Open main menu

Page:Notes on the State of Virginia (1853).djvu/123

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
107
ABORIGINES.

being in different strata. 4. The strata in one part having no correspondence with those in another. 5. The different states of decay in these strata, which seem to indicate a difference in the time of inhumation. 6. The existence of infant bones among them.[1]

But on whatever occasion they may have been made, they are of considerable notoriety among the Indians; for a party passing, about thirty years ago, through the part of the country where this barrow is, went through the woods directly to it, without any instructions or enquiry, and having staid about it some time, with expressions which were construed to be those of sorrow, they returned to the high road, which they had left about half a dozen miles to pay this visit, and pursued their journey. There is another barrow, much resembling this in the low grounds of the South branch of Shenandoah, where it is crossed by the road leading from the Rockfish Gap to Staunton. Both of these have, within these dozen years, been cleared of their trees and put under cultivation, are much reduced in their height, and spread in width by the plough, and will probably disappear in time. There is another on a hill in the Blue Ridge of mountains, a few miles North of Wood's Gap, which is made up of small stones thrown together. This has been opened, and found to contain human bones, as the others do. There are also many others in other parts of the country.

Great question has arisen from whence came those aboriginal inhabitants of America.[2] Discoveries, long ago made,


  1. The custom of burying the dead in barrows was anciently very prevalent. Homer describes the ceremony of raising one by the Greeks.

    ἀμφ᾽ αὐτοῖσι δ᾽ ἔπειτα μέγαν καὶ ἀμύμονα τύμβον
    χεύαμεν Ἀργείων ἱερὸς στρατὸς αἰχμητάων
    ἀκτῇ ἔπι προὐχούσῃ, ἐπὶ πλατεῖ Ἑλλησπόντῳ,
    ὥς κεν τηλεφανὴς ἐκ ποντόφιν ἀνδράσιν εἴη
    τοῖς οἳ νῦν γεγάασι καὶ οἳ μετόπισθεν ἔσονται.

    And Herodotus 7, 117, mentions an instance of the same practice in the army of Xerxes on the death of Artachæas.

  2. In the notes on Virginia, the great diversity of languages appearing radically different, which are spoken by the red men of America, is supposed to authorize a supposition that their settlement is more remote than that of Asia by its red inhabitants; but it must be confessed that the mind finds it difficult to conceive that so many tribes have inhabited it from so remote an antiquity as would be necessary to have divided them into language so radically different. I will therefore hazard a conjecture as such, and only to be estimated at what it may be worth. We know that the Indians consider it as dishonorable to use any language but their own. Hence in their councils with us, though some of them may have been in situations which, from convenience or necessity, have obliged them to learn our language well, yet they refuse to confer in it, and always insist on the intervention of an intepreter, though he may understand neither language so well as themselves; and this fact is as general as our knowledge of the tribes of North America. When therefore a fraction of a tribe from domestic feuds has broken off from its main body, to which it is held by no law or compact, and has gone to another settlement, may it not be the point of honor with them not to use the language of those with whom they have quarreled, but to have one of their own. They have use but for few words, and possess but few. It would require but a small effort of the mind to invent these, and to acquire the habit of using them. Perhaps this hypothesis presents less difficulty than that of so many radically distinct languages, preserved by such handfuls of men, from an antiquity so remote that no data we possess will enable us to calculate it.