What Was Lost? What Can We Still Learn?

In the movement west, European-Americans found strange and mysterious earthen mounds - some of awesome size - and reflecting a great amount of communal cooperation and common purpose.  The often migratory, hunter-gatherer populations of the East, Southeast, and Middle regions seemed removed from what were clearly a more urban minded people.   Using a mindset that equated cultural development solely with specific types of society, they often dismissed any connections, could not accept that social history could be anything but linear, and  devalued anything not meeting preconceptions of an "important" or "civilized" society.

As a result, although many early and large earthen works or "mounds" were  recognized, protected, and preserved, many others were grazed, robbed, and otherwise destroyed.  Valuable information about the earliest community activities in North America were lost without study, record, or concern.  Some questions will never be answered about migration patterns, materials, methods, and relationships because valuable data was lost in the hurry to find mythical "treasure."   The lessons of the Spiro Mounds Archaeological Park in Spiro, Oklahoma are worth noting.  Hailed as an American "King Tut's Tomb" - not for its gold but for its rare information on early occupation.  Yet, it was nearly destroyed, robbed of its information, its contents desecrated with cruel abandon.

For most of the mound building cultures, these earthen works were part of sacred rituals of burial, death, and beliefs in the afterlife.  Archaeologists were seen as 'tomb robbers' and their actions synonymous with going to the local graveyard to dig  up a loved relative.  In most cases, you see, the occupants did not disappear but are connected to various groups who continued to develop and evolve as revealed through customs, linguistics, DNA, and cultural stories.  It was often seen as personal affront and sacrilege of sacred spaces and disturbances of final resting places. 

Spiro Mounds is the gem in Oklahoma but other sites stretch from the Canadian border to Middle America; from the Virginia hills to central plains.

What remains a mystery, however, is how these early groups functioned, what they believed, and how they might have related to other people groups.  These may never be fully answered due to the wanton destruction of some of these sites across the continent.  Their artistic style was as unique to other Native American art as Etruscan art was to Roman art.  They offer a rare glimpse into a more full understanding of human occupation and the connections and cultures of ancient humans.

In the assumptions about social development, definitions of civilizations, cultural superiority and prejudice rare pieces of history were lost - perhaps forever. As new theories of migrations,  multiple approaches to settlement, and new evidence continues to come to light pushing further and further our understanding of time lines and influences, what might yet still be there to be learned and what was lost?

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