Ancient Earthworks of North America suggest pre-Columbian European contact
Long before the Isolationist doctrine of the Smithsonian became an academic dogma, mounds and earthworks in America were routinely compared to those observed in Western Europe. This position was summed up by Stephen Denison Peet, founder of the American Antiquarian, in these passages from 1892:
Relics of the Mound builders resemble those found in Great Britain and the north of Ireland, and even suggest the transmission of the same myths and symbols from the eastern to the western continent.
The contact seemed to have produced a marvelous effect. It was not a decline from the Bronze Age which we see in these familiar symbols, but the effect of contact with European voyages in pre-Columbian times, pre-Columbian discovery, in fact. The conclusion is startling, but this is the only way that we can account for the marvelous resemblances.
Connection between the Serpent Mound of Ohio and ancient earthworks of Britain
Peet was also one of the first to connect the Portsmouth, Ohio Earthworks with Avebury in Wiltshire, England:
…we think it can be proven that the most striking features of the work at Avebury are duplicated here; the sun symbol being embodied in the concentric circles on the Kentucky side; the phallic symbol in the horse-shoe mounds upon the Ohio side and the avenues of standing stones corresponded to the covered ways which connected the enclosures on the Kentucky side with that on the Ohio side.1
John Aubrey sketch of the entire Avebury complex and the enormous processional avenues that once led to it (Ancient Skies)
Portsmouth, Ohio Earthworks, from Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (Wikipedia)
Ohio’s Great Serpent Mound was also compared to the Serpent Effigy at Loch Nell, Scotland, by both Frederick Ward Putnam and E.O. Randall:
“It has, however, a counterpart in the Old World. In Great Britain, as is well known, there are frequent remains of a race of people similar to, if not identical with, the Mound Builders of America...In Scotland there is a very remarkable and distinct serpent, constituted of stone.”2
Left: Serpent Mound at Loch Nell taken from Constance Cumming's In the Hebrides (1883). Right: The Serpent Mound in Ohio (Wikimedia Commons)
Connections between Bell Beaker and Corded Ware Cultures of Europe and Adena Culture of North America
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the European cultures to which American earthworks were attributed were simply referred to as “Druidic” or “Celtic”. Today, these remains are ascribed to the descendants of the Bell Beaker and Corded Ware Cultures (both named for their distinctive pottery) of the Chalcolithic and E.B.A.
Recent genetic studies show that the Corded Ware Culture originated with mass migrations of the Yamnaya Culture from the Pontic Steppe into Northeastern Europe between 3000 and 2800 B.C.3 The Yamnaya Culture buried their dead in pits beneath small mounds, sometimes covering the bones in red ocher, while Corded mounds demonstrate regional diversity and sophistication.
The Beaker People expanded out of the Iberian Peninsula into Western Europe and the Mediterranean between 2900 and 2500 B.C. They are credited with introducing metallurgy into Ireland and Britain. The Beaker People practiced individual burials inside of a variety of round conical mounds (“Disk Barrows”, “Bell Barrows”, and “Bowl Barrows”), and continued the Megalithic culture of their Neolithic forbears, including construction of large circular henges and the reuse of earthworks already built.
Early Bronze Age barrow and enclosure, Boscombe Down, Amesbury. Beaker pottery was retrieved from the central burial and the barrow ditch. (Wessex Archaeology / Flickr)
The appearance of these groups heralded a major genetic changeover in Europe.4 As new lineages associated with both cultures superseded those of the Neolithic period,5 regional variations of the prolific cultural package began to appear, including the Unetice culture in Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia (2200 B.C.), and the Wessex culture in Britain (2000 B.C.), continuing through the Bronze and into the Iron Age via the Tumulus, Urnfield, Hilversum, and Celtic cultures.
Many of the North American earthworks compared with those across the Atlantic were built by the Adena People. Adena enclosures are circular embankments of earth with interior or exterior ditches, featuring openings possibly referencing solar, lunar, or otherwise astrological events, usually located among mound fields. The enclosures sometimes had timber circles incorporated into their designs.
These structures are comparable to Neolithic and Bronze Age henges. Some henges (such as Arbor Low) surround megalithic circles. Stonehenge began life around 3100 B.C. as a simple circular enclosure with the ditch outside of the embankment.
So strong are the similarities of these works from both sides of the Atlantic that mainstream archaeologists occasionally study the European examples when interpreting the Adena versions.6
Adena mounds of North America resemble burial mounds of Europe
In 1883, the Smithsonian excavated 50 Adena mounds and surveyed 8-10 enclosures at Charleston, W.V. Among the earthworks were two circular henges with interior ditches flanking a large conical mound (known as the Criel Mound) originally 30-40 feet high.
Criel Mound, Charleston. (Wikimedia Commons)
Enclosure #1 was 260 feet to the northeast of the mound, while #2 was 260 feet to the southwest of the tumulus. Both were 666 feet in circumference, with outer walls nearly 10 feet high at the time of the survey. Enclosure 1 had an opening at the south, while #2 was open at the north.7
Charleston, W.V. earthworks. 5th Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology. Courtesy of Archive.org. Enclosure #1 is the large ring in the top half of the map, while Enclosure #2 is the large ring in the bottom half.
According to A.R. Sines, who assisted in the excavation of the Criel mound, the central figure was “…a most powerful man….The distance from the spot where the heel bone was found to what was left of the skull was six feet, 8 3-4 inches….The teeth were considerably larger than the teeth of any of the present generation.”8 A portion of the skull was preserved by a copper head band.
At the center of a level area inside Enclosure 1 was a small mound, 40ft broad and 4ft high,7 similar to a European “Disk Barrow”.
“The ‘Druid’ barrow, of Stukeley, belongs to this category, and consists of one or more very small mounds with a circular bank surrounding them at some distance.”9
Types of Burial Mounds in Western Europe by Richard Colt Hoare (Wikipedia).
Another mound near these works, known as the Wilson Mound, was 15 feet high and surrounded by a circular enclosure “enclosing about 40 acres, having the ditch inside of the embankments which were originally 5 or 6 feet high…”.7 This Mound and enclosure had precisely the same design as a European Bronze Age Bell Barrow, described here by Vere Gordon Childe:
“Here the mound is surrounded by a ditch or fosse with a bank outside it; a narrow belt of level ground, known as the berm, generally intervenes between the inner lip of the encircling fosse and the base of the mound proper.”10
Designs and profiles of European Barrows (Gutenburg)
A subsequent excavation of the Wilson Mound revealed a female skeleton with copper implements:
“There had been copper bands around the ankles and wrists and larger pieces of copper on each breast.”8
Other Adena mounds of Bell Barrow design
The Biggs Mound (Group D of the Portsmouth Earthworks) was originally a conical mound 8 ft high with a 40 ft base, surrounded by an embankment 5 feet high with an interior ditch 25 feet across and six feet deep. A gateway in the wall opened to a causeway over the ditch, leading to the mound.11 The mound was much smaller at the time of excavation in 1964.12
Sketch of the Biggs Site in Kentucky, a part of the Portsmouth Earthworks, from Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, courtesy of scienceviews.org
In Marietta, Ohio, the Conus Mound (originally 30ft high) still stands within an earth wall and surrounding ditch. Conus is recognized as an Adena mound even though the accompanying Marietta Earthworks are assigned to the Hopewell Culture.
Sketch of the Conus Mound in Marietta (Wikimedia Commons)
In 1859, T.A. Cheney made the following observations after excavating a mound inside of an enclosure in New York State:
“This embankment, with an entrance or gateway upon the east side thirty feet in width, has an entire circumference of one hundred and seventy feet…The mound, indeed, from the peculiar form of its construction, as well as from the character of its contents, has much resemblance to the Barrows of the earliest Celtic origin, in the Old World.”13
Cheney’s report states that the skeletal remains from the mound were “of very large size”.13
Similarity between European and North American burials
European Barrows feature diverse types of burials. From William Greenwell:
“Sometimes it (the body) has been placed in a small box of stone, a cist; at other times in the hollowed trunk of a tree, or in a grave sunk below the surface of the ground; and, when a burnt body, often in an urn…”14
At Charleston, a pit beneath mound #11 contained a “skeleton fully 7 feet long” inside “traces of a bark coffin”, while the central burial and 10 attendants in the Criel mound were all “placed in bark coffins”. Mound 19 contained a cist of “angular rocks” 8 ft long, 4 ft wide and 3 ft high, in which were “fragments of a large human skeleton”.7 At the Wright, C&O, and Robbins mounds in Kentucky, transportation and possible interment of cremations in pottery vessels has been documented.15
European scholars have also noted evidence of ancient colonization. After studying American Mounds and Earthworks, Dr C.A. Adolph Zestermann (Leipzig) published an article featuring the following passage in 1851:
“These phenomena, in my opinion, point to an intimate internal connexion, for which I can find no other explanation other than a gradual migration of a portion of the human family from one part of the world to another-from one hemisphere to the other. In short, I see in it a colonization of America, by means of an immigration from Europe.”16
Besides what is apparent from mounds and earthworks, further evidence of ancient colonization is found in the realm of anthropology.
Part 2: Anthropological evidence of ancient colonization of North America
Featured image: Postcard image of the Serpent Mound, Ohio (Wikimedia Commons)
- Stephen D. Peet, The Mound Builders, 1892. https://archive.org/stream/moundbuilders00peetrich#page/n7/mode/2up
- E. O. Randall The Serpent Mound Adams County Ohio, 1905. https://archive.org/details/serpentmoundadam00randuoft
- Haak, et al. Massive Migrations from the Steppe is a Source of Indo-European Languages in Europe. http://biorxiv.org/content/early/2015/02/10/013433
- Paul Rincan, BBC News, Making of Europe Unlocked By DNA. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-22252099
- Haak, et al. Neolithic Mitochondrial Haplogroup H Genomes and the Genetic Origins of Europeans. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3978205/
- Berle R. Clay, Circles and Ovals, Two Types of Adena Ritual Space. Southeastern Archaeology 6(3).
- Smithsonian Manuscript, Norris Mound Excavations.
- A. R. Sines, published in the Charleston Gazette November 14, 1926.
- Bertram Windle, Remains of the Prehistoric Age in England. http://www.archive.org/stream/remainsofprehist00wind/remainsofprehist00wind_djvu.txt
- Vere Gordan Childe, The Bronze Age, 1930. https://archive.org/details/bronzeage032071mbp
- Squire and Davis, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. https://archive.org/stream/ancientmonuments00squi#page/n25/mode/2up
- Donald Hardesty in Probes Magazine, 1964.
- 13th Annual Report of the Regents of the University of New York. https://archive.org/stream/annualrepo1314186061newy#page/n47/mode/2up
- William Greenwell, British Barrows. http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433074372495;view=1up;seq=15
- Nancy O’Mally, Adena Mound Ceramics in Retrospect in New Deal Era Archaeology and Current Research in Kentucky. 1988.
- Adolph Zestermann, Memoir on the European Colonization of America in Ante-Historic Times. https://archive.org/stream/cihm_42357#page/n23/mode/2up