Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Legend of Multnomah Falls

This week’s article combines three things I love, 1) My daughter, 2) a grand waterfall, 3) an intriguing legend.   My daughter, Mechelle, recently took a trip to Washington and Oregon  and sent me the following pictures and shared with me the Native American Legend associated with the waterfall.  So, she is my guest blogger this week. 

Multnomah Falls is located on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge east of Troutdale, between Corbett and Dodson.  The water falls 542 feet into a pond and then another 69 feet to the base.  According to the United States Forest Service, it is the second tallest (year-round) waterfall in the United States.  The water for the falls is supplied by underground springs from Larch Mountain and also spring runoff from the mountain’s snowpack in spring.
Multnoman Falls -- Top half

An interesting Native American legend is associated with the falls.

Long ago, the chief of the Multnomah tribe was blessed with a beautiful daughter.  He loved her very much and cherished her all the more after losing his sons in war.  The chief wanted to make sure that his daughter had only the very best and was especially particular about choosing her husband .  After considerable deliberation, he decided that the man for his daughter was a young chief from the neighboring  Clatsop tribe.

The chief threw a great wedding party and people from miles around came to enjoy the festivities which included swimming and canoe races, archery contests, dancing, and feasting.  It was a grand affair until a sickness befell the village.  The young and weak began to die from the plague and there was great sorrow and morning throughout as even the strong began to succumb.
Multnomah Falls - last half

The chief called a council of his elders and warriors and asked for their advice.  An old medicine man came forward.  He had been called down from the mountains by the chief to speak.   Sadly, the old man shared with the council a prophecy foretold by his father many summers before. 

 “My father told me that some day when I grow old, a great sickness will come to our people.  All will die, he said, unless an innocent maiden of a chief is willingly sacrificed to the Great Spirit.”

When the people heard what the old medicine man had said, dozens of young maidens, including the chief’s daughter presented themselves to the chief.  The chief could not bear the thought of any maiden having to sacrifice her life so he ended the council and called upon his people to be brave and face the consequences of the sickness.

But as more died, the daughter of the chief grieved and considered giving up her life to save the others.  Then when the sickness struck the man she loved, she knew what she must do.  After caring for him one last time, she slipped away secretly and followed the trail to the cliff.

As she stood at the edge of the cliff and looked down upon the jagged rocks at the bottom, she called upon the spirits to send her a sign that her sacrifice would appease them and end the sickness.  When she looked to the sky for a sign, the moon rose above the trees.  It was the sign she was looking for.  She closed her eyes and dove off the cliff to her death.

The next morning, the sickness was lifted and the people were filled with happiness again.  The celebrations resumed.  But, then, they stopped to question why the sickness had ended so suddenly.  When the chief recalled all of the maidens, they realized that his daughter was missing.  The young Clatsop chief raced to the cliff where he saw his love below on the rocks.

Everyone was sad to learn that the young maiden they all loved was dead.  They descended to the bottom of the cliff and buried her there.   Her father called to the spirits to offer them a sign that his daughter’s spirit had been welcomed into the land of the spirits.

Instantly, they heard the sound of water atop the cliff and when they looked up, a stream of water began flowing over the cliff.  Since then, the water has flowed continuously off the cliff. 

It is said that sometimes the spirit of the maiden returns dressed in a white dress and hides in the trees to look upon the waterfall where she made her sacrifice for those she loved. 
-- Mechelle Miller

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Lost City of Cahokia, Part 2: The Copper Workshop

Copper Ornaments made at Cahokia
found at Wulfing, Etowah, and Sprio sites
Last week, we were introduced to the forgotten city of Cahokia, near St. Louis, the largest Native American city in North America.  It flourished around 1300 A. D.  Since the buildings and structures were built of wood, only the enormous mounds that the structures were built on, and the round burial mounds remain.
Cahokia was clearly the center for trade east of the Mississippi river and was probably the center of power during its heyday.  It was also the center for the manufacture of copper goods.  Although Mound 34 had been discovered in 1950 by archaeologist Greg Perino, the work done from 2002 to 2010 has revealed that it was the site of a one-of-a-kind copper workshop.

Copper Ear Spools made at Cahokia
"It's the only one (copper workshop) that's been discovered," said James A. Brown, professor of archaeology at Northwestern University in Chicago.  Brown said that the copper workshop was purely for religious purposes, to produce ornaments for those who participated in significant ceremonies that probably occurred atop the mounds. "They are all depictions of other worldly beings," he said of the symbols and figures found in copper as well as on pieces of pottery and decorated shells.
The remains of three large tree stumps suggest that three anvil stones were once used.  Analysis of copper found at the site shows that the process of “annealing” was used.  This is a sophisticated process whereby the metal is heated and cooled to make it more malleable, similar to how blacksmiths work iron.  The artisans that worked in the workshops produced religious masks, earrings, and jewelry that were traded to other villages and cities throughout North America.   For instance, some copper plates at the Wulfing cache from southeastern Missouri, Etowah plates from Georgia, and many of the Spiro plates from Oklahoma are thought to have been made in Cahokia.
Copper headdress ornaments made at Cahokia

Link to Cahokia Part 1

Link to  Videos on Cahokia

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, January 17, 2013

The Lost City of Cahokia, Part 1: The Magnificent City

 View a personal introduction by Courtney Miller
Around 1050 A. D., there existed a grand city nestled in the Mississippi valley where St. Louis is today.  We call this site “Cahokia” because the Cahokia tribe once lived nearby.  But the Cahokia referred to the ancient city as belonging to a forgotten tribe that lived before them.

Monk's Mound
By any measure, this city was magnificent.  It covered over 4,000 acres, and had a population estimated between 10-20,000 within the city proper and 70,000 if you count the suburbs.  Grand temples and houses were built atop enormous platform mounds.   There were approximately 120 of these platform mounds of
various sizes.  In 1250 A. D., Cahokia was comparable in size to London or Paris during the same period.  It was the largest city in the United States until 1780 when Philadelphia grew larger.

It appears that Cahokia was the hub for trade and probably political power east of the Mississippi for 300 years (1000 A.D. – 1300 A.D.).   It hosted great ceremonies and games with a huge central plaza that had been meticulously leveled and surrounded by important mounds including the important Mound 38.

Mound 38, nick-named Monk’s Mound, has four terraces, and rises ten stories high (100 ft); is 951 ft. long and 836 ft. wide; covers 13.8 acres; and contains about 814,000 cubic yards of earth.   Its footprint is larger than the Egyptian Pyramid and is the largest man-made earthen mound north of Mexico.  It was named “Monk’s Mound” because a community of Trappist monks resided there for a while.   Although their residence was built atop a nearby mound, they gardened atop Mound 38.

Excavations have revealed that a large building, maybe a temple or rulers home, had been built on the top platform of Monk’s Mound.    It was 105 ft. long and 48 ft. wide and was probably around 50 ft. high.  That would have made it 5,040 sq. ft. -- a mansion even by today’s standards.

The largest mound, which Glen Hodges (National Geographic, January 2011) observed was “named, with an appropriate lack of imagination, Big Mound”, was part of the “North” plaza of Cahokia.  This area has mostly been destroyed or built over.  The dirt from Big Mound, itself, was used up by 1869 for construction projects and a railroad in St. Louis.  A small, circular, cobblestone monument was built to mark the spot where it had been and today sits unimpressively in a north St. Louis intersection.

Mound 72, south of Monk’s Mound was the site of a very controversial burial.  Archaeologists found the remains of a 40-year-old man.  He was probably a very important citizen or ruler of Cahokia.   The body had been placed atop more than 20,000 shell-beads arranged in the shape of a falcon.  A cache of very fine arrowheads from different geographical regions  (Oklahoma, Tennessee, Illinois, and Wisconsin) were also in the tomb which underscored the extensive trade carried on at Cahokia.  
In a Washington Post article by Nathan Seppa, March, 1997, “Also in the grave were a staff and 15 shaped stones of the kind used for games.

"Clearly, some really important leader is buried in there," Pauketat [Tim Pauketat, University of Illinois] says. Interred with him were four men with their heads and hands cut off and 53 young women apparently strangled. Their youth, 15 to 25 years, and the fact that they were all women, suggests human sacrifice. People that young did not die of natural causes in such numbers.

“Nearby, researchers found more burials and evidence of a charnel house. In all, 280 skeletons were found. About 50 lay haphazardly in a single deep pit, as if tossed in without honor. Some have arrowheads in the back or were beheaded, evidence of warfare or perhaps a crushed rebellion.

"I would guess there were people around who weren't too loyal," Pauketat says.”

As I mentioned in last week’s article, 5 massive circles resided not far from the palisaded plaza that enclosed Monk’s Mound.  They were used as huge solar calendar calendars to predict and mark significant events throughout the year.  They are called “Woodhenge” today.
To be continued … In the next article on Cahokia, We will look at a Copper Workshop unearthed at Mound 34, unique for the time.

Watch videos on this week's topics.

Link to "Archaeoastronomy -- Hopewell Mounds -- Woodhenge"

-- Courtney Miller


Thursday, January 10, 2013

Archaeoastronomy- Hopewell Mounds – Woodhenge

Medicine Wheel
Stonehenge, in England, has long been a source of fascination for most of us.  It is credited as being an archaeoastronomical site – an ancient site for astronomical observations.  I recently posted articles on “Medicine Wheels” that have a similar purpose.  This week, I want to write about circles built by the Hopewell culture that also suggest astronomical purposes.  Nicknamed “Woodhenge” because of their similarity to Stonehenge and Woodhenge in England, these sites are east of the Mississippi River and were built by the Hopewell Indians living from around 200 A.D. to around 1,500 A. D.

There are several sites hosting these peculiar circles, but I will focus on two – Moorehead Circle, near Cincinnati, Ohio and Cahokia, near St. Louis, Missouri.

At Moorehead Circle, for example, researchers have found that an opening in the rings; a nearby, human-made enclosure; stone mounds; and a gateway in a nearby earthen wall are all aligned and on the summer solstice (longest day of the year) the sun appears to rise in the gateway as seen from the center of the circle.

The Woodhenge(s) at Cahokia were recognized as solar calendars when Dr. Warren Wittry was studying excavation maps and theorized that posts set in these pits lined up with the rising sun at certain times of the year – prompting him to call them “Woodhenge”.  Further excavations unveiled five circles that were built over the period 900 A.D.  – 1100 A.D.  Fragments of wood remaining in some of the post pits revealed that red cedar had been used for the posts – known to be a sacred wood.

Quoting from the Cahokia Mounds State Historical Site,  “Viewing was from the center of the circle, and several circles had large "observation posts" at that location, where it is likely the sunpriest stood on a raised platform. Other posts between the solstice posts probably marked special festival dates related to the agricultural cycle. The remaining posts around the circle have no known function, other than symbolically forming a circle and forming an enclosure to hold the sacred Woodhenge ceremonies. There have been suggestions some posts had alignments with certain bright stars or the moon, or were used in predicting eclipses, and others have suggested Woodhenge was used as an engineering "aligner" to determine mound placements, but none of this has been proven convincingly.”

“The most spectacular sunrise occurs at the equinoxes, when the sun rises due east. The post marking these sunrises aligns with the front of Monks Mound, where the leader resided, and it looks as though Monks Mound gives birth to the sun. A possible offertory pit near the winter solstice post suggests a fire was burned to warm the sun and encourage it to return northward for another annual cycle and rebirth of the earth. This probably marked the start of the new year.

“The third circle (A.D. 1000) was reconstructed in 1985 at the original location. The circle is 410 feet in diameter, had 48 posts spaced 26.8 feet apart (9 are missing on the west side, removed by a highway borrow pit). The posts were 15-20 inches in diameter and stood about 20 feet high. Red ocher pigment found in some of the post pits suggests the posts may have been painted. The post pits averaged 7 feet long and just over two feet wide, sloping from the surface at one end to a depth of four feet at the other, forming a ramp to slide the posts down to facilitate their raising.”

Fascinating as the Woodhenge site is, it pales in comparison to the “city” it was built for.  Next time, I will turn to the city of Cahokia to reveal the incredible “lost city” sitting right in the center of the U.S. but unnoticed or ignored for centuries.

Link to The Lost City of Cahokia, Part 1: The Magnificent City

Preview Cahokia in this 14 minute video

Short video by McCarthy's

-- Courtney Miller

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Archaeoastronomy: The Hopewell Mounds - Newark Earthworks

Google Map of Mound Builders Country Club
Newark Earthworks (circle and octogon)
I love to play golf!  It seems like I’ve been playing golf my whole life, but I was probably eight or nine when I actually started.  Now that I’m over sixty, I still enjoy the game especially playing exceptionally beautiful or unusual courses.  Well, I’ve run across a golf course that certainly fits that description!  Yet, I have mixed feelings about playing the course. 
Map of Newark Earthworks 1848
The name of the course is “Mound Builders Country Club” in Newark, Ohio.  Because it is a private course, I probably couldn’t ever play it anyway, but what gives me pause is the course’s location.  It was built right on top of one of the premier Native American earthworks.  Sometimes called the “Newark Earthworks” since it was so designated in a drawing by Squier and Davis in 1848, it is more popularly known by the names of three preserved sections “Octogon Earthworks ”, “Great Circle Earthworks”, and the “Wright Earthworks”.
What are they?  They are THE largest earthen enclosures in the world occupying over 3,000 acres.  Today, about 206 acres remain of the site and is preserved as a state park by the Ohio Historical Society.   It was built by the Hopewell Culture between 250 AD and 500 AD and was a sacred place of ceremony, social gathering, trade, worship, and was  an enormous lunar observatory used to track the moon’s orbit during its 18.6-year cycle.  The Circle and Octogon were used to determine events throughout the 18.6 year lunar cycle through exacting alignments.  Watch this very interesting video on the alignment.
Newark Earthworks today
The “Great Circle Earthworks” is 1,054 feet wide, which is the largest circular earthwork in the Amercas (in construction effort).  Eight-foot walls encircle a five-foot moat-like ditch that grows deeper and the walls grow higher at the entrance.
The “Octagon Earthworks” which includes a large octagon and connected circle mounds is twice as precise as the famous Stonehenge in England.
The site has had an interesting history.  From 1892 to 1908, it was an Ohio State militia encampment.  Then it was owned by the Newark Board of Trade until 1918.  In 1910, they leased the property to Mound Builder Country Club which developed the site as a golf course.  In 1918, the court appointed a trustee to manage the property until 1933.  In 1997, the Ohio Historical Society signed a lease with the Country Club to maintain, secure and provide limited public access to the site.
In the Squier and Davis drawing, note that the site originally contained a geometrically near-perfect square enclosure that enclosed about 20 acres.  Farming, construction of the Ohio Canal, and residential building has consumed all but a 200-foot segment of one wall.
Below is a diagram of lunar alignments.