Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 24.djvu/840

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
820
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

ing artist had, to assist him in his work, only some wretched flints or roughly-sharpened bones. The inquiry whether these discoveries made in the west of Europe are verified in other countries, and whether this art-feeling was innate in man and has characterized him always and everywhere, is one of much interest. The excavations in Asia and Africa are still too few, and the discoveries that have been made there are of too little importance, to warrant the drawing of serious conclusions respecting those quarters. We must, then, turn to America, where eminent archaeologists and enthusiastic collectors have eagerly studied all that relates to the past of the human race. With the aid of their publications and the photographs they have distributed with rare liberality, we are able to follow the ancient populations in their migrations from the shores of the Atlantic and the Pacific, to study their habits and their progress, and to show that among them also art was born at a very early epoch, and that it grew up with the generations.

It has now been ascertained that man lived in America during the quaternary ages, contemporaneously with the mastodons and the huge edentates and pachyderms, which had no other resemblances with the mammals of the Eastern continents than those of size. Like their contemporaries in Europe, the primitive Americans wandered in the solitary wilderness, and disputed with animals for the prey on which they fed and the caves that sheltered them, having for weapons of offense and defense only the flints that lay at their feet. Their barbarism appears to have been lower than that of the troglodytes of Europe, and to have been destitute of all artistic feeling and taste for ornament. Ages passed, the duration of which we can not compute; the quaternary animals disappeared, and man became sedentary; and he has left as evidences of his long abode in the same place the heaps of refuse exemplified in the shell-mounds and kitchen-middens of the Atlantic coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the banks of the Mississippi and the Amazon, the Pacific coast, and Tierra del Fuego. Excavations made at several points have brought out hatchets, knives, harpoons, and tools of every shape, of stone, bone, and horn, all bearing witness to a backward social condition, fragments of carbonized wood, bones of animals, and fish-bones, all having evidently been accumulated by men who knew nothing of agriculture and lived by hunting and fishing. Occasionally a few shards of pottery have been found among the remains, made of clay mixed with pounded shells, fashioned by hand, and dried in the sun. Sometimes plaited vines or canna-stems have been impressed on the wet parts, or lines have been scratched on the vessel with the point of a shell or a flint. These are the first efforts at ornamentation, and are singularly like those of the most ancient potteries of Europe. Ornaments designed for the decoration of the person are more rare than the potteries. We can only cite a few bears' or cats' teeth and shells bored for the purpose of being hung from the neck, except in the sambaquis or kitchen-middens of Brazil, where a