Thursday, July 23, 2009

Site-seeing: A Lesson Learned

[This is an unauthorised report from long-time reader and sometime contributor John Steventon (the American). Since we all miss Brian and his personality, I am taking it upon myself to fill in for him, occassionally. Please feel free to complain, throw stones (at a tree or something, not at me), and inform to Brian if you see him at the shops. Cheers!]

I have to point out that when it comes to ancient sites, it is best to see them in person, as opposed to simply reading about them in a book or on the net. These sites were made by people, and I believe that to truly understand them, we should look upon them in person and try to imagine them when freshly made. Even if the pyramids of Egypt were made by slaves, I'm willing to bet that some of those slaves stopped to look at these wondrous monuments and say to themselves, "I made that!".

Of course, they were probably summarily executed afterward, but still, there's always that bit of pride that comes from doing something special.

Now then, we can't always see sites in person, and although the net is no substitute for experience, it does come in handy as a reference tool. And here is today's lesson... If you are going to go visit a historic site, then please do some research ahead of time, or you too might find yourself in an embarrassing predicament such as the one I am about to discuss. :0)

So. My first Saturday morning in Ohio, and I am very anxious to get out in the field... any field... and see the sights. I had heard the day before that a local park featured some Adena Burial mounds, and so had to go. The weather was fair, and having done no research at all, I set out for Highbanks Metro Park, and their burial mounds.

Yes, I did no research at all. Why? I figured, "it's a park, there'll be signs, how hard can it be?"

And it wasn't! A few minutes after entering the park, I pulled into a parking lot and there it was... a huge mound, recently mowed, and standing there so majestically! This was my fist view of an Adena Burial Mound, and wow, was I impressed. I ran around taking about 50 photographs from every angle, including panoramic views, and climbed the summit several times to capture the scenery. I recorded everything, and then, exhausted, set out to find more.

It was at the next parking lot that I found a map. A map that showed the wondrous mound behind me to be a Sledding Hill for local youngsters to risk their little necks in winter time. NOT an Adena Burial Mound. No, the two Adena Burial Mounds, and the Cole Earthworks, were only accessible by hiking through wooded trails... about a mile in each direction... to each site.

And then the rains came.

It rained so hard and so long that when it ended, and the sun came out, I felt safe enough to hike those trails after all. And so I set out.

And then the rains came. Again.

Believe it or not, but there were actually other people in the woods, in the rain, jogging or hiking. I met one couple who said the Weatherman had predicted zero percent chance of rain for today. Hmph.

So, regardless of weather I continued, and eventually came to a rock with a plaque that said Adena Burial Mound. I rounded the corner and there it was. A tiny little bump in the earth, behind a little fence, with golden twilight sunshine casting a glow over its little patch of grass.

My first burial mound. To some it may not seem very impressive. It's just this little bump in the grass, on top of a wooded hill, surrounded by trees. Very wet trees, at that.

But this is why I like seeing sights in person. It was quiet there, and that golden glow of the filtered sunshine gave the place a special atmosphere. A quiet almost holy atmosphere that gently guided one into quiet contemplation... a contemplation that made me realise that here was someone buried. A once living human being that was loved, or respected, or feared enough for his or her people to create this little mound for them on top of this hill, so that they could be remembered.

And suddenly that little bump became very meaningful indeed, and I wished at that moment that all the people who plowed over, built over, or ruthlessly plundered the dozens or other burial mounds in the area to destruction could have seen those little bumps in the landscape in this same manner. These are burials. They meant something to somebody once, and we should respect that.

I walked two hours in the rain that day... got muddy, and caught a cold, and my bones are still aching. But it was worth it. Every minute.

Cheers, JOHN :0)

PS Please read Brian's excellent post below about Mediaeval Beer brewing!


JahTeh said...

Were burial mounds common in Ohio or just for the usual important high-ups?

How much did they pre-date European invasion?

I hope you're signing the guestbook while His Lowness is off gallivanting.

John said...

Jah Teh,
Supposedly there were 10,000 mounds of all types in Ohio, although there are only a handful left. There are probably more than that, but I wonder if people even know what they are if there isn't a historical marker next to them?

Most of the mounds are between 500 and 2000 years old, although there are a few in southern Ohio which reach back to 4000 years ago.

The Europeans arrived here about 200 years ago, and many of the mounds were still in the care of later native peoples. From what I hear, the Natives played down the importance of the mounds because they knew of the European's fondness for treasure. They tried to mislead the treasure seekers, and so the few verbal accounts we have from the Natives cannot be taken as fact.

The Europeans were from two schools... one saw the mounds as American versions of the pyramids, and imagined them full of gold, and so excavated them regardless of anyone's thoughts or feelings.

The others saw them as mysterious wonders, and thankfully recorded their existence, and tried to preserve them. Unfortunately, most preservation began AFTER 150 years of plows took their tops off.

I can go on, but don't want to overstay my welcome. If anyone wants more posts from me, in his Lordship's absense, please let me know!

Cheers, JOHN :0)

History Hunter said...

Hi John

I don't post much but I do enjoy reading them. Thanks for stepping into the breach so to say.

John said...


Looks like Brian has automated posting for every Wednesday, UK time, so maybe I'll post on Saturday or Sunday?

Meanwhile I'll send Brian some snail mail and see if he answers. Anyone out there in touch with him? Carol? Michelle? Anyone?

JOHN :0)

History Hunter said...

Beginning to think he's done a Lord Lucan !

John said...

I honestly thought we'd hear fro mHimself by now, but he's always complained that the library computers are always "kept busy with pensioners", and that he could never get near them. Brian's words, not mine. :0)

Another theory is that this blogging stuff is a lot harder than it looks, and once he caught his breath, he took to the hills to watch the clouds go by and smell the daffodils.

With any luck, he'll find a barrow in those hills and get his tail back to work. :0)

Tune in tomorrow for Brian's next scheduled installment of old photos featuring Bispham's Cliffs. And I'll be back Saturday with some more of the ancient Mound Builders of Olde Ohio. :0)

JOHN ;0)

Jayne said...

Great post, John, thanks again :)
Sad to think graves were plundered like that but thankfully others preserved the remaining few.

John said...

Jayne, I'm not sure how much was preserved, from what I've been reading. More on that in my weekend post here... unless Hisself comes back and tosses me on my ear. :0)

JOHN :0)

Jayne said...

Ah, ok, I shall wait patiently....