And Their Burial Tablets By Ida Jane Gallagher Imagine the amazement of early Colonial explorers when they crossed the Appalachian Mountains and discovered hundreds of conical mounds and geometric earthworks in the upper Ohio River and Kanawha River valleys. Who built these mounds? Why? Criel Mound, South Charleston, West Virginia The Adena Moundbuilders The Adena people built conical mounds for the burial of their honored dead. The Ohio River and its tributaries were the main areas they occupied between 1000 B. C. and 400 A. D. The later Hopewell and Mississippian people also built mounds for their dead and for sun worship. The Adena were named for the Chillicothe, Ohio, estate of Governor Thomas Worthington where archaeologists excavated a mound in 1901. The Adena mound contained an elite burial and distinctive artifacts that identify the Adena. The Adena pipe (above (left) shows a squat male figure with a goitered neck and stylized hair. He wears ear spools and a loin cloth that is feathered in back. A replica of an Adena shaman wearing a wolf headdress (right) holds the Adena pipe. Some archaeologists speculated that the Adena may have migrated from Mexico because they carved similar designs on tablets and both groups erected mounds over burial tombs. Other archaeologists maintain that Adena burial practices evolved from earlier native people living in the Midwest or Northeast. Burials of Adena elite people contained decorative objects, copper bracelets, mica, pipes, seed pearls, and tablets incised with cultural symbols and a few tablets with ancient writing. The Gaithskill Tablet (left) is an example of a figural tablet. Hands, serpents, birds, and sun circles were some of the symbols carved on tablets. Dating of mound burials can be estimated by the sophistication of tablet designs. The turtle tablet (right) represents an Adena cultural symbol. Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, West Virginia The Grave Creek Mound is on a plateau above the Ohio River. Early explorers said that earthen circles, squares, octagons, and walls accompanied the mounds. Mounds and earthworks extended 10-12 miles along the Ohio River in the Grave Creek Mound vicinity. Their construction was an enormous project, and workers carried dirt one bucket at a time to build them. What motivated them to do this? This so called “Mammoth Mound” was located on the Tomlinson farm. In 1838 owner Jesse Tomlinson permitted the mound excavation. His nephew, Abelard Tomlinson, assisted by Abelard’s brother-in-law, Thomas Biggs, was in charge of the excavation. Local residents helped. Grave Creek Mound Excavation Tomlinson and his crew started by digging a tunnel into the mound starting about four feet above ground level and then sinking a shaft from the top of the mound intended to intersect with the tunnel. The tunnel ended when the men struck an 8 x 12 foot log tomb. The grave had been dug seven to eight feet below the floor of the house of the deceased. The house was burned down after one male and one female were buried beneath its floor. The men abandoned digging down from the top of the mound fearful that the shaft would collapse. They probed upward from the lower tomb until they struck stone and guessed it was an upper tomb. This proved to be true when they dug a second tunnel 34 feet above ground level and struck an 18 x 8 foot log tomb filled with rotten wood, stones, earth, one large and badly decayed skeleton, and many artifacts. Artifacts Found in the Upper Tomb Excavator Peter B. Catlett reported that the skeleton measured 7’4” when the bones were wired together. He stated, “I took the lower jawbone and put it over my chin, and it did not touch my face, and I was at that time a man who weighed 181.” Some Adena people were very large. They had round heads that were flattened in back. The Hopewell moundbuilders had long heads and slender bodies indicating that they were a different physical type. The upper tomb burial was dated at about 100 B. C. The grave goods consisted of 1,700 disk shell beads, 500 marginella shell beads strung in a necklace(source: Florida or West Indes), a gorget, five copper bracelets (source: Lake Superior copper), mica, and a small inscribed sandstone tablet called the Grave Creek Tablet. This curious tablet became the source of great controversy. Grave Creek Tablet The Grave Creek Tablet is a 1 ½ x 2 inch grayish sandstone tablet. (Plaster replica below.) It was the source of a great debate due to three lines of inscribed alphabetic characters on one side. The hieroglyphic sign beneath the letters resembles a cross with elongated arms and the profile of a bird’s head on the end of the right arm and a dot under the left arm. The Grave Creek Tablet was considered to be an authentic artifact by the men participating in the mound excavation. The mysterious letters were puzzling, so the Smithsonian Institution made copies of the tablet and sent them abroad to foreign translators. Some of the characters were not copied accurately, so decipherments and translations varied. Distinguished ethnologist, Henry R. Schoolcraft personally examined the tablet, which he believed was authentic. He found that characters on the tablet resembled similar characters in numerous foreign writing systems. The disparity of early decipherments and translations in different foreign languages caused some people to question the tablet’s authenticity. It was translated satisfactorily in 1972. Eyewitness Accounts of the Grave Creek Tablet Excavation Dr. James W. Clemens, a respected physician, wrote the earliest known account of the discovery of the Grave Creek Tablet. He was present at the excavation as he had agreed to write a report on skulls found in the mound for Dr. S. G. Morton, who was compiling a book about ancient skulls. Clemens reported, “In this vault a large skeleton was found, with a necklace of perforated shells, two copper bracelets, and a curiously inscribed or hieroglyphic stone, the characters of which are distinctly traced in parallel lines…The stone is now in my possession and I have had an exact facsimile of it taken.” Morton’s book made no reference to the inscribed tablet as his work was devoted to skulls, and this omission bred serious controversy. (See Ephriam Squier controversy on following page.) Abelard Tomlinson, who was in charge of the excavation, was accused of fraudulently producing the Grave Creek Tablet. This was impossible due to the sequence of events leading to its correct decipherment. Tomlinson recalled, “I was carefully removing the dirt, which was mostly of decayed timber, when I uncovered the inscribed stone. The inscription being up, it took my attention. I examined it; found it to be the work of the ancients; I then placed it with the other relics. Peter B. Catlett helped with the excavation. He said, “I am the one that found it first. It was not in its original bed when first found, it was taken out of the stone arch in a wheelbarrow and emptied outside…As for anyone placing the inscribed stone there, (planting it) it could not have been done.” Catlett must have seen the Grave Creek Tablet in the wheelbarrow after Tomlinson removed it from the debris in the upper vault. James E. Wharton, Wheeling newspaper editor, stated, “In the forenoon they struck the center of the vault…Among the dirt was brought out the inscribed stone and picked up by one of us from the loose dirt. (Catlett?) A fraud was impossible.” The Controversy Over the Tablet’s Authenticity ? Archaeologists became embroiled in the controversy and many rejected the Grave Creek Tablet as a fake. They did not accept the theory that early Iberians had been in Adena territory. Their argument that the tablet was one of a kind has been disproven. Dr. Barry Fell made the first sensible decipherment of the Grave Creek Tablet in Southwest Iberic. David Diringer’s 1968 recovery of ancient Iberic vowel values enabled Fell to make his 1972 translation of the funerary inscription: “Tumulus in honor of Tadach. His wife caused this engraved tile to be inscribed.” (Note: Southwest Iberic reads from right to left.) Fell’s Translation of the Grave Creek Tablet, reading right to left Additional Southwest Iberic Tablets The text of the Blaine Wilson Tablet parallels and shares some of the vocabulary of the Grave Creek Tablet. Dr. Barry Fell translated the Southwest Iberic funerary inscription to read: “The memorial of Teth. This tile (His) brother caused to be made.” Consider what these inscriptions imply. Did Iberian scribes reach West Virginia by 100 B.C.? Did they inscribe the tablets or teach Adena scribes their alphabet and language? School children Blaine Wilson and his sister found the Blaine Wilson Tablet beside the stump of a tree near Triplett Creek in Braxton County, West Virginia, in 1931. They took the inscribed tablet to their school teacher, who brought it to the attention of Mrs. Innis C. Davis, director of the West Virginia Department of Archives where it was stored. The 4 1/8 x 3 3/16 inch tablet is micaceous sandstone. Its three rows of Southwest Iberic script are curvilinear rather than rectilinear like the Grave Creek Tablet. A similar elongated arm cross is beneath the inscription. The Ohio County Tablet, West Virginia Donal Buchanan, a noted decipherer of Southwest Iberic, translated the funerary message on the Ohio County tablet. “This was set up for Lydia, wife, Jacob engraved it.” An elongated cross with a head on the end of the right arm and a dot beneath the left arm is below the last line of the 16 character inscription. The tablet measures I ¾ by 1 ½ inches. Robert C. Dunnell found the Ohio County Tablet in 1956 when he was a teenager. It was in a small archaeological site that became a rock quarry. D€unnell took the tablet to archaeologist Delf Norona who worked for the Grave Creek Mound Museum. Norona said the tablet was planted to legitimize other finds. His original opinion that the Grave Creek Tablet was authentic changed because other archaeologists were calling it a fake. Fortunately, Sam Shaw, editor of the Moundsville Daily Echo newspaper ,photographed the tablet and interviewed Dunnell and Norona. The tablet is lost. The Morristown Tablet The Morristown Tablet was found near Morristown, Tennessee. Dr. Paul Cheesman brought it to the attention of epigraphic scholars in 1981. It’s inscription is comparable to the message on the Grave Creek Tablet. Donal Buchanan found that all of the symbols on the Morristown Tablet could be equated with those on the Grave Creek Tablet, which led to his conclusion that the funerary inscription must be a funerary formula. He suggested that the name “Tadach” either is not a personal name or there were two people named Tadach who were buried in different areas. Did someone made a copy of the Grave Creek Tablet? What do you think? An elongated arm cross with a bird’s head on the right end and a dot beneath the left arm is beneath the inscription. The Genesee Tablet William Johnson found the Genesee Tablet in the Genesee River bed near Belfast, New York in 1975. High water and erosion often change the river’s course. Epigrapher Donald Eckler spotted the tablet in Dana Klein’s collection and forwarded a photograph of it to Dr. Barry Fell. The Genesee Tablet is dense granular rock measuring 2 x 3 inches. Dr. Fell deciphered the two lines of Iberic script noting that the tablet is a trader’s token. He translated the tablet in Arabic-related Iberian to say: “Confirmation. I have pledged to pay in full.” Was this an early IOU? The Genesee River was part of a water route used by Amerindian trading parties. The discovery of the Genesee Tablet on a known trading route suggests that native people led foreign traders to America’s interior by following the waterways and the Indian paths that connected them. The St. Lawrence River and Great Lakes provided access to America’s heartland from the Atlantic Ocean. The Susquehanna River empties into Chesapeake Bay, and the Ohio and other tributaries flow into the Mississippi River that terminates in the Gulf of Mexico. Would this explain how Iberians reached Adena territory? Did they have boats capable of crossing the Atlantic Ocean? What trade items would Iberian people want? Burial mounds have been constructed world-wide. One example is King Midas’ Tomb. It is similar in construction to Adena mounds. The Phrygian elite of Turkey were buried in log tombs that were hilled-over with clay, rocks, and dirt. The legendary King Midas – everything he touched supposedly turned to gold - died about 696 B. C. Many burial mounds are near his tomb at the confluence of the Porsuk and Sakarya Rivers. Why would burial mounds be similar in construction world-wide?