanship.
“2. The difficulty of working such hard material without
steel or iron.”
The strikingly natural appearance of these prints, has always appeared to me, to be one of the best evidences of their being genuine; for I cannot suppose that there is any artist now in America possessed of the skill necessary to produce such perfect and masterly pieces of sculpture: yet, what are we to say of the skill of that people, who are supposed to have been capable of producing such finished pieces of art, without the aid of iron tools? For, let it constantly be borne in mind, that the antiquity of these prints can be traced back to the earliest discovery of the country, and consequently to the introduction of iron tools and weapons among the aborigines. There are none of our Indian tribes who have made any proficiency in sculpture, even since the iron hatchet and knive, have been exchanged for those of flint, and of obsidian. All their attempts in this way are grotesque, and exhibit a lamentable want of proportions, the same which was seen in the paintings, and in the figured vases and pottery of the Asteecks of Mexico, when their towns and temples were first visited by the Spanish conqueror.
FOSSIL HUMAN FOOTPRINTS
HUMAN FOOTPRINTS IN NICARAGUA
Flint, Earl; American Antiquarian, 6:112-113, 1884
In a recent trip to Managua for the Peabody Museum, to examine the human footprints found there in one of the quarries, now being worked for building purposes, I uncovered six rows of impressions, breaking through a layer of rock seven inches thick, over a space of six yards by two. Under this was a layer of black sand with an average thickness of one inch, resting on a layer of friable rock from one and one-half to two inches thick, covering the surface of the lowest layer of rock found in the quarry. Below this thin layer was a thin deposit of volcanic sand and gravel, filling up the inequalities caused by the impressions, with an average of one inch in thickness, as seen in the side cuttings.
The rock seems to owe its formation to a volcanic detritus, and ash brought down after the first volcanic eruption. I cannot account in any other way, for its original plasticity, as but little clay could reach the surface, if the eruption covered the neighborhood with rock and ash —evidenced in many places of a large district where this kind of rock occurs. Impressions of leaves and stems occur on the under surface, denoting an absence of forest at the point worked. The upper surface is nearly level, with a barely perceptible dip toward the lake shore—distant some 300 yards, and whose waters must have formerly occupied—or overflowed at times of high water, as some of the aquatic plants, common in the marshy districts, are among the impressions preserved.
The footprints are from one-half to three inches in depth, consequently not made, as some had judged, by a people, fleeing from an inundation. In those exposed there is no length of stride to indicate it, and in the many removed by the owner of the quarry, none exceeded eighteen inches. Some of the impressions are nearly closed, the soft surface falling back into the impression, and a crevice about two inches in width is all one sees, and my first glance at some parallel to one less deep, gave me an idea that the owner of the latter was using a stave to assist him in walking. In some of the substance flowed outward, leaving a ridge around it—seen in one secured for the museum;
the stride is variable, owing to size of person, and the changing nature of surface passed over. The longest one uncovered was seventeen inches, length of foot ten inches, and width four inches, feet arched, steps in a right line, measured from center of heel to center of great toe over three steps. The people making them were going both ways in a direction consonant to that of the present lake shore E. and W. more or less. The nearly level surface extending around the neighborhood of the quarry prevented me from judging as to the nature of or mode of arrival other than that mentioned. As far as worked out, the thickness varied but little from twenty-eight to thirty inches. Following the inequalities of the primitive soil, the perpendicular cuttings on the southern and eastern faces of the quarry above the layers mentioned, show in only one place a barely perceptible dip to the east. The layer removed was covered by one of hard clay, with streaks of white pumice stone beneath and mingled with its lower surface—thickness seen in the cutting twelve inches; above this was a layer of ash, slate colored, very hard, seen in the cuttings along the Masaya road, and also between Granada and Jinotepe—west of latter place, 15 feet in thickness, under 15 feet of loam. In the location worked was only 14 inches, mixed with stems of plants and leaves on and near its under surface. Above this ashy formation are four successive layers of rock, similar to the lower one and are being used for building. The lowest averages 28 inches; the others from 17 to 20 inches. The detritus separating the layers is insignificant. Saw many blocks, and found cavities formerly occupied by stems of plants, but none have leaves like the lowest layer. I think these layers were the results of different eruptions. The clay deposit one of repose.
The depth from the surface of the impressions was 14 feet 10 inches—not counting the surface soil, the strides from 11 to 17 inches. I would mention that later, the purchaser of those remaining uncovered, intends removing them to Europe and will be able to give a correct estimate of each. He kindly gave me permission to remove two. Had he not purchased the site, only the story of their occurrence could be relied on to prove man’s antiquity here.
It is useless to speculate on the lapse of time that has passed since their occurrence. Experts in geology may give approximate dates.
Before examining them I was inclined to believe they were coeval with those at San Rafael, but am now convinced that they are in an entirely different formation. The former occurs on sedimentary rock of that locality. One human footprint associated with those of a tiger on hard volcanic rock, on the banks of Grand river, at Pinon, west of Jinotepe is now easily explained. I went in May to cut it out and found the place covered by water, but intend visiting San Rafael to procure specimens from them. Unlike those at Nevada the people of this region needed no covering to protect their feet from a rigorous climate. The discovery is unique and worth recording.
THE PRE-ADAMTTE TRACK
McA., A.; American Antiquarian, 7:364-367, 1885
In the last issue of your always deeply interesting and instructive journal, I read an article from the pen of Mr. Flint, which aroused some thoughts to which I now take the liberty of giving free expression.
It appears that Mr. Flint, among some really valuable discoveries, came across what he believed to be two impressions of the human foot on a rock in Nicaragua. Finding that the rock contained fossils of a remote era, he has assigned the origin of the “imprints” to a “date” ranging anywhere from 50,000 to 200,000 years ago.
Now, what I desire to say is, that it appears to me to be an error to assume that “footprints” found on the surface of rocks are as old as the fossils beneath. Some of the so-called pre-Adamite tracks are manifestly the work of sculptors, and utterly useless as data by which to calculate the antiquity of our race on this planet.
That sculptors passed through Nicaragua during some period in the remote past is perfectly evident from the images which have been found by travelers. Squier in his admirable book of travels through this region presents us with pictures of chiseled forms in stone that could only have been wrought by masters of the art. Some of the figures represent human bodies with heads of beasts. They are executed with marvelous skill, and nothing is clearer than that those sculptors could, if they pleased, have caused the representation of a footprint on rock.
If the tracks in Nicaragua were made when the rock on
which they appear was in as soft condition as ‘that sea beach on which the startled Crusoe beheld the footprint, then it would be correct to attribute those “footprints in the sand of time” to some pre-Adamite wanderer. But, on the other hand, if the tracks are the work of sculptors, they were, of course, carved after the matter in which they appear had become hard stone; and it would, be absurd and misleading to say that the artist was the contemporary of the fossils found in the sculptured rock. Suppose we find a statue or shell clearly referable to the Tertiary period, would it be wise to conclude that the workman belonged to the same remote era?
I notice that your learned and ingenious correspondent speaks about writings which he has observed on the roofs of caves in the same section of country as that to which the “footprints” belong. It is highly probable that those who carved the tracks also cut the inscriptions. Bradford says: “The most singular of these sculptors [he is telling about the imprints of feet observed in Asia and America] has been discovered on the banks of the Mississippi, near St. Louis. This is a tabular mass of lime stone bearing the impression of two human feet. The rock is compact limestone of grayish-blue color, containing the encrinite, echinite, and other fossils. The feet are quite flattened, but the muscular marks are delineated with great precision. Immediately before the feet lies a scroll sculptured in similar style. The opinion sometimes entertained, that these are actual impressions of the human feet, made upon a soft substance subsequently indurated, is incorrect; on the contrary, they are undoubtedly the result of art.”— Am. Antiquities, p. 25.
On the other hand Priest in his work on “American Antiquities” takes substantially the same ground as Mr. Flint. He says, [speaking of the impressions at St. Louis], “Directly before the prints of these feet, within a few inches, is a well impressed and deep mark, having some resemblance to a scroll, or roll of parchment, two feet long, by a foot in width. To account for these appearances, two theories are advanced; one is, that they were sculptured there by the ancient nations; the other that they were impressed there at a time when the rock was in a plastic state; both theories have their difficulties, but we incline to the latter, because the impressions are strikingly
natural, and Mr. Schoolcraft, exhibiting even the muscular marks of the foot, with great precision and faithfulness to nature, and, on this account, weakens, in his opinion, the doctrine of their being sculptured by the ancient nations* But why there are no others going to and from these, is unaccountable, unless we may suppose the rest of this rock, at that time, was buried by earth, brush, grass, or some kind of covering. If they were sculptured, why not other specimens appear; this one isolated effort of the kind, would seem unnatural.”
Why doesn’t Mr. Priest give us a dozen pictures of the rock at St. Louis? His answer is, because one drawing suffices; and in like manner, a single pair of sculptured “imprints” of feet—indicating that certain people had passed that way—served even better than a great number. A multitude of tracks might possibly be mistaken for genuine impressions of the feet of wayfarers belonging to a remote epoch; but a single isolated pair with no trail leading to or from them could not but arrest attention. The perfection of the workmanship merely demonstrates the skill of the artist. And what about the carved scroll? Is it too a fossil? If so it may be a leaf out of the pre-Adamite library.
On page 151 of his profound work, Mr. Priest says: “A few miles south of Braystown, which is at the head waters of the Tennessee river, are found impressed on the surface of the solid rock, a great number of tracks, as turkeys, bears, horses, and human beings, as perfect as they could be made on snow or sand. The human tracks are remarkable for having uniformly six toes each, like the Anakims of Scripture; one only excepted, which appears to be the print of a negro’s foot. One, among those tracks, is distinguished from the rest, by its monstrousness, being of no less dimensions than sixteen inches in length, across the toes thirteen inches, behind the toes, where the foot narrows toward the instep, seven inches, and the heel ball five inches.”
We can produce no such feet now-a-days. What becomes of the doctrine of evolution in the light of this revelation? Think of feet sixteen inches in length, and bodies and brains in proportion! But I take refuge in the belief that the “imprints” are all carved. True, in Tennessee as in Nicaragua, the tracks of animals are represented. But
we know for a fact that the tracks of turkeys, for instance, have been found upon the precipitous rocks, and on the sides of caves. Are we to suppose that the gobblers actually walked up the cliffs at a time when the substance of which the rocks are composed was in a plastic state? And if certain people went to the trouble of representing turkey tracks and letters on vertical rocks, may they not have carved similar impressions and a scroll upon level stones?
Mr. Priest informs us that in addition to the feet of turkeys are those of “bears, horses and human beings.” Was it a circus?
“That these are the real tracks of the animals they represent, appears from the circumstance of this horse’s foot having slipped several inches, and recovered again; the figures have all the same direction, like the trail of a company on a journey.” It must have astonished the natives.
It is interesting to be assured that there were horses in America away back in ancient times. This supports the Danish legend about Bjorn Asbjorndson having been seen on horseback by Snorre Sturluson. Moreover, the exiled chief was in command of a troop of horse. And in support of this view we have Priest’s testimony: “One also among the tracks of the animals, is distinguished for its great size; it is the track of a horse, measuring eight by ten inches; perhaps the horse which the great warrior led when passing this mountain with his army.”
You will note that this hero, whose foot was sixteen inches long, led his horse while crossing the mountain. Had he mounted the animal it would probably have gone right through the crust of the earth. Fortunately the immensity of the hoofs of this horse which so admirably matched its master, sustained it above ground while traveling with the show.
The horse was a genuine curiosity. Hoofs ten inches long! It was the only horse in the company, but in quality it atoned for quantity. Mr. Priest even endeavors to belittle it, so anxious is he not to offend our prejudices on the subject of natural history. But let the full truth be told. The track left by the horse is several inches over the ten just mentioned! We are informed that the foot “slipped several inches and recovered again.” How does any one know that it slipped? Isn’t the track of the monster at least thirteen inches long? What kind of a horse have we here?
Mr. Priest next tells us about the mountains of South America, on whose smooth and perpendicular sides “are engraven [mark the word], at a surprising distance from the base, the figures of animals; also the sun, moon and stars, with other hieroglyphic signs.” The thoughtful author concludes that “the stones were once so soft and plastic, that men could easily trace marks on them with their fingers, or with sticks!”
Isn’t it much more likely that the sun, moon and stars passed that way, during the procession of the equinox, and left those impressions of their visit on the towering cliffs? To concede that they are mere sculptures opens the door to a world of possibilities which we will not contemplate.
Cannot the slab of Nicaragua be removed north? It is really an interesting object whether viewed as the work of man’s hands or feet. Connected with it there is an amazing story.
ON THE SUPPOSED HUMAN FOOT-PRINTS RECENTLY FOUND IN NEVADA
Marsh, O. C; American Journal of Science, 3:26:139-140, 1883
During the past summer, various accounts have been published of the discovery of human foot-prints in sandstone near Carson, Nevada. The locality is in the yard of the State prison, and the tracks were uncovered in quarrying stone for building purposes. Many different kinds of tracks were found, some of which were made by an animal allied to the elephant; some resembled those of the horse and the deer; others were apparently made by a wolf. There were-also tracks made by large birds.
The foot-prints occur in series, and are all nearly in the same horizon. Some of the smaller tracks are sharp and distinct, but most of the impressions are indefinite in outline, owing apparently to the fact that the exact surface on which they were made is not usually exposed.
The supposed human foot-prints are in six series, each with alternate right and left tracks. The stride is from two and one-half to over three feet in extent. The individual foot prints are from eighteen to twenty inches in length, and about eight inches wide. The distance between the line of right hand and left hand tracks, or the straddle, is eighteen to nineteen inches.
The Nevada “human” footprints — typical sample from ihe several series.
The form and general appearance of the supposed human tracks is shown in the figure, which is a reduced copy of one of the impressions represented by Dr. W. H. Hark-ness, in his paper before the California Academy of Sciences, August 7th, 1882. The shaded portion was restored by him from other foot-prints of the series. A copy of this impression was given, also, by Professor Joseph LeConte, in his paper before the same society, August 27th, 1882. The size of these foot-prints, and especially the width between the right and left series are strong evidence that they were not made by men, as has been so generally supposed. A more probable explanation is that the impressions are the tracks of a large Sloth, either Mylodon or Morotheri-um, remains of which have been found in essentially the same horizon. In support of this view it may be said that the foot-prints are almost exactly what these animals would make, if the hind feet covered the impressions of those in front. In size, in stride, and in width between the right and left series of impressions, the foot-prints agree closely with what we should expect Mylodon or Morotherium to make. The geological horizon of these interesting foot-prints is near the junction of the Pliocene and Quaternary. The evidence, at present, appears to point to the Equus beds of the upper Pliocene as the nearest equivalent.
Since the above communication was read, the writer has had an opportunity of examining photographs and casts of the Carson foot-prints, and is confirmed in his opinion that the supposed human tracks were made by large Edentates. The important fact has recently been determined that some of these tracks show impressions of the fore feet. The latter are somewhat outside of the large foot-prints, as would naturally be the case, if the animal changed its course.
The Mexican Messiah
This is one of the two one-article chapters of the book. This is not because there is not abundant material available but rather because Daly’s contribution is so fascinating that it cannot be cut to less than chapter size. It is a superb summary of legends and history regarding Quetzalcoatl and pre-Columbian American messiahs.
The mystery of these irrepressible tales of the white messiahs of pre-Columbian days can be solved in several ways: (1) by attributing the legends to an actual pre-Columbian contact from Europe, such as St. Brendan (Daly’s theory); (2) by denying that the Quezalcoatl stories are anything more than the babbling of primitive peoples; (3) by asserting that Quetzalcoatl was merely a particularly wise native American and that his achievements have been embellished by fictitious near-miraculous happenings; and (4) by going to the extraterrestrial extreme and proclaiming that Quetzalcoatl was the equivalent of a modern, UFO-riding “space brother” who dispersed the same platitudes that messiahs have for many centuries all over the world. Take your choice or construct your own explanation.
THE MEXICAN MESSIAH
Daly, Dominick; American Antiquarian, 11:14-30, 1889
There are few more puzzling characters to be found in the pages of history than Quetzatcoatl, the wandering stranger whom the early Mexicans adopted as the Air-God
of their mythology. That he was a real personage; that he was a white man from this side of the Atlantic, who lived and taught in Mexico centuries before Columbus; that what he taught was Christianity and Christian manners and morals—all these are plausible inferences from facts and circumstances so peculiar as to render other conclusion well-nigh impossible.
When, in 1519, Cortez and his 600 companions landed in Mexico they were astonished at their coming being hailed as the realization of an ancient native tradition, which ran in this wise: Many centuries previously a white man had come to Mexico from across the sea (the Atlantic) in a boat with wings (sails) like those of the Spanish vessels. He stayed many years in the country and taught the people a system of religion, instructed them in principles of government, and imparted to them a knowledge of many industrial arts. He won their esteem and veneration by his piety, his many virtues, his great wisdom and his knowledge of divine things. His stay was a kind of golden age for Mexico. The seasons were uniformly favorable and the earth gave forth its produce almost spontaneously and in miraculous abundance and variety. In those days a single head of maize was a load for a man, the cotton trees produced quantities of cotton already tinted in many brilliant hues; flowers filled the air with delicious perfumes; birds of magnificent plumage incessantly poured forth the most exquisite melody. Under the auspices of this good white man, or god, peace, plenty and happiness prevailed throughout the land. The Mexicans knew him as Quetzatcoatl, or the green serpent, the word green in this language being a term for a rare and precious thing. Through some malign influence—brought about by the enmity of a rival deity—Quetzatcoatl was induced or obliged to quit the country. On his way to the coast he stayed for a time at the city of Cholula, where subsequently a great pyramidal mound surmounted by a temple was erected in his honor. On the shores of the gulf of Mexico he took leave of his followers, soothing their sorrow at his departure with the assurance that he would not forget them, and that he himself or some one sent by him would return at some future time to visit them. He had made for himself a vessel of serpents’ skins, and in this strange contrivance he sailed away in a northeasterly direction for
his own country, the holy island of Hapallan, lying beyond the great ocean.
Such in outline was the strange tradition which Cortez found prevalent in Mexico on his arrival there, and powerfully influencing every inhabitant of the country from the great Montezuma, who ruled as king paramount in the city of Mexico, to the humblest serf who tilled the fields of his lord. Equally to their surprise and advantage the Spaniards found that their advent was hailed as the fulfilment of the promise of Quetzatcoatl to return. The natives saw that they were white men and bearded like him, they had come in sailing vessels such as the one he had used across the sea; they had clearly come from the mysterious Hapallan; they were undoubtedly Quetzatcoatl and his brethren come, in fulfilment of ancient prophecy, to restore and permanently re-establish in Mexico the reign of peace and happiness of which the country had had a brief experience many centuries before.
The Spaniards made no scruple of encouraging and confirming a belief so highly favorable to their designs and it is conceded by their writers that this belief to a large extent accounts for the comparative ease and marvelous rapidity with which a mere handful of men made themselves masters of a great and civilized empire and subjugated a warlike population of millions. To the last the unfortunate emperor Montezuma, in spite of much evidence of the un-godlike character of the Spaniards held to the belief that the king of Spain was Quetzatcoatl and Cortez his lieutenant and emissary under a sort of divine commission.
The Mexicans had preserved a minute and apparently an accurate description of the personal appearance and habits of Quetzatcoatl. He N was a white man, advanced in years and tall in stature. His forehead was broad; he had a large beard and black hair. He is described as dressing in a long garment, over which there was a mantle marked with crosses. He was chaste and austere, temperate and abstemious, fasting frequently and sometimes inflicting severe penances on himself, even to the drawing of blood. This is a description which was preserved for centuries in the traditions of a people who had no intercourse with or knowledge of Europe, who had never seen a white man, and who were themselves dark skinned with but few scanty hairs on the skin to represent a beard.
It is therefore difficult to suppose that this curiously accurate portraiture of Quetzatcoatl as an early European ecclesiastic was a mere invention in all its parts—a mere fable which happened to hit on every particular and characteristic of such an individual. Nor is it easier to understand why the early Mexicans should have been at pains to invent a messiah so different from themselves, and with such peculiar attributes. Yet in spite of destructive wars, revolutions and invasions—in spite of the breaking up and dispersal of tribes and nations once settled in the vast region now passing under the name of Mexico— the tradition of Quetzatcoatl and the account of his personal peculiarities survived among the people to the days of the Spanish invasion. Everything therefore tends to show that Quetzatcoatl was an European who by some strange adventure was thrown amongst the Mexican people and left with them recollections of his beneficent influence which time and change did not obliterate. But time and change must have done much in the course of centuries to confuse the teachings of Quetzatcoatl. These would naturally be more susceptible of mutation than the few striking items of his personal appearance which (if only on account of their singularity) must have deeply impressed the Mexicans, generation after generation. Notwithstanding such mutation enough remained of the teachings of Quetzatcoatl to impress the Spaniards of the sixteenth century with the belief that he must have been an early Christian missionary as well as a native of Europe. They found that many of the religious beliefs of the Mexicans bore an unaccountable resemblance to those of Christians. The Spanish ecclesiastics, in particular, were astounded at what they saw and knew not what to make of it. Some of them supposed that St. Thomas, “the apostle of India,” had been in the country and imparted a knowledge of Christianity to the people; others with pious horror and in mental bewilderment declared that the Evil One himself had set up a travesty of the religion of Christ for the more effectual damning of the souls of the pagan Mexicans.
The religion of the Mexicans as the Spaniards found it was in truth an amazing and most unnatural combination of what appeared to be Christian beliefs and Christian virtues and morality with the bloody rites and idolatrous prac-
tices of pagan barbarians. The mystery was soon explained to the Spaniards by the Mexicans themselves. The milder part of the Mexican religion was that which Quetzatcoatl had taught them. He had taught it to the Toltecs, a people who had ruled in Mexico some centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards. The Aztecs were in possession of power when the Spaniards came and it was they who had introduced that part of the Mexican religion which was in such strong contrast to the religion established by Quetzatcoatl. It appeared further that the Toltec rule in the land had ceased about the middle of the eleventh century. They were a people remarkably advanced in civilization and mental and moral development. Somewhere between the latter part of the fourth century and the middle of the seventh century they were supposed to have come into Mexico from the Northeast—possibly from the Ohio valley, where vast remains of a strange character have been found. They were versed in the arts and sciences, and their astronomical knowledge was in many respects in advance of that of Europe. They established laws and regular government in Mexico during their stay in the country, but about the year 1050 A. D. they disappeared South by a voluntary migration, the cause of which remains a mystery. They are supposed to have been, subsequently, the builders of the great cities the marvelous remains of which are found in the wilds of Central America. In the migration of the Toltecs some remained behind from choice or necessity, but no attempt appears to have been made at reestablishing a Toltec empire and government in Mexico. After the lapse of a century or more from the era of the great Toltec migration the first bands of Aztecs began to appear. They were wanderers from the Northwest, the Pacific slopes of North America, and were a fierce and warlike people, possessing little capacity for the mental and moral refinement and high civilization of their Toltec predecessors. It was not until the middle of the fourteenth century that the Aztecs acquired sufficient settled habits to enable them to found states and cities, and by that time they seem to have adopted so much of what had been left of Toltec civilization and Toltec religion as they were capable of absorbing, without, however, abandoning their own ruder ideas and propensities. Hence the incongruous mixture of civilization and barbarism, mildness and ferocity,
gentleness and cruelty, refinement and brutality, presented by Mexican civilization and religion to the astonished contemplation of the Spaniards when they entered the city two centuries later. “Aztec civilization was made up” (as Pres-cott, the author of the History of Mexico, says), “of incongruities apparently irreconcilable. It blended into one the marked peculiarities of different nations, not only of the same phase of civilization, but as far removed from each other as the extremes of barbarism and refinement.’*
All that was savage and barbarous in the religious rites of the Mexicans was attributed by the Mexicans themselves to the Aztecs; all that was gentle and humanizing to the Toltecs, and probably with substantial justice in each instance. To a Toltec origin was assigned those doctrines and practices which struck the Spaniards as remnants of an
Aerial view of a cross in Pickaway County, Ohio, probably built by the pre-Columbian moundbuilder Indians. Did very early trans-Atlantic crossings introduce Christian symbols before 1492?
early knowledge of Christianity. The Aztecs only came into the inheritance of those doctrines and practices at second hand—that is from the remnants of the Toltec people. The new-comers were probably little disposed to submit wholly to the influence of alien religious ideas essentially different from their own gloom and sanguinary notions of divine things. Some they adopted, while still retaining their own national observances, and hence the extraordinary mixture of brutality and gentleness presented to the wondering contemplation of the Spaniards by the Mexican cult as they
found it in the early part of the sixteenth century. The better, that is the Toltec side of this mixed belief included amongst its chief features a recognition of a supreme God, vested with all the attributes of the Jehovah of the Jews. He was the creator and the ruler of the universe, and the fountain of all good. Subordinate to him were a number of minor deities, and opposed to him a father of all evil. There was a paradise for the abode of the just after death, and a place of darkness and torment for the wicked. There was an intermediate place which was not perhaps so much a purgatory as a second-class heaven. There had been a common mother of all men, always pictorially represented as in company with a serpent. Her name was Cicacoatl, or “the serpent woman,” and it was held that “by her sin came into the world.” She had twin children, and in an Aztec picture preserved in the Vatican at Rome those children are represented as quarreling. The Mexicans believed in a universal deluge, from which only one family (that of Coxcox) escaped. Nevertheless, and inconsistently enough with this, they spoke of a race of wicked giants, who had survived the flood and built a pyramid in order to reach the clouds; but the gods frustrated their design by raining fire upon it. Tradition associated the great pyramid at Cholula with this event. This was the pyramid which had been erected to Quetzatcoatl, and which had a temple on the summit dedicated to the worship of him as the god of air. The Mexicans regarded Cholula as the one holy city—the Jerusalem or Mecca of their country—from having been the place of abode of Quetzatcoatl. The pyramid in a dilapidated condition still remains, and is surmounted by a chapel for Christian worship. It is scarcely necessary to suggest that the traditions of Cicacoatl, Coxcox, the giants and the pyramid at Cholula, are extremely like a confused acquaintance with biblical narratives.
The foregoing are merely specimens of the more remarkable features of Mexican belief, and they are so special and peculiar in character as to leave no reasonable alternative to the supposition that the Mexicans must have had imparted to them at one time a knowledge of the bible. This has induced in some quarters the opinions that the Mexicans are descendants of the lost tribes of Israel; but whatever may be the arguments for or against this theory, the still more abundant knowledge of a Christian-like character
possessed by the ancient Mexicans is strongly suggestive of Christian teaching, which would sufficiently account for familiarity with narratives contained in the Old Testament.
Whether due to such teaching or to accidental coincidence, it is certain that the Mexicans held many points of belief in common with Christians. They believed in the Trinity, the Incarnation, and apparently the Redemption. One of the first things which struck the Spaniards on their arrival in Mexico was the spectacle of large stone crosses on the coast and in the interior of the country. These were objects of veneration and worship. One cross or marble near one of the places the Spaniards named Vera Cruz was surmounted by a golden crown, and in answer to the curious inquiries of the Spanish ecclesiastics the natives said that “one more glorious than the sun had died upon a cross.” In other places the Spaniards were informed that the cross was a symbol of the god of rain. At any rate it was an object of divine association and consequent adoration. In the magnificent pictoral reproduction of Mexican antiquities published by Lord Kingsborough there is a remarkable sketch of a monument representing a group of ancient Mexicans in attitudes of adoration around a cross of the Latin form. The leading figure is that of a king or priest holding in his outstretched hands a young infant, which he appears to be presenting to the cross.
Further acquaintance with the people and their religious ideas disclosed to the Spaniards additional evidence of Christian-like beliefs. They believed in original sin and practiced infant baptism. At the naming of the infant the lips and bosom of the child were sprinkled with water and the Lord was implored to “permit the holy drops to wash away the sin that was given to it before the foundation of the world, so that the child might be born anew.”
Confession to the priests, absolution and penance, were also features of the Mexican religion. The secrets of the confessional were esteemed inviolable. Absolution not only effaced moral guilt but was held to free the penitent from responsibility for breaches of the secular law. Long after the Spaniards had established their rule in the country it was a common thing for native culprits, especially in the remoter districts, to demand acquittal on the plea that they had confessed their crimes to the priest.
The Mexican prayers and invocations were strongly
Christian in character. The priestly exhortation, after confession, was—”Feed the hungry and clothe the naked according to your circumstances, for all men are of one flesh.” Another form of exhortation was—”Live in peace with all men; bear injuries with humility; leave vengeance to God, who sees everything.” Among the invocations to the deity was the following—”Wilt thou blot us out, O Lord, forever? Is this punishment intended not for our reformation but for our destruction?” Again, “Impart to us, out of Thy great mercy, Thy gifts, which we are not worthy to receive through our own merits.” A still more striking similarity to scriptural morality and expression is contained in the admonition—”He who looks too curiously on a woman commits adultery with his eyes.”
The Mexicans believed in the doctrine of transubstantia-tion in its strictest form, and even in its Roman Catholic peculiarity of communion under one kind. Communion and administration of the eucharist took place at stated intervals. The priest broke off morsels from a sanctified cake of maize and administered it to the communicant as he lay prostrate on the ground. Both priest and communicant regarded the material as the very body of God himself. The religious consumption of a horrible mixture of maize and human blood, and sometimes flesh, has already been alluded to as associated with the worship of the Aztec war god, Huitzilopochtli, and is suggestive of an Aztec perversion of the Christian, and apparently Toltec, idea of transubstantiation. On some occasions a model of the god was formed out of a paste of maize flour tempered by the blood of young children sacrificed for the purpose, the figure being subsequently consumed by the worshipers.
The Mexicans priesthood had much in common, and little in conflict, with the priesthood of the papacy. Celibacy was esteemed a merit and was observed by certain orders, though not by all; but all were governed by rules of a monastic character, very similar and quite as severe as those in force in the earlier ages of the Christian church. Thrice during the day and once at night the priests lodging in the great temples were called to prayer. They also mortified the flesh by fasting and abstinence, by severe penances, flagellations, and piercing the flesh with sharp thorns. They undertook the entire education of the young and devoted themselves to works of charity. The great cities and rural
districts were divided into parishes, each presided over by a priest. These priests were of a different order and had different functions from the priests who lived and served in the temples, and seem to have been in all important respects similar to the regular parochical clergy of Christian countries. The inference to be drawn by students of early Mexican history from these apparent remnants of Christian teaching is very much a matter of personal capacity and individual idiosyncrasy. Probably the majority will conclude that the Mexicans must have had Christian enlightenment from some source at a time long antecedent to the Spanish invasion. That such enlightenment should have become obscure and confused in the lapse of centuries, through the operation of revolutions, and by contact with Aztec idolatry, would not be surprising; the only wonder would be that so much that was still Christian-like should remain at the beginning of the 16th century. Was it then remains of Christianity which the Spaniards found? There is no reason to doubt the concurrent testimony of their writers and historians, lay and clerical, as to what they did find. There could be no adequate motive for a general conspiracy amongst them to manufacture evidence and invent fables for the purpose of making it appear that the people whom they were about to plunder, enslave and slaughter were a sort of Christian. On the contrary, their expressions of surprise and horror at finding Christian doctrines and Christian practices, intermingled with the grossest idolatry and most barbarous and bloody rites, are too natural and genuine to be mistaken. They—the direct observers and with the best opportunities for judging—had no doubt that what they saw was a debased form of Christianity. The points of resemblance with real Christianity were too numerous and too peculiar to permit the supposition that the similarity was accidental and unreal. With them the only difficulty was to account for the possession of Christian knowledge by a people so remote and outlandish—or rather to trace the identity of Quetzatcoatl, the undoubted teacher of the Mexicans. Their choice lay between the devil and St. Thomas. However respectable the claims of the former, it is clear enough that the St. Thomas was not Quetzatcoatl and had never been in Mexico. He was dragged in at all because the Spaniards long clung to the idea that America was a part of India,
and St. Thomas was styled “the Apostle of India,” on the authority of an ancient and pious but very doubtful tradition. The weakness of the case for St. Thomas secured a preference for the claims of the devil, and the consensus of Spanish opinion favored the idea that Quetzacock [sic] was indeed the devil himself, who, aroused by the losses which Christ had inflicted upon him in the old world, had sought compensation in the new, and had beguiled the Mexicans into the acceptance of a blasphemous mockery of the religion of Christ infinitely more wicked and damnatory than the worst form of paganism.
Another theory as to the identity of Quetzatcoatl may here be noticed. Lord Kingsborough makes the startling suggestion that Quetzatcoatl was no other than Christ himself, and in support of this maintains that the phonetic rendering, in the Mexican language, of the two words “Jesus Christ” would be as nearly as possible “Quetzat Coatl.” He does not mean to say that Christ was ever in Mexico, but his suggestion is that the Mexicans, having obtained an early knowledge of Christianity, and become acquainted with the name and character of its Divine Founder, imagined in subsequent ages that Christ had actually been in Mexico, and so built up the tradition of Quetzatcoatl. But this theory does not get rid—on the contrary makes essential—the presence of a missionary in Mexico through whom the people were instructed in the truths of Christianity, and from whom they obtained a knowledge of Christ. It is of course possible that in the lapse of ages the Mexicans might have transferred to this missionary the name of the great founder of his religion, but that there was no confusion of personalities is obvious, for in age and in many personal peculiarities Quetzatcoatl is represented as very different from the earthly figure of Christ. It may further be noted that the term “Quetzatcoatl” has a clear and appropriate significance (“Green Serpent”) in the Mexican language, and this is somewhat inconsistent with the supposition that it is a close phonetic rendering of the words “Jesus Christ.” In fact Lord Kingsborough’s ingenious and not wholly improbable theory in no degree helps to the identity of the early Christian missionary called Quetzatcoatl.
But whoever Quetzatcoatl may have been, and whatever might be the right designation of the religion which he
taught, it is clear beyond question that he was the medium through which the Mexicans obtained their curious Christianlike knowledge. To him there is no rival. The Aztecs claimed the honor of being the importers of the terrible Huitzilopochtli and all the unholy rites connected with his worship. They, and all other Mexicans, agreed in assigning the milder features of Mexican worship to the teachings of Quetzatcoatl. To him also they attributed the foundation of the monastic institutions and clerical systems, and the introduction of baptism, confession, communion, and all the beliefs, ceremonies, and practices, having a greater or less resemblance to those of the Christian religion.
It is, therefore, hard to understand what it was that Quetzatcoatl taught if it was not Christianity, and equally hard to conceive what he could have been if he were not a Christian missionary. His personality and attributes are altogether, and without a single exception or the slightest qualification, those of an early Christian missionary. A white man, with all the peculiarities of an European, teaches to a remote and isolated pagan people something, the remnants of which in after centuries bears an extraordinary resemblance to Christianity. Could that “something,” coming from such a source, be other than Christianity? The teacher himself is depicted as a perfect and exalted type of a Christian missionary, though the Mexicans could have had no model to guide them in their delineation of such a character. The “Lives of the Saints,” the “Annals of the Faith,” any records of the lives and labors of pious and devoted Christian missionaries, supply no more perfect nor more Christian-like character than that of Quetzatcoatl. Long, earnestly and successfully he preached the worship of the great unseen but all present God, and taught the Mexicans to trust in an omnipotent and benevolent Father in heaven. He preached peace and good will amongst men, and he “stopped his ears when war was spoken of.” He encouraged and taught the cultivation of the earth, and the arts and sciences of peace and civilization. He conferred upon the Mexicans, through the great influence he seems to have obtained over them, so many material benefits that in after ages they exaggerated the period of his rule into a veritable golden age, and impiously exalted himself into a deity of the most benevolent attributes. The impression he made was indeed so profound
that the memory of his virtues and good works survived and were exaggerated through centuries of change and trouble, and made him acceptable as a god even to the rude intruding barbarians, who only learnt of him remotely and at second hand, ages after the completion of his mission. Chaste, frugal, earnest, self denying, laborious, he stands depicted in Mexican tradition as the highest specimen of an apostolic saint or early Christian missionary. Can he then be an imaginary person? Could the early Mexican pagans have evolved such a character from their own fancy, or created it out of pagan materials? The thing seems incredible. It would indeed be a curious thing if the Mexicans—never having seen a white man, and wholly ignorant of European ideas and beliefs—had invented a fable of a white man sojourning amongst them; it would be still more curious if, in addition to this, they had invented another fable of that white man instructing them in European religion and morals. The white man without the teaching might be a possible but still a doubtful story; the teaching without the white man would be difficult to believe; but the white man and the teaching together make up a complete and consistent whole almost precluding the possibility of invention.
Three points in relation to QuetzatcoatL seem well established: (1) He was a white man from across the Atlantic; (2) he taught religion to the Mexicans; (3) the religion he taught retained to after ages many strong and striking resemblances to Christianity. The conclusion seems unavoidable—that Quetzatcoatl was a Christian missionary from Europe who taught Christianity to the Mexicans or Toltecs.
Accepting this as established, the possibility of fixing the European identity of Quetzatcoatl presents itself as a curious but obviously difficult question. To begin with, the era of Quetzatcoatl is not known with any precision. It has a possible range of some six and a half centuries—from before the beginning of the fourth century to the middle of the tenth century—that is from about A. D. 400 to A. D. 1050, which is the longest time assigned to Toltec domination in Mexico. The era of Quetzatcoatl may, however, be safely confined to narrower limits. The Toltecs must have been well established in the country before Quetzatcoatl appeared amongst them, and he must have left some
considerable time before their migration from Mexico. The references to Quetzatcoatl’s visits to the Toltec cities prove the former, and the time which would have been required to arrange for and complete the great pyramid built at Cholula in his honor, and after his departure, proves the latter. From a century to two centuries may be allowed at each end of the period between A. D. 400 and A. D. 1050, and it may be assumed with some degree of probability that Quetzatcoatl’s visit to Mexico took place some time between (say) A. D. 500 and A. D. 900.
If attention is directed to the condition of Europe during that time it will be found that the period from about A. D. 500 to A. D. 800 was one of great missionary activity. Before the former date the church was doing little more than feeling its way and asserting itself against the pagan supremacy in the basin of the Mediterranean and elsewhere. After the latter date the incursions and devastations of the northern barbarians paralyzed European missionary efforts. But from the beginning of the fifth century to the beginning of the eighth there was no limit to missionary enterprise, and if even a Christian missionary had appeared in Mexico all probability favors the theory that he must have gone there during those centuries. The era of Quetzatcoatl may therefore be narrowed to those three hundred years, and the task of tracing his identity thus simplified to some slight extent.
It may now be asked: Is it reasonable to expect that there are, or ever were, any European records of the period from A. D. 500 to A. D. 800 referring to any missionary who might have been Quetzatcoatl? It is a long time since Quetzatcoatl, whoever he was, sailed from the shores of Europe to carry the truths of Christianity into the unknown regions beyond the Atlantic, but the literary records of his assumed period are numerous and minute and might possibly have embraced some notice of his undertaking. It seems unlikely that his enterprise would have escaped attention altogether, especially from the ecclesiastical-chroniclers, who were not given to ignoring the good works of their fellow religionists. Moreover, the mission of Quetzatcoatl was not one which could have been launched quietly or obscurely, nor was there any reason why it should be. The contemplated voyage must have been a matter of public knowledge and comment in some
locality; it could not have been attempted without preparations on some scale of magnitude; and such preparations for such a purpose must have attracted at least local attention and excited local interest. It is thus reasonable to suppose that the importance and singularity of a project to cross the Atlantic for missionary purposes would have insured some record being made of the enterprise. A fortiori if the venturesome missionary ever succeeded in returning—if he ever came back to tell of his wonderful adventures—the fact would have been chronicled by his religions confreres and made the most of, then and for the benefit of future ages. It comes therefore to this—accepting Quetzatcoatl as a Christian missionary from Europe we have right and reason to expect that his singular and pious expedition would have been put upon record somewhere.
The next step in the inquiry is to search for the most likely part of Europe to have been the scene of the going forth and possible return of this missionary. The island of Hapallan, says the Mexican tradition, was the home from whence he came and whither he sought to return. The name of the country afforded us assistance, and it might not be safe to attach importance to its insular designation. But in looking for a country in Western Europe— possibly an island—which, from A. D. 500 to A. D. 800, might have sent out a missionary on a wild trans-Atlantic expedition, one is soon struck with the possibility of Ireland being such a country. To the question, “Could Ireland have been the Hapallan, or Holy Island, of the Mexican tradition?” an affirmative answer may readily be given, especially by any one who knows even a little of the ecclesiastical history of the country from A. D. 500 to A. D. 800. In that period no country was more forward in missionary enterprise. The Irish ecclesiastics shrunk from no adventures of land or sea, however desperate and dangerous, when the eternal salvation of heathen peoples was in question. On land they penetrated to all parts of the continent, preaching the gospel of Christ and founding churches and religious establishments. On sea they made voyages for like purposes to the remotest known lands of the northern and western seas. They went as missionaries to all parts of the coast of Northern Britain, and visited the Hebrides, the Orkneys, and the Shetland and Faro Islands. Even re-
mote Iceland received their pious attention, and Christianity was established by them in that island long before it was taken possession of by the Norwegians in the eighth century.
Prima facie, then, Ireland has not only a good claim, but really the best claim to be the Hapallan of the Mexicans. It is the most western part of Europe; it is insular, and in the earlier centuries of the Christian era was known as the “Holy Island”; between A. D. 500 and 800 it was the most active centre of missionary enterprise in Europe, and its missionaries were conspicuous above all others for their daring maritime adventures. It is natural therefore to suspect that Ireland may have been the home of Quetzat-coatl, and, if that were so, to expect that early Irish records would certainly contain some references to him and his extraordinary voyage. Upon this the inquiry suggests itself: Do the early Irish chronicles, which are voluminous and minute, contain anything relating to a missionary voyage across the Atlantic at all corresponding to that which Quetzatcoatl must have taken from some part of Western Europe?
To one who, step by step, had arrived at this stage of the present inquiry, it was not a little startling to come across an obscure and almost forgotten record which is, in all its main features, in most striking conformity with the Mexican legend of Quetzatcoatl. This is the curious account of the trans-Atlantic voyage of a certain Irish ecclesiastic named St. Brendan in the middle of the sixth century— about A. D. 550. The narrative appears to have attracted little or no attention in modern times, but it was widely diffused during the Middle Ages. In the Bibliotheque at Paris there are said to be no less than eleven MSS. of the original Latin narrative, the dates of which range from the eleventh to the fourteenth centuries. It is also stated that versions of it, in old French and Romance, exist in most of the public libraries of France; and in many other parts of Europe there are copies of it in Irish, Dutch, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. It is reproduced in Irsher’s “Antiquities,” and is to be found in the Cottonian collection of MSS.
This curious account of St. Brendan’s voyage may be altogether a romance, as it has long been held to be, but the remarkable thing about it is the singularity of its gen-
THE MEXICAN MESSIAH 33
eral concurrence with the Mexican tradition of Quetzat-coatl.
St. Brendan—called “The Navigator,” from his many voyages was an Irish bishop who in his time founded a great monastery at Cloufert, on the shores of Kerry, and was the head of a confraternity or order of 3,000 monks. The story of his trans-Atlantic voyage is as follows: From the eminence now called after him, Brendan Mountain, the saint had long gazed upon the Atlantic at his feet and speculated on the perilous condition of the souls of the unconverted peoples who possibly inhabited unknown countries on the other side. At length, in the cause of Christianity and for the glory of God, he resolved upon a missionary expedition across the ocean, although he was then well advanced in years. With this purpose he caused a stout bark to be constructed and provisioned for a long voyage, a portion of his supplies consisting of five swine. Taking with him some trusty companions he sailed from Tralee Bay, at the foot of Brendan Mountain, in a southwesterly direction. The voyage lasted many weeks, during several of which the vessel was carried along by a strong current without need of help from oars or sail. In the land which he ultimately reached the saint spent seven years in instructing the people in the truths of Christianity. He then left them, promising to return at some future time. He arrived safely in Ireland, and, in after years (mindful of the promise he had made to his trans-Atlantic converts) he embarked on a second voyage. This, however, was frustrated by contrary winds and currents, and he returned to Ireland, where he died in 575 at the ripe age of 94 and “in the adorn of sanctity.”
It would be idle to expect a plain matter of fact account of St. Brendan’s voyage from the chroniclers of the sixth century. The narrative is, in fact, interwoven with several supernatural occurrences. But eliminating these there remains enough of apparently real incident worthy of serious attention. The whole story, as already suggested, may be a mere pious fable promulgated and accepted in a non-critical and ignorant and credulous age. If substantially true the fact could not be verified in such an age; if a pure invention its falsity can not now be demonstrated. All that can be said about it is that it is in wonderful agreement with what is known or may be inferred from the Mexican
legend. The story of St. Brendan’s voyage was written long before Mexico was heard of, and if forged it could not have been with a view to offering a plausible explanation of a singular Mexican tradition. And yet the explanation which it offers of that tradition is so complete and apropos on all material points as almost to preclude the idea of accidental coincidence. In respect to epoch, personal characteristics, race, religion, direction of coming and going—the Mexican Quetzatcoatl might well have been the Irish saint. Both were white men, both were advanced in years, both crossed the Atlantic from the direction of Europe, both preached Christianity and Christian practices, both returned across the Atlantic to an insular home or Holy Island, both promised to come back and failed in doing so. These are at least remarkable coincidences, if accidental.
The date of St. Brendan’s voyage—the middle of the sixth century—is conveniently within the limits which probability would assign to the period of Quetzatcoatl’s sojourn in Mexico, namely from about the fifth to the eighth centuries. The possibility of making a voyage in such an age from the Western shores of Europe to Mexico is proved by the fact that the vpyage was made by others at about the same time. The probability of St. Brendan designing such a voyage is supported alike by the renown of the saint as a “navigator,” and by the known maritime enterprises and enthusiastic missionary spirit of the Irish of his time; the supposition that he succeeded in his design is countenanced by the ample preparations he is said to have made for the voyage.
There is a disagreement between the Mexican tradition and the Irish narrative in respect to the stay of the white man in Mexico. Quetzatcoatl is said to have remained twenty years in the country, but only seven years—seven Easters—are assigned to the absence of St. Brendan from his monastery. Either period would probably suffice for laying the foundations of the Christianity the remnants of which the Spaniards found in the beginning of the sixteenth century. On this point the Irish record is more likely to be correct. The Mexican tradition was already very ancient when the Spaniards became acquainted with it—as ancient as the sway of the vanished Toltecs. For centuries it had been handed down from generation to generation, and not
THE MEXICAN MESSIAH 35
always through generations of the same people. It is therefore conceivable that it may have undergone variations in some minor particulars, and that a stay of seven years became exaggerated into one of twenty years. The discrepancy is not a serious one, and is in no sense a touchstone of the soundness of the theory that Quetzatcoatl and St Brendan may have been one and the same person.
A curious feature in the Mexican tradition is its apparently needless insistency upon the point that Quetzatcoatl sailed away from Mexico in a vessel made of a serpents’ skins. There seems no special reason for attributing this extraordinary mode of navigation to him. If the design were to enhance his supernatural attributes some more strikingly miraculous mode of exit could easily have been invented. The first impulse accordingly is to reject this part of the tradition as hopelessly inexplicable—as possibly allegorical in some obscure way, or as originating in a misnomer, or in the mis-translation of an ancient term. But further consideration suggests the possibility of their being more truth in the “serpents’ skins” than appears at first sight. In the absence of large quadrupeds in their country the ancient Mexicans made use of serpents’ skins as a substitute for hides. The great drums on the top of their temple-crowned pyramids were, Cortez states, made of the skins of a large species of serpent, and when beaten for alarum could be heard for miles around. It may therefore be that Quetzatcoatl in preparing for his return voyage across the Atlantic made use of the skins of serpents or crocodiles to cover the hull of his vessel and render it water-tight. The Mexicans were not boat-builders and were unacquainted with the use of tar or pitch, employing only canoes dug out of the solid timber. When Cortez was building the brigandines with which he attacked the City of Mexico from the lake, he had to manufacture the tar he required from such available trees as he could find. Quetzatcoatl may have used serpents’ skins for a similar purpose, and such use would imply that the vessel in which he sailed away was not a mere canoe, but a built-up boat. If he was really St. Brendan nothing is more likely than that he would seek for a substitute for tar or pitch in skins of some sort. Coming from the west coast of Ireland, he would be familiar with the native currahs, couracles, or hide-covered boats then in common use (and not yet whol-
ly discarded) for coasting purposes, and sometimes for voyages to the coasts of Britain and continent of Europe. Some of these were of large size and capable of carrying a small mast, the body being a stout frame work of ash ribs covered with hides of oxen, sometimes of threefold thickness. It may have been a vessel of this kind which Quetzatcoatl constructed for his return voyage, or it may be that he employed the serpents’ skins for protecting the seams of his built-up boat in lieu of tar or pitch. In any case the tradition makes him out a navigator and boat-builder of some experience, and if he were really St. Brendan he would have had a knowledge of the Irish mode of constructing and navigating sea-going crafts and would probably have employed serpents’ skins, the best Mexican substitute for ox-hides, at either of the ways suggested.
It would be presumptuous to claim that the identity of Quetzatcoatl and St. Brendan has been completely established in this essay, but it may reasonably be submitted that there is no violent inconsistency involved in the theory herein advanced, and an examination of the evidence upon which it is based discloses many remarkable coincidences in favor of the opinion that the Mexican Messiah may have been the Irish saint. Beyond that it would not be safe to go, and it is not probable that future discoveries will enable the identity of Quetzatcoatl to be more clearly traced. It is a part of the Mexican tradition that Quetzatcoatl, before leaving Mexico, concealed a collection of silver and shell objects, and other precious things, by burial. The discovery of such a treasure would no doubt show that he was a Christian missionary, and would probably settle the question of his nationality and identity. But the deposit may have been discovered and destroyed or dispersed long ago, and if not there is little probability now that it will ever see the light of day. It would be equally hopeless to expect that Mexican records may yet be discovered containing references to Quetzatcoatl. A thousand years may have elapsed from the time of that personage to the days of Cortez, and since then nearly another four hundred years have contributed to the further destruction of Mexican monuments and records. In the earlier days of the Spanish Conquest, all the memorials of the subjugated races were ruthlessly and systematically destroyed, and so effectually that but comparatively few
THE MEXICAN MESSIAH
scraps and fragments remain of native historical materials which formerly existed in great abundance. Even these remnants are for the most part useless, for in a single generation or two of Spanish fanaticism and Spanish egotism destroyed all use and knowledge of the native Mexican languages and literature. It may, therefore, be concluded that we know all we are ever likely to know of the history and personality of the Mexican Messiah, and what we do know is this—that he was a Christian missionary from Europe, and is more likely to have been St. Brendan than any other European of whom we have knowledge.
Ancient Canals and Waterworks
Sensational Archaeology dwells upon the Pyramids, Stonehenge, Easter Island, and the other stone architecture of the ancient world. How were these great stones cut and moved? What marvelous feats of engineering! The same awe and wonder could well be applied to the more prosaic water-handling structures built by these supposedly unsophisticated peoples. The quantities of earth moved in these enterprises were stupendous even in these days of mountain-chomping diesel-powered machines. In addition, the engineering know-how displayed in the design of Britain’s dew ponds and Arizona’s canal system deserves our admiration. Equally impressive waterworks can be found all ov6r the world: North Africa’s irrigation network, South America’s ridged fields, Ohio’s artificial terraces, and so on. Here, space allows us to serve only a few hors d’oeuvres.
Why did ancient man undertake such massive tasks? Mostly to grow more food. Banish the thought that primitive populations were always sparse. The adobe buildings constructed by the Arizona canal builders reached five and more stories and contained hundreds of rooms. To feed such dense populations, agriculture had to be intensive. Some canals, such as those in Florida, may have been simply waterways. We cannot be certain, but why else would anyone dig huge trenches miles long connecting two bodies of water? Perhaps the big mystery is the nature of the commerce that required such canals.
THE HOHOKAM CANALS AT PUEBLO GRANDE, ARIZONA
Woodbury, Richard B.; American Antiquity, 26:267-270, 1961
Interest in the surviving, visible remains of ancient irrigation canals in southern Arizona and northern Sonora has been long and intense, going back at least to Manje’s careful notes on the canal at Casa Grande ruin in 1697 (Karns 1954), and including such observant travelers as Rusling (1877) and the records of several local residents^ particularly Patrick (1903) and Turney (1929). Nevertheless, the body of information available has consisted largely of unsystematic comments on the surface appearance of these canal remnants, and the investigation of Hohokam irrigation by archaeological techniques has proceeded very slowly. The work that Cushing directed at Los Muertos was reported by Hodge (1893) and supplemented by Haury’s monograph (1945) which also summarized the available information on the subject. The only thorough excavation of a Hohokam canal that has been reported is the cross sectioning at Snaketown in 1935 which provided clear association between the stages of construction and use of the canal and the ceramic sequence being worked out at the site. On this basis it was possible to assign the beginning of the Snaketown canal to about A.D. 800 and suggest that it was in use for about 500 years. Careful mapping of the entire surviving Hohokam canal system, making use of aerial photographs, was begun by the Smithsonian Institution in 1930 but never completed due to the pressure of other activities and the lack of funds.
The interdisciplinary program in the utilization of arid lands which is being carried on at the University of Arizona with financial support from the Rockefeller Foundation of New York has made it possible to examine several surviving Hohokam canals, including (during October and November, 1959) the well-known pair of canals in the Park of Four Waters, Phoenix. This city park, of about 10 acres extent, is located just across the modern Grand
I Canal and the Southern Pacific tracks from the Pueblo Grande Museum, in the stockyards area of eastern Phoenix. Although the location is far from scenic, surrounded
as it is with industrial activities, it has been protected from the encroachments that have destroyed all trace of most prehistoric canals in the Salt River Valley.
Prior to this recent excavation, which is reported in preliminary form here, the canals at Pueblo Grande were marked by two pairs of conspicuous parallel ridges, the remains of the banks which several centuries of erosion had not yet leveled. The actual channels were filled to about the level of the surrounding land, although the height of the banks gave the illusion of two deep channels. Both canals trend to the west and northwest, gradually swinging away from the Salt River which lies nearby on the south. At their eastern ends they are so close together that their adjacent banks merged into a single bank. This has been thought in the past to indicate that either (a) they forked just to the east from a common parent canal, now entirely destroyed by recent floods of the Salt, or (b) they both headed here, at a time when the Salt flowed closer to the spot than it does now. As will be shown, both of these beliefs are almost certainly wrong. The canals, at the point investigated, run along a low terrace of the river, only a couple of meters above the present channel, which is here nearly a half mile wide but flowing only in rare floods.
Excavation of a cross section of these canals was greatly aided by the generous loan of a Gradall, with its two operators, by the Salt River Valley Water Users Association. The 60-m. trench with sloping sides which the Gradall dug to a depth of two to three meters was further deepened by hand where it crossed the filled channels of the two canals, and one wall was cleaned to permit observation of the stratigraphy.
One of the most impressive revelations of this trench was the size of the original canals, about 10 and 6 m. wide at the former ground level, and about 26 and 18 m. wide from crest to crest of the banks. Also, the fact that subsequent filling of the channels had raised the level between the banks to slightly higher than the original ground level is of interest, since it vitiates inferences that have been made in the past concerning the relationship of river channel elevation and canal elevation. Such inferences have been based only on observations of present surface indication, which this cross section shows to be inadequate for estimating original depth (or profile).
The North and South canals proved to be quite different in profile, the North Canal being flat-bottomed with the sides sloping at about 35°, the South Canal V-shaped in profile with the lower part of the sides sloping at 50° to 60°. Nevertheless, they contained rather similar fills, ranging from coarse sand through fine sand to silt, much of it laminated and indicating successive phases of deposition, with either periodic intentional cleaning or natural removal of the deposits. Both canals were dug through an otherwise undisturbed layer of fine-grained, river-laid sand ranging in thickness from 1.5 to 2.0 m., and both were dug into underlying coarse gravel, a most unpromising material for holding the water that the canals were constructed to carry. There is, of course, a possibility that the water table was high enough in ancient times for the canal bottom to have penetrated it, and thus considerably reduced the loss of water in transit. However, in the North Canal, the remains of a substantial clay lining were found resting on the lowest of the sandy fills in the channel. The lining consists of a compact, homogeneous layer of chocolate brown clay, from 5 to 9 cm. thick, with a cracked and uneven upper surface as though exposed to the sun. Careful examination revealed no lamination or horizontal structure within the clay, such as would indicate that it was naturally deposited in standing water. Furthermore, although the layer of clay was not traceable across the bottom of the canal, where it had probably eroded away, it was well preserved for a considerable distance up the sides; if this were the remnant of a water-laid layer it would have originally been over a meter thick, a wholly unreasonable deposit in such circumstances. Instead, the evidence points clearly to its having been laid by hand, with clay brought from a source not yet identified but possibly within a few miles. The total extent of this clay layer can only be guessed, but its presence was verified in test pits 40 and 145 m. to the west. With an observable width of at least 8 m., and assuming a minimum thickness of 5 cm., such a lining would have needed at least four-tenths of a cubic meter of clay for every linear meter of canal. Only a very critical need could have justified bringing in such a quantity of material. The need was undoubtedly for a canal bottom that would lose less of its water in transit, as the channel is here dug into coarse material into which water would percolate
easily. Many modern irrigation canals are, of course, lined with concrete for the same purpose, the cost being more than offset by the saving in water. No other Hohokam canal has been found with an identifiable lining, although some early and unsubstantiated reports mention the use of adobe or clay for this purpose. It is doubtful if this was ever a common practice but in this instance there seems little doubt that at least part of a large canal was carefully lined to render it practically watertight, even though the cost in labor must have been enormous. It should be noted that the canal saw use for at least a short time prior to the addition of the lining, as shown by the deposit underlying it.
The canal banks are made up, as would be expected, initially of the material excavated from the channels during construction. All three banks contain at the base, un-stratified sandy material identical with the undisturbed material below it except for the latter’s laminated condition. The presence of a few sherds at the contact between the stratified and the homogeneous material helped in determining the position of the original ground level. As the construction of the canals progressed and the diggers encountered coarse gravel, this was piled on the banks above the finer, sandy level. This gravel, being the last material dug out of the channels, should have formed the tops of the banks, and probably did at first. But the banks were further augmented by fine material, silt and sand, cleared from the channels, so that today the banks still stand 2.0 to 3.0 m. high even after enough material has been washed down from them to completely refill the canals. This should, then, be a rough indication of the quantity of sand and silt dredged from the channels during the years that they were kept in use.
It was hoped that clear evidence would be found in the central bank, shared by both canals, for the priority of one canal or the other. This proved difficult to determine, as no clear line could be found separating the material piled onto the bank from the North and South canals. Nevertheless, the position of the gravelly zones in this central bank suggests that the larger zone, extending from 44 to 48 m. in the profile, comes from the South Canal, and is overlain by finer material at its north end as a result of
the subsequent excavation of the North Canal. The position of two smaller gravelly zones high in the north side of the central bank also suggests that the North Canal was dug after the South Canal had been in use long enough to require considerable clearing. Therefore, it is probable but not certain that the South Canal is the older.
The difference in elevation between the bottoms of the canals is of considerable interest. If the two canals were branches of a parent canal (now destroyed by the river), they would have to be approximately the same elevation. Therefore, this widely-held belief must be discarded. The bottom of the South Canal is about 1.5 m. below the bottom of the North Canal, and is about the same elevation as the dry bed of the Salt immediately to the south. It is possible, therefore, that the South Canal headed only a short distance to the east; the North Canal would have had to head some little distance further upstream to gain its higher elevation. It is much less probable that both canals headed nearly to the east, and that lowering of the river channel by erosion resulted in abandonment of the higher, northern channel and digging of the new channel to a greater depth. Much less labor would have been required for the deepening of the already existing channel.
The successive fills of the two canals could not be correlated with each other, and there is no way to determine at what point in the history of the South Canal the North Canal came into use—if, as we suspect, they were used in this sequence, their spans of use may, of course, not have overlapped at all. The fills, as observed in cross section, are separated by fairly clearly defined discontinuities. However, the material of one fill is very similar to another, the variation being in fineness of particles and in changes in the thickness and dip of the bedding planes that record each layer’s manner of deposition. A detail of excavation technique is of interest in connection with these fills; observation of details was made easier by the passage of a few days because the loss of color difference due to drying was less important than the clear and delicate etching that was produced by the strong winds that blew nearly every day. The relief that was developed between the more compact and less compact laminae could be only partly achieved by gentle jabbing with a fine-bristled paint brush, but this
substitute for a few days’ wind action was helpful in making possible immediate interpretation of exposed portions of the profile.
The fill of both channels shows one characteristic shared with modern irrigation channels and permanent streams. When the rate of flow is increased by an increase in the volume of water, previously deposited materials are removed, but mainly from the bottom of the channel and to a lesser extent from the sides. This can be easily observed in the cross section of the North Canal; the deposits labeled 1, 3, and 4 are entirely absent at the center of the canal but remain at one or both sides. In the South Canal, the oldest fill, No. 1, appears to have been two or three times as thick as the remaining portion at the center of channel, with all but a small portion against the south side cut away prior to deposition of fill 2.
Dating the construction and use of the canals has proved difficult. Their proximity to Pueblo Grande would suggest use during its occupation, which probably extended from the 12th century to the end of the 14th, with a large part of its construction during the Soho phase, approximately 1150 or 1200 to 1300. However, examination of the few sherds found in and under the canal banks and in the canal fills shows no evidence of construction before the Soho phase or of use after it. The small number of sherds makes such a conclusion somewhat less than final, and the possibility cannot be eliminated of a much earlier canal having been completely cleaned out or totally re-excavated and enlarged, thus removing evidence of its original date.
The total extent of these canals was recorded by both Patrick (1903) and Turney (1929), Turney probably depending heavily on Patrick’s much earlier first-hand observations. The North Canal is shown as extending for about 9 miles, the South Canal about seven. Both are shown heading about a half mile east of the Park of Four Waters. There is an apparently reliable local recollection, however, that before the end of the last century one of these canals could be traced another two miles eastward, to a point opposite Tempe Butte (O. S. Halseth, personal communication). It may never be possible to establish the original length of these canals precisely, but the general order of magnitude suggested here is undoubtedly correct. Both canals are comparable in length to some of the modern
canals in use today. It might be expected that canals of such size, involving substantial and probably protracted labor in their construction, would have been used for more than the century or so suggested by the ceramic evidence. On the other hand, many causes may have been responsible for their abandonment after a relatively brief span of service—excessive silting, water-logging of the fields they served, or changes in the river.
It is too early in the current study of prehistoric land-and water-use in the Southwest to attempt answers to the many questions posed by Hohokam irrigation. Its origins, its extent, and the reasons for its decline need much further study, and the social and economic implications of this extensive system of large canals are not yet understood. As this study progresses it is hoped that all of these aspects of Hohokam irrigation will become better known. A more detailed report on the canals at the Park of Four Waters, and reports on the other investigations now in progress will be presented in the future.
ANCIENT CANALS ON THE SOUTH-WEST COAST OF FLORIDA
Douglass, Andrew E.; American Antiquarian, 7:277-285, 1885
While exploring the South-west coast of Florida, I was much interested in two ancient canals which I examined, and whose object seemed quite inexplicable. The first occurs about three miles north of Gordon’s Pass, an inlet thirty-three miles south of Punta Rasa, and twenty miles north of Cape Roman.
I entered Gordon’s Pass, and for some days was occupied in examining the evidences of Indian occupation in the shell and earth mounds to be found there, and while awaiting a fair wind for Punta Rasa, devoted a day to the examination of the Canal. With two of my men I walked northward along the beach, which was a perfectly straight line to the next Pass. For the first half mile this beach was skirted by a beautiful grove of cabbage palmetto, under whose shade was the ranch of Mr. Madison Weeks, an intelligent settler, who was cultivating the surface of an extensive shell mound, just north of the Inlet,
and who courteously gave me much information about the country. The Palm Grove was on a plateau about eight feet above the sea level, but beyond the grove the land sank into a low marsh not more than half that elevation. The storms of many years had created a levee of sand, which defended this morass from the sea, and was at least one hundred feet in breadth. It was apparent, however, that erosion of the coast had here occurred to a great extent, for stumps of dead palms could be seen a hundred yards or so to sea, and suggested the probability of great change in the contour of the land during not remote years. One of our party followed the line of embankment or sand-dune while the other two kept along the beach. At a distance of three and a-half miles from the Inlet the former announced the Canal, and we soon joined him and saw the object of our search before us. Where we stood it was buried in the sand embankment, but from that it was plainly visible straight as an arrow, crossing the low intervening morass and penetrating the sandy pine ridge, half a mile, or nearly so, away. The bottom was moist and full of tall grass; the sides and summit of the embankment covered with a dense chapparal of oak scrub and scrub palmetto. Its direction from our stand-point was about one point South of East. We could see in the distance, pines growing upon the inner and outer sides of its banks. With infinite labor we worked our way through the dense scrub for a hundred yards or so, and took our measurements. The width from the summit ridge upon each bank was 55 feet, and the depth from that summit level to centre of the excavation 12 feet. At the bottom the width was 12 feet, the banks being almost perpendicular for some 5 feet, and then receding on an easier angle at the summit. This summit was about eight feet above the level of the meadow, through which for nearly half a mile it was excavated, till it reached the higher level of the sandy pine land beyond. Owing to considerable indisposition on my part, this was the end of our exploration for that day, but on the day following we rowed up the Interior Lagoon with a view of examining its eastern terminus. Mr. Weeks, the resident settler, kindly accompanied us and gave us all the information he possessed as to its structure and peculiarities. He had often hunted through the pines, and had crossed it at various points not at present acces-
sible to us. A long pull of about four miles from the Inlet along the Lagoon brought us to a little bay on the west shore where we landed, and penetrating the thickets reached a swamp of saw grass and water, where we found the Eastern terminus of the canal, though much reduced in dimensions, as probably it was here more exposed to the wash of the Lagoon in the rainy season. The banks were covered with a growth of cabbage palms, and as it progressed toward the pine barren, it increased in size and height We found that at this end the trench curved to the South as it approached the Lagoon, and about two hundred yards from the shore it was intersected by a cross ditch or trench, as if to allow it to receive the waters from the level on either side. If this cross opening has not been a modern adjunct, designed to allow the swamps to discharge into the Lagoon, as we found was now the case, it would seem to indicate that the whole of these interior waters were expected to find an outlet to the sea by means of this very considerable drain or canal. Mr. Weeks gave us the following information about the canal in its passage through the pine land. The whole canal is about one mile and a half in length, reaching from the Lagoon to the Sea. With the exception of the curve at the Eastern terminus it is perfectly straight. In passing through the pine woods it intersects sand ridges, in which it is excavated to a depth of forty feet. The bottom is everywhere of the same width I have described, but at points where he has crossed it in hunting, he finds a trench about four feet in breadth, and at present, two feet deep running along the center, leaving a breadth of about four feet on each side. Mr. Weeks was of the impression that this supplementary trench was designed to accommodate the keel of a boat as it ran along the conduit. Leaving the Canal, we crossed the Lagoon and found and ascended a creek with rocky banks and bottom for some two miles, into the pine woods of the mainland. Mr. Weeks was of the opinion that it formerly connected with the Canal, and the latter was constructed to carry it to the sea, but I see no indication of that being even remotely possible, though it is as good a guess as any other that can be made in the apparent absence of any more plausible theory. The trench in the middle of the main canal appears to me to indicate that the canal has been made by civilized men, and within a comparatively
recent period. It is a work of enormous labor indeed, but in trenching through the sands of these regions, it is quite usual to make an interior ditch, that the tables left on each side may intercept the drifting sands brought down the sides by heavy weather, rains or wind. But the question is, what was the purpose of such an expense of labor, and who in this sparsely settled country could have undertaken it. As regards drainage, the Lagoon already empties into the Inlet, and through that into the sea. If for the admittance of vessels, the Inlet of Gordon’s Pass gives far greater accommodation. And who would not be aware that an opening of the kind at right angles to the shore, without some very massive artificial breakwater and continually dredged channels, would be choked up by the sand on the first storm, and show the same obstruction at its mouth as we have just seen. My own idea is that by whomsoever constructed, it was designed to relieve the lowlands to the eastward of great accumulations of fresh water in the rainy season, at some remote period when there was no Gordon’s Pass, and when the exterior conformation of the coast was far different from what it is at present. Inlets in the Florida coast, particularly on the Atlantic side, open and close unexpectedly. In St. Johns County a couple of miles south of Mantanzas Inlet, an inlet, known as Hughes’, closed up in heavy gales a hundred years since, and that region was rendered very unhealthy by the stagnant fresh water. A few Spanish soldiers with shovels, opened a channel through the marsh back of the Sand Dunes, and in a short time the waters had worn a course into the Matanzas river, which has so remained ever since. Heavy storms on the Gulf Coast may have choked up several Inlets on the west coast, and filled up channels among the Mangrove Islands, or on the other hand, the mainland which now confronts Gordon’s Pass only a mile or so to the eastward, may have reached the sea in bygone ages, and enclosed a fresh water lake where is now the Northern Lagoon. Who were the constructors, is a question, even more difficult to settle. There is no record of such a work in any local tradition, or in any history that we now possess. Indeed, there is nothing more obscure than the history whether ancient or modern, of the South-west Coast of Florida.
ANCIENT CANALS AND WATERWORKS
| SECTION OF CANAL
Map of one of the ancient canals on the West Coast of Florida.
The other canal I visited, is quite as inexplicable, and even more surprising for its extent and dimensions than this. It has been occasionally noticed in accounts of hunters and sportsmen, who have not infrequently encountered it in a more accessible and better known region. The sheet of water on the coast north of Caloosahatchee river known as Charlotte Harbor, Charlotte Sound and Carlos Bay, has on its eastern border a long island known as Pine Island. It is about 18 miles long, and from three to five miles broad, extending in a direction nearly north and south. On its east side it is separated from the mainland by a shoal channel, obstructed by oyster and sand bars, from half a mile to a mile in width. On the west, Charlotte Sound intervenes between it and the outside or coast-line of keys, with a width of from three to five miles. Just on the verge of Pine Island, a maze of mangrove keys or islets stretch along the entire distance, and some of these have been occupied by the Muspa Indians as late as fifty years since. Pine Island itself is clothed in pines, and is a sandy level fringed along the water by mangrove thickets. Some of the adjacent islets are occupied here and there, by a solitary settler, who finds cultivatable ground on the shell mounds left by the Indian inhabitants of prehistoric or more recent days. One of the largest of these shell mounds which I have ever seen, is found on the west
coast of Pine Island, some four miles from its northern end. The heaps cover a space of several acres, and rise in steep ridges to the height of, in some instances, twenty-five feet. Their flanks run off frequently on very slight inclinations, and have been dwelt on by Indian residents long subsequent to the era of original construction, until the debris accumulated over the shells has resolved itself into a very fertile mould, tempting to the settler of the present day. This shell heap had been so utilized, that around the steep ridges, rows of lime and lemon trees, with pomegranates and fig trees, spread out on the long levels. But all was now deserted and on landing I found it a maze of wild luxuriance; briars and the American Aloe, and cacti innumerable, filled up every vacant space, and these with the “Spanish bayonet,” render it a danger as well as labor to explore.
I had but little time to spare, owing to the delays forced upon us by a long period of unusually inclement weather, and could only make a hasty inspection. We had expected to find two settlers at the ranch, but it was vacant, and our work had to be done without the aid of a guide. We made for the mangrove swamps to the south, and the tide fortunately being out, we worked through the damp thickets till we emerged into the tangle of scrub palmetto which covered the surface of the sandy upland of the Island. Catching a glimpse of a sand mound glistening with whitened crest, among the pines a quarter of a mile away to the eastward, we plunged in through the chapparal and made for that object. On our way we rose upon a slight ridge and then descending into a hollow level for some thirty feet, again surmounted a ridge and then realized that this was the Canal. It was thus we found it, much to our surprise. A thin growth of tall pines covered it and the surrounding sand level, an occasional palmetto rose here and there along the bottom, all else was a thicket of scrub palmetto. The position of this end of the canal was of some interest, as enabling us to estimate how far it was coeval with the sand or shell mounds at its western terminus. So far as it can be described without the aid of a diagram, the arrangement of these objects was as follows: On the western verge of the Island in a mangrove swamp, rose the various masses of shells constituting the Shell mound
spreading over an area of eight or ten acres; due east of these ridges at a distance of some 300 feet, but upon the sand level of the Island, rose a sand mound 35 feet in height and 200 feet in base diameter, (one of the largest of these constructions which had come under my observation anywhere in Florida.) Looking eastward from its summit, we could discern about 460 yards distant, the sand mound we had first descried. It was a twin or double-headed mound, as I afterward ascertained, 20 feet in perpendicular height, with a depression of 8 feet between the two summits, and the longest diameter of its base 300 feet. While these two mounds lay on a line due east and west, the canal passed between them angularly, coming from the south-east. The dimensions of the latter were at this point 30 feet in width from the bottom of the opposite banks, and seven to eight feet in height to the summit of the banks, which was also at an elevation of some three or four feet above the level of the adjacent sand of the Island surface.
Far as the eye could reach, we could trace this canal in a direct line through the sparse pine woods; its course being especially marked by the tall fronds of the cabbage palms, which the moisture of the depression tempted to grow within the banks, and were confined to that level. After passing between the two sand mounds in an angular direction, the western terminus of this interesting construction, faded away in the general level of the surface to the north of the larger mound, and this level, within a few rods, sank into a creek which continued straight through the mangroves into Charlotte Sound, emptying two hundred yards north of the ranch where I had landed. These were all the local characteristics of this Canal that I was able personally to inspect. I was assured by an old settler that it crosses the entire Island in a direct line on the course which I observed. At this point, the direct width of Pine Island is three and a half miles. The Canal however, crossing at the angle indicated, must exceed five miles in length. It was a source of great regret that indisposition on one hand and delays incident to an unusually rough and inclement winter on the other hand should have prevented my making a more thorough survey of this interesting and inexplicable work.
Hubbard, A. J., and Hubbard, G.; Nature, 71:611-612, April 27, 1905
[A book review]
The mighty earthworks that still crown so many of our hills fill the archaeologist alike with wonder and despair— wonder that prehistoric man, with the most primitive tools, was equal to the task of raising them, and despair that so little can ever be known about them, despite the most laborious and costly excavation. Plenty of books, however, of the kind now under notice would do much to solve the mystery and increase our admiration for Neolithic man, for it is to the period before bronze was known in Britain that the authors assign the stupendous works of Cissbury and Chanctonbury on the South Downs.
This is an open-air book that gives life to the dry bones of archaeology, and reads like the record of a well-spent holiday. A keen eye for country is one of the qualifications possessed by one or both the authors, and evidence of ramparts long since levelled is wrung from the very daisies as they grow. The construction of dew-ponds by the early inhabitants of Britain has often been glibly asserted, but few, if any, have furnished such clear and circumstantial evidence as the authors of this short treatise. The water-supply for the occupants of our huge prehistoric “camps” has always been somewhat of a mystery, and it has been suggested that they were only temporary refuges, when the country was “up,” so that a permanent supply was not regarded as a necessity. But the watering of men and animals on the scale indicated by the areas enclosed would be a formidable task even for a day, and another explanation must be sought. The late General Pitt-Rivers, for example, held that the water-level of the combes was higher then than now, and streams would have been plentiful on the slopes; but, feeling the inadequacy of this view, he also had recourse to the dew-pond theory. To those familiar with the process, this might seem an obvious expedient, but the interesting account given of the formation of such reservoirs might make us chary of crediting prehistoric man with such scientific methods.
An exposed position innocent of springs was selected,
and straw or some other non-conductor of heat spread over the hollowed surface. This was next covered with a thick layer of well puddled clay, which was closely strewn with stones. The pond would gradually fill, and provide a constant supply of pure water, due to condensation during the night of the warm, moist air from the ground on the surface of the cold clay. Evaporation during the day is less rapid than this condensation, and the only danger is that the straw should be sodden by leakage. It is for this reason that springs or drainage from higher ground are. avoided, as running water would cut into the clay crust.
Some ponds of this kind, no doubt of very early, and perhaps of Neolithic date, may still be seen in working order: others are of modern construction; but to and from the ancient dew-ponds (or their sites) can sometimes be traced the hillside tracks along which the herds were driven, one leading from the camp, or cattle-enclosure hard by, to the watering-place, another leading back, to avoid confusion on the road. These and other details as to guard-houses and posts of observation are brought to our notice in the description of selected strongholds in Sussex and Dorset; and verification, if, indeed, such is demanded, must be sought on the spot by any who have doubts or rival theories.
The banks, that enclosed pasture-areas sometimes of vast extent, were no doubt stockaded against man and beast, and may be compared with the base-court defences of the Norman burn; but the excavator of Wans-dyke had an alternative theory that such banks were sometimes erected for driving game. Incidentally, the authors discountenance the view that the “camps,” not to mention the outworks, were ever efficiently manned. Their extent would necessitate for this duty a vast number of fighting men within call.
Possibly, in a few instances, the ridges on the hill-slopes may be due to outcropping strata, and others might suggest terrace-cultivation; but there seems ample evidence for the view taken that Neolithic cattle-tracks have survived to this day around certain of our most imposing “camps.”
Scotland’s Vitrified Forts
Vitrifaction is the process of fusing stone or glass. It requires a high temperature (about 2800°F), the precise value being dependent upon the material involved. Glassmaking was evidently mastered by the Egyptians and has a long, not-very-mysterious history. Given wood fuel and a good hearth, glassmaking is not too difficult. The question is not whether the ancients could make glass but whether they could vitrify large stone walls to a depth of several feet.
The Scottish vitrified forts are described below in quaint detail in a 200-year-old article by Anderson. This is followed by a more modern report that makes the vitrified forts seem less anomalous, as if anyone could melt a pile of rocks together.
Those who have been at a hot campfire know that the intense heat blackens stones but does not fuse them. However, intense house fires will occasionally melt foundation stones. Thus it is not beyond comprehension that ancient men could pile seasoned timber against a pile of rocks, fire it in a good wind, and fuse some of the rocks together. A more significant question is “Why bother?” An enemy can storm a vitrified fort just as easily as an unverified one.
Vitrified forts are important in Sensational Archaeology because they were obviously created when the ancients turned their laser weapons upon Scotland. (Of course, the great rock-cutting feats of yore were also consumated with lasers.) A connection also exists with the vitrified areas found in such places
as the Libyan Desert. These are supposed to be the sites of pre-Alamagordo nuclear explosions.
Less sensationally, Scottish vitrified forts could well have an origin and purpose more mysterious than precocious laser guns. The point here is that lasers are not absolutely necessary to explain fused stone walls. The real mysteries of ancient man may be much more subtle.
ANCIENT FORTIFICATIONS OF SCOTLAND
Anderson, James; Archaeologia, 5:241-266, 1777
Nothing seems to be so well calculated for throwing light on the origin of nations, as an attention to the radical construction of the language of the people, and to the nature of those monuments of remote antiquity that have escaped the ravages of time.
Much has been written about the origin of the Scottish nation. And although some attention has been paid to the nature of the language of the natives, the antiquities of the country have been in a great measure disregarded; though it should seem that the last would be of greater utility in this discussion than the first of these particulars. For, a language may have been spread through so many nations at a very remote period, and is subject to such perpetual variations, and it is so difficult to trace these variations before the discovery of letters, that there is no possibility of pointing out by any unequivocal peculiarities of language, the particular nation from which any particular tribe may have descended. But the mechanic arts discovered by any particular nation, especially before commerce was generally practised, were in a great measure confined to the original discoverers themselves, or their immediate de-scendents; and therefore they serve more effectually to distinguish the countries that were occupied by particular tribes of people. It is with this view that I suggest the following remarks on some of the remains of antiquity that are still discoverable in Scotland.
All the antiquities that I have yet heard of in this country may be referred to one or other of the following general classes, (not to mention Roman camps, or other
works of later date) of each of which I shall speak a little, according to the order in which they occur.
I. Mounds of earth thrown up into a fort of hemispherical form, usually distinguished by the name of mote or moat.
II. Large heaps of stones piled upon one another, called cairns.
HI. Large detached stones fixed in the earth in an erect position.
IV. Large stones fixed likewise in an erect position in a circular form.
V. Circular buildings erected of stone without any cementing matter, usually distinguished by the adjunct epithet dun; and
VI. Walls cemented by a vitrified matter, usually found on the top of high mountains.
[The first two categories are of little interest and are omitted here.]
III. The long stones set on end in the earth are, with still greater certainty, known to be monuments erected to perpetuate the memory of some signal event in war. These are probably of later date than the cairns; for there is hardly one of them whose traditional history is not preserved by the country people in the neighbourhood: nor is it difficult on many occasions to reconcile these traditional narratives with the records of history. On some of these stones is found a rude kind of sculpture; as on the long stone near Forress in the shire of Murray, and on that at Aberlemno in the shire of Angus; but in general the stones are entirely rude and unf ashioned, just as they have been found in the earth.
It is probable that this kind of monument has been first introduced into Britain by the Danes; as almost all the traditional stories relate to some transaction with the Danes, or other memorable event since the period when that Northern people infested this country; and I have never heard of any of them in the internal parts of the Highlands, though they are numerous along the coasts every where. It is certain, however, that the Britons adopted this method of perpetuating the memory of remarkable events, as appears by Piercy’s cross in Northumberland, which is a modern monument belonging to this class.
IV. The stones placed in a circular form, as being less known than the former, and confined to a narrower district, deserve to be more particularly described.
These, from their situation and form, have been evidently places destined for some particular kind of religious worship. They are for the most part placed upon an eminence, usually on that side of it which declines towards the South, and seem to have been all formed after one plan with little variation. I have examined, perhaps, some hundreds of them in different places, and find, that by restoring the parts that have been demolished they would all coincide very exactly with the plan annexed to this, which was drawn from one that is still very entire in this neighbourhood, at a place called Hill of Fiddess, which I believe you once saw.
This particular temple, 46 feet in diameter, consists of nine long stones, placed on end in a circular form, at distances nearly equal, though not exactly so. The area within this circle is smooth, and somewhat lower than the ground around it. By this means, and by a small bank carried quite round between the stones, which is still a little higher than the ground about it, the circular area has been very distinctly defined. Between two stones that are nearest the meridian line, on the South side of the area, is laid on its side, a long stone, at each end of which are placed two other stones smaller than any of those that form the outer circle. These are a little within the circle, and at a somewhat greater distance from one another; and still farther, within the circular line, are placed two other stones. Behind the large stone the earth is raised something more than a foot higher than the rest of the circular area. It is probable that on this stage the priest officiated at the religious ceremonies, the large stone supplying the place of an altar.
There is not the smallest mark of a tool on any of these stones; but they are sometimes found of surprisingly large dimensions, the horizontal one on the South side especially, which seems to have been always chosen of the largest size that could be found. They are seldom less than six or eight feet in length, usually between ten and twelve; and I met with one that was near sixteen feet in length, and not less than eight feet in diameter in any of its dimensions. It appears to us amazing how in these rude
times stones of such a size could have been moved at all; and yet they are so regularly placed in the proper part of the circle, and so much detached from other stones, as leaves not a possibility of doubting that they have been placed there by design.
It does not seem, however, that they have been confined to any particular size or shape of any of the stones in these structures, for they are quite irregular in these respects; only they seem always to have preferred the largest stones they could find to such as were smaller. Neither does there seem to have been any particular number of stones preferred to any other; it seems to have been enough that the circle should be distinctly marked out. In the shire of Nairn, where flat thin stones much abound, I saw some structures of this kind where the stones almoust touched one another all round. It appears also by the plan annexed, that exact regularity in the distance between the different stones were not much regarded.
I have never seen or heard of any temples of this kind in Scotland to the South of the Grampian mountains, nor to the North of Inverness. They abound in Aberdeenshire, and along the Grampian mountains themselves.
Stonehenge in Wiltshire, is without doubt a monument referable to this general class, although differing from the above in many particulars.
There are some vestiges of these four kinds of antiquities in South Britain; but it is doubtful if there are any of a similar nature with those of the other two classes that remain to be taken notice of. I shall, therefore, be a little more particular with regard to them.
V. The first of these in order are the circular buildings, consisting of walls composed of stones firmly bedded upon one another without any cement; some of which have been so firmly built as to be able to withstand the ravages of time for many’centuries.
I have seen many of these more or less entire, and have heard of others that are still more perfect than any of those that I have seen. By the description I have got of these, the structure, when entire, seems very much to have resembled one of our modern glass-houses; the walls having been gradually contracted to a narrow compass at top, which was left open.
This account of the upper part of these buildings I give merely from hear-say, as the walls of the most entire one that I have seen did not, as I imagine, exceed twenty feet in height, and was at top very little narrower than at the base. This was at a place called Dun Agglesag in Rossshire, about ten miles West from Tain, on the South bank of the firth of Dornoch, which was, in summer 1775, in the following condition.
The walls appeared to be perfectly circular. The internal diameter, (as nearly as I can recollect, having lost my notes of this tour) was about fifty feet. The walls were about twelve feet in thickness, and the entry into it was at one place by a door about four feet wide: the height I could not exactly measure, as the passage as well as the inside of the building was choaked up in some measure with rubbish, so that we could not see the floor. The coins of the door consisted of large stones carefully chosen, so as exactly to fit the place where they were to be put; but neither here, nor in any other part of the building, could I discover the smallest mark of a hammer or any other tool. The aperture for the door was covered at top with a very large stone in the form of an equilateral triangle, each side being about six feet in length, which was exactly placed over the middle of the opening. This stone was about four feet in thickness. We must here be again surprized to think in what manner a stone of these dimensions could be raised to such a height by a rude people, seemingly ignorant of the powers of mechanism, and carefully placed above loose stones, so as to bind and connect them firmly together, instead of bringing down the wall, as would have inevitably happened without much care and skill in the workmen. Nor could I help admiring the judgement displayed in making choice of a stone of this form for the purpose here intended; as this is perhaps at the same time more beautiful to look on, and possesses more strength for the same bulk and weight than any other form that could have been made choice of.
The outside of the wall was quite smooth and compact, without any appearance of windows or other apertures of any kind. The inside too was pretty uniform, only here and there we could perceive square holes in the wall, of no great depth, somewhat like pigeon-holes, at irregular heights.
I have been informed that there is in many of these buildings a circular passage about four feet wide, formed in the centre of the wall that goes quite round the whole, on a level with the floor. I looked for it, but found no such thing in this place. At one place, however, we discovered a door entering from within, and leading to a kind of stair-case that was carried up in the centre of the wall, and formed a communication between the top and bottom of the building, ascending upwards round it in a spiral form. The steps of this stair, like all the other stones here employed, discovered no marks of a tool, but seemed to have been chosen with great care of a proper form for this purpose. At a convenient height over head, the stair-case was roofed with long flat stones going quite across the opening, and this roof was carried up in a direction parallel with the stair itself, so as to be in all places of an equal height. It was likewise observable, that the stair was formed into flights of steps; at the top of each of which there was a landing-place, with an horizontal floor about six feet in length; at the end of which another flight of steps began. One of these flights of steps was quite compleat, with a landing-place at each end of it, and two others were found in an imperfect state; the lowermost being in part filled up with rubbish, and the highest reached the top of the wall that is now remaining before it ended. Whether these flights were regularly continued to the top, and whether they contained an equal number of steps or not, it was impossible for me to discover; but these remains show that the structure has been erected by a people not altogether uncivilized.
About twenty years ago, a gentleman in that neighbourhood, who is laird of the spot of ground on which this beautiful remnant of ancient grandeur is placed, pulled down eight or ten feet from the top of these walls, for the sake of the stones, to build a habitation for its incurious owner. It may perhaps be a doubt with some whether the builders or the demolishers of these walls most justly deserve the name of a savage and uncivilized people?
By whatever people this has been erected, it must have been a work of great labour, as the collecting the materials alone, where no carriages could pass, must have been extremely difficult to accomplish. It must, therefore,
have been in all probability a public national work, allotted for some very important purpose. But what use these buildings were appropriated to it is difficult now to say with certainty.
Most persons whom I have conversed with on this subject seem to think, that they have been intended as places of defence; which conjecture seems to gain some probability from the name; as it is said, by those who understand the Erse language, that dun signifies a place of strength, or a rock. But there are many reasons that satisfy me that this could not have been their original use. For, not to mention any other reason, these buildings are, all of them that I have seen, save that at Dun-robin alone, placed in a valley; and many of them are commanded by adjoining heights, from whence stones might have been thrown through the aperture at top with ease. Neither is there in any of them that I have seen, the least appearance of a well within the walls; from which circumstances alone we may be satisfied that they must have been appropriated to some other use than that of defence.
It appears to me, that they have been places of religious worship, which is also confirmed by the name these places still bear among the vulgar. For although every place where one of these is found has the syllable dun added to the original name of the place; as Dun-robin, Dun-beath, &c. yet the particular building itself is always called the Druids house, as the Druids house of Dunbeath, &c.
Ossian mentions the horrid circle of Brumo as a place of worship among the ancient Scandinavians, unknown in his own country in those times. Possibly he may here allude to structures of this fort, which may have been introduced into this country along with the religious worship peculiar to the Scandinavians, during the period that the Western isles and Northern provinces of Scotland were under the dominion of Norway. This conjecture gains an additional degree of probability when we observe, that although thousands of ruins of this species of buildings are found in the shire of Caithness, and in the Western and Northern islands, yet not one of them has hitherto been heard of in Scotland to the Southerward of Inverness. That at Dun-agglesag is the Southermost of the East coast, and another at Glenelg, opposite to the Isle of Sky, the Southermost that has hitherto been observed on the
West coast. But it is well known that the county of Caithness was so long under the dominion of Norway, that the inhabitants of that country still use a language, the greatest part of whose words are immediately derived from Norwegian roots, and many of the customs of Norway still prevail there as well as in the Northern isles, which were annexed to the crown of Scotland not many centuries ago.
If this conjecture is well founded, similar buildings to these will certainly still be discoverable in Norway or Denmark, and this is no improper subject of enquiry.
You will probably recollect the building called Arthur’s Oven, which stood upon the banks of the Carron near Stirling, and was demolished not long ago. A drawing of it is preserved in Sibbald’s “Scotia illustrata”; from which it appears that in its general form, and several other particulars, it much resembled the buildings of this class; and if it should be admitted as one of them, it would be an exception to the foregoing rule, and tend to invalidate the reasoning I have employed. But although in some particulars it did resemble these buildings, in other respects it was extremely different. Its size is the first observable particular in which it differed from them, as there is hardly one of them which has not been many times larger than it was. These buildings are always composed of rough stones, without any mark of a tool. It consisted entirely of hewn stones squared and shaped by tools, so as exactly to fit the place where they were to be inserted. The walls of Arthur’s Oven were thin without any appearance of a stair within them. In short, it bore evident marks of Roman art and Roman architecture, and resembled Virgil’s tomb near Naples more than it did the structures we now treat of; on which accounts it has always been, with seeming justice, supposed a small temple, erected by the Romans when they occupied that station, and very different from the ruder but more magnificent temples of these Northern nations.
The temple (for so I will venture to call it) at Dun-agglesag has no additional buildings of any kind adjoining to it, although I had occasion to observe, from many others, that it has been no uncommon thing to have several low buildings of the same kind, joining to the base of the larger one, and communicating with it from within, like
cells. The most entire of this kind that I have seen is at Dun-robin, the seat of the Earl of Sutherland. The late Earl was at great pains to clear away the rubbish from this building, and secure it as much as possible from being farther demolished. Unfortunately it is composed of much worse materials than that I have described.
The only particular relating to the situation of this kind of building that occurred to me as observable, was, that they were all situated very near where water could be obtained in abundance. The side of a lake or river is therefore a common position; and where another situation is chosen, it is always observable, that water in considerable quantities from a rivulet, or otherwise, can be obtained near. It seems, however, to have been a matter of indifference, whether that water was salt or fresh, stagnant or running; from whence it would seem probable, that water, in considerable quantities, must have been necessary for performing some of the rites celebrated there.
In Caithness, as I have already hinted, the ruins of this kind of buildings are exceedingly numerous; but many of them are now such a perfect heap of rubbish, that they have much the same appearance with the cairns already mentioned, and might readily be confounded with them by a superficial observer. The names in this case will be of some use to prevent mistakes, as every building of this kind seems to have been distinguished by the syllable dun prefixed to the word; so that whenever this is found to be the case, there is reason to suspect at least that it is not a cairn.
Dr. Johnson, in his late tour to the Hebrides, was carried to see one of these buildings in the Isle of Sky, which he seems to have surveyed rather in a hasty manner. He conjectures, that these structures have been erected by the inhabitants as places of security for their cattle, in case of a sudden inroad from their neighbours. A thousand circumstances, had he bestowed much attention upon the subject, might have pointed out to him the improbability of this conjecture. We shall soon see that the inhabitants knew much better in what manner to secure themselves or cattle from danger than they would have been here.
VI. The most remarkable of all the Scottish antiquities are the vitrified walls, which I come now to mention.
It is not yet three years since I got the first hint of this species of building, from a gentleman who had examined them with attention; and who was, I believe, the first person who took notice of them in Scotland. This was Mr. John Williams, who was for several years employed by the honourable board of trustees for managing the forfeited estates in Scotland, as a mineral surveyor on these estates. Since that time I have seen and examined them myself, and have made the following observations upon them.
These walls consist of stones piled rudely upon one another, and firmly cemented together by a matter that has been vitrified by means of fire, which forms a kind of artificial rock, (if you will admit this phrase,) that resists the vicissitudes of the weather perhaps better than any other artificial cement that has ever yet been discovered.
All the walls of this kind that I have yet seen or heard of, have been evidently erected as places of defence. They, for the most part, surround a small area on the top of some steep conical hill of very difficult access. It often happens that there is easier access to the top of one of these hills at one place than at any other; and there they have always had the entry into the fort, which has always been defended by outworks more or less strong according to the degree of declivity at that place. If the form of the hill admitted of access only at one place, there are outworks only at one place; but if there are more places of easy access, the outworks are opposed to each of them, and they are proportioned in extent to the nature of the ground.
The first fortification of this kind that I saw was upon the top of a steep hill called Knock-serrel, two miles west from Dingwal in Rossshire. And as an idea of all the others, may be formed from this one, I shall here subjoin a particular description of it.
The hill is of a longish form, rising into a ridge at top, long in proportion to its breadth. It is of great height and extremely steep on both sides; so that when it is viewed at a distance from either end, it appears of a conical shape, very perfect and beautiful to look at; but, when viewed from one side, one of the ends is seen to be much steeper than the other.
The narrow declivity of the hill is of easy access, and forms a natural road by which you may ascend to the
SCOTLAND’S VTTKIFTED FORTS
top on horseback; and at this end has been the entry into the fort. This fort consists, as I guessed by my eye, of a long elliptical area of near an acre, which is entirely level, excepting towards each end, where it falls a little lower than in the middle. The fortification of vitrified wall, is continued quite round this area; being adapted to the form of the hill, so as to stand on the brink of a precipice all round, unless it be at the place where you enter, and at the opposite end; both which places have been defended by outworks. Those at the entry had extended, as I guessed, about a hundred yards, and seem to have consisted of cross walls one behind another, eight or ten in number; the ruins of which are still plainly perceptible. Through each of these walls there must have been a gate, so that the besiegers would be under the necessity of forcing each of these gates successively before they could carry the fort; on the opposite end of the hill, as the ground is considerably steeper, the outworks seem not to have extended above twenty yards, and consist only of two or three cross walls. Not far from the further end was a well, now filled up, but still discoverable.
To assist you in forming an idea of this structure, I subjoin a plan of the hill with its fortification, as if it were compleat. This is drawn entirely from memory, and is not
A Scottish “vitrified” fort. In this cross section,
the outer layer of stones in the ring (A) are fused
together as if by heat.
pretended to be exact in proportions; but it has the general form, and is sufficiently exact for our purpose here. The wall all round from the inside, appears to be only a
mound of rubbish, consisting of loose stones now buried among some earth, and grass that has been gradually accumulated by the dunging of sheep, which resort to it as a place of shelter. The vitrified wall is only to be seen on the outside.
Nor are these walls readily distinguishable at a distance, because they are not raised in a perpendicular direction, but have been carried sloping inwards at top, nearly with the same degree in inclination as the sides of the hill; so that they seem, when viewed at a small distance, to be only a part of the hill itself.
It appears at first sight surprizing that a rude people should have been capable of discovering a cement of such a singular kind as this is. It is less surprizing that the knowledge of it should not have been carried into other countries, as distant nations in those periods had but little friendly intercourse with one another. But it is no difficult matter for one who is acquainted with the nature of the country where these structures abound to give a very probable account of the manner in which this art has been originally discovered, and of the causes that have occasioned the knowledge of it to be lost, even in the countries where it was once universally practised.
Through all the Northern parts of Scotland, a particular kind of earthy iron ore of a very vitrescible nature much abounds. This ore might have been accidentally mixed with some stones at a place where a great fire was kindled; and being fused by the heat would cement the stones into one solid mass, and give the first hint of the uses to which it might be applied. A few experiments would satisfy them of the possibility of executing at large what had been accidentally discovered in miniature.
This knowledge being thus attained, nothing seems to be more simple and natural than its application to the formation of the walls of their fortified places.
Having made choice of a proper place for their fort, they would rear a wall all round the area, building the outside of it as firm as they could of dry stones piled one above another, the interstices between them being filled full of this vitrescible iron ore; and the whole supported by a backing of loose stones piled carelessly behind it.