Aboriginal architecture

Architectural remains of Native American aboriginal culture consists principally of earth mounds, of considerable diversity in character and appearance, and some of them of enormous dimensions. There is in this fact alone nothing of peculiar interest. Earth mounds, generally sepulchral in purpose, exist widely throughout the older continents. But the American mounds are remarkable for their excessive numbers, their peculiarities of construction, their occasional great size, and the diversity of their probable purpose. They are found abundantly over the whole region from the Rocky Mountains to the Alleghanies, and from the Great Lakes to the Gulf, and to some small extent beyond these limits. In the State of Ohio alone there are said to be more than ten thousand mounds, with perhaps fifteen hundred defensive works and enclosures. About five thousand of them are said to exist within a radius of fifty miles from the mouth of the Illinois River, in the State of Illinois.

In the South they are equally abundant. The Gulf States are full of them. From Florida to Texas they everywhere exist, of the greatest diversity in size and shape. Smaller examples occur beyond the limits of the region above outlined, though in much less abundance. These mounds are usually from six to thirty feet high and forty to one hundred in diameter, though some are much larger. To the vanished race to whose labors they are due has been given the name of the "Mound-Builders."

Many of these structures were evidently erected for defensive purposes, and they constitute an extensive system of earthworks on the hills and river-bluffs, indicating a considerable population in the valleys below. Other works are remarkably regular earthworks on the valley levels, forming enclosures in various geometrical patterns, which comprise circles, squares, and other figures. The purpose of these peculiar enclosures is unknown, though it was probably connected with religious observances. Of the smaller mounds, some are supposed to have been used as altars; but the most numerous class are the burial-mounds, in which skeletons have often been found. In Wisconsin, and to some extent elsewhere, are found mounds rudely imitating the shape of animals. But the most extraordinary of these erections, from their great size and the enormous degree of labor which they indicate, are the so-called "temple mounds," of which the one at Cahokia, Illinois, measures seven hundred by five hundred feet at base and ninety feet in perpendicular height. It was probably the seat of a temple. Many similar mounds, though none so large as this, exist in the Gulf States.

The mounds contain very numerous relies of the arts of their builders, these consisting of various articles of pottery, stone pipes of highly-skilful construction, in imitation of animal forms, stone implements in great variety, ornaments of beaten copper, pearls, plates of mica, fragments of woven fabrics, and other articles, indicative of much industry and a considerable advance in the simpler arts.

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