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A Fortification and a Cemetery at Dayton, Ohio

This article appeared in The American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal, September 1885 

A Fortification and a Cemetery at Dayton, Ohio.


Editor American Antiquaran:

There is an enclosure on the Bluffs about two miles south of Dayton, which I think has been described, but I have not seen the description.   It is now included in the Catholic cemetery and is rapidly disappearing. Mr. Shinn, of Dayton, surveyed and mapped this work and kindly furnished me with a copy. The form is an irregular ellipse, which resulted from following the highest ground. The wall, which averages about three feet high and ten feet broad, is formed of surface material, hence clay enters largely in its composition. But the south part of the circumvallation, which traverses a gravel ridge, is formed to a great extent of gravel and boulders, which has led some to the erroneous conclusion that this section had been paved.

An interesting feature in the work is a broad and deep ditch which commences at the south-west corner and extends some fifty yards in a nearly north-east direction. The object of this excavation is difficult to explain, as it is not probable that it furnished material for the entire wall, and no other depression has been discovered. It is clearly no ravine, as the bottom presents a regular rounded, and in some instances, level outline; moreover, the declivity is not sufficiently abrupt to justify such a conclusion; and yet, strangely enough, the wall appears to have been built across it, while the cut is continued beyond for the space of a few yards to the crest of the cliff.

Possibly a tunnel at this point served as an outlet for the drainage of the south part of the enclosure. This hypothesis is weakened however, by the reflection that other parts of the enclosure have no such provision. But perhaps, as Mr. McLean has given his readers, in his "Mound Builders," a description of the Lower Twin or Carlisle Works (though in some instances erroneous and exaggerated ) I shall omit any special reference to it.

Since I wrote my article on the ash heaps of the Miami valley, I have read Mr. Langdon's description of the Madisonville discoveries in Prof. Short's book. The deposites of ashes he describes appear to be identical with those discovered by Prof. Putnam, referred to in your letter.

I visited the prehistoric cemetery at Dayton, and found the developments deeply interesting, and at the same time very perplexing. The difficulty arises from the apparently anomalous character of the interments, in which are blended characteristics of the Mound-builder and the Indian.

A tolerably clear, conception of this feature may be gathered from the following description of the locality: The cemetery is situated on the left bank of Stillwater, near its mouth. The discovery was made last summer while constructing a levee, the material for which was taken from the space between the levee and the bank of the river. The removal of about twenty inches of surface material revealed patches of burned clay, under which reposed the remains, with fragments of pottery, mussel shells, implements of bone and deer's horn. The shells are remarkably well preserved. The margins are worked off smooth, and the rough outer coat removed. Some of the shells were perforated.

The quality of this pottery is excellent. Sand and finely comminuted shells enter into its composition. The evidence is clear that the vessels had been moulded in a cloth sack, as the imprint of the cloth is very distinct. An interesting specimen in my collection shows the charred fibres of the cloth still imbedded, which if we had no other evidence, demonstrates that the ware was subjected to the action of fire, destroying the sacks in the process.

The slight covering, in connection with the sound condition of the relics, is suggestive of Indian burial, while the superior quality of the pottery, the baked clay envelope, and the unmistakable evidence of a knowledge of weaving in those days, may be claimed as arguments in support of a civilization immeasurably in advance of the wandering savage.

Should we regard this and similar discoveries as evidence of decadence or declining energy? Or as indicating a radical change in the mode of sepulture from cremation to inhumation? Or is it due to changed conditions which resulted from the disruption of the old Empire, a commingling of forms?

The extent of this old burial place has not been determined as no excavations have been made where the soil is undisturbed. From indications it covers many square rods.

Since I wrote last, I have come in possession of  the "Dayton image."   Also a donation from Mr. P. I. Pease, of Dayton, comprising 23 pestals; 2 beautiful maces, or war badges; 3 "rolling pins;" 20 axes, grooved; 12 do. plain; fleshers "and gouges 6; hammers, grooved 7; plain 11; anvils 2; miscellaneous 6; including a veritable tablet, but of comparatively recent date, namely, 1720, clearly cut on the upper margin of a sandstone slab, ten inches by seven and of an inch in thickness. It was evidently sawn from a boulder with a yellowish-white nucleus in the composition, of which quartz enters largely. The striae made by the saw are distinctly perceptible. It was found in a plowed field near Bellbrook, Green Co., 0. As to its authenticity there is no doubt, but the object had in view is left to conjecture. No inscription. A minute cross (thus +) is seen on the right hand side of the date, placed there as a period probably. Also a cup, weighing two pounds, material green ribboned shale, capacity about one gill; the cavity is very well executed. The rounded, pot-like form seems to be due to the rotary motion of a round-ended pivot of sandstone. It is probable that we have here a genuine paint pot. The front teeth of the male skeleton which I exhumed some years ago were colored blue, and like the Indians, it is highly probable that the Mound-builders improved (?) their appearance by a liberal use of red ochre, hence the necessity for a vessel of some sort in which to prepare it. As heat destroys the color of this beautiful mineral, it is not probable that this object was used as a lamp.

Very respectfully yours, S. H. Binkley.   Alexandersville, O.