THE EARTHWORKS OF THE MOUND BUILDERS
[Photo: Gate on southern margin of large circle forming part of the Alexandersville geometric earthwork. This gate forms one of a number of such interruptions in the continuity of the earth all forming the circle and is specially indicated on the accompanying map.]
67. The Geometrical Earthworks at Alexandersville
When the Europeans first explored that part of North America which extends from Ohio to Missouri and Wisconsin they found numerous evidences of the former presence of inhabitants who apparently had different habits and a different state of culture from the Indian tribes still in existence. Among the most common of these evidences were conical burial mounds, often containing implements unknown to living tribes. Hence these early inhabitants became known as mound builders. The long lapse of time since the existence of these mound builders was inferred from the fact that some of the trees found growing on these mounds were found to contain so many growth rings as to indicate an age of several hundred years. [p. 141]
In addition to the mound there were found also earthworks. Some of these consisted of earth-walls following the outlines of conspicuous hill tops, and evidently designed as forts. Such was the fort in the Calvary cemetery. In these forts there scarcely ever is any evidence of any attempt to
[Map: Map of geometric earthwork at Alexandersville, indicating the parts which still may be traced by closer set lines, and those which have disappeared by more distantly spaced lines. The breaks at equal intervals in the larger circle located the “gates.” Similar gates occurred at the corners and middle of each side of the square enclosure. The unfinished part of the square enclosure is at the southern end.] [p. 142]
adapt the existing topography to the purposes in view beyond the addition of the earth-wall, and the occasional use of a ditch either immediately within the wall or at some distance back of the wall. The inhabitants knew the use of the bow and arrow, the spear, and the stone ax. We have no clear notion of their methods of warfare or of defense.
[Photo: Cut across earth wall forming part of the large circle in the Alexandersville earthwork. This cut is located at the fence east of the gate which is specially marked on the accompanying map, and it serves to indicate the height of the wall.]
In addition to these hill forts there occur in some areas earth-wall enclosures of a more advanced type. These consist usually of enclosures having the forms of squares or circles. Occasionally the walls of the squares are so bent at the middle as to produce a figure intermediate between a square and an octagon. In the drainage basin of the Scioto river these geometric [p. 143]
[Photo: View of mound of earth intended to form part of the southwestern wall (unfinished) of square enclosure of the Alexandersville geometric earthwork. This mound is indicated on the accompanying map. The height of the wall is indicated by the man standing on the level ground directly behind it. As usual, there is no evidence of digging in the immediate neighborhood of earthwork for the purpose of securing the soil used in building the wall.] [p. 144]
earth-wall enclosures occur in groups consisting frequently of at least one square and two circles, the latter usually differing in size.
These geometrically constructed enclosures occur usually in the broad flat valley bottoms. In the Miami valley only two groups of this kind are known, and in neither case was the group of enclosures finished. Apparently the tribe building the enclosures in the Scioto drainage basin invaded the Miami valley, but were not able to maintain a foothold long enough to complete their earthworks. The tribes building the geometrically constructed enclosures may have been more or less contemporaneous with those building the hill forts, but apparently they were not identical.
One of the two groups of only partially completed enclosures occurs in Butler county. The other occurs in the vicinity of Alexandersville, a part being within the limits of the village. It lies within the flat lands forming the Miami valley between Dayton and Miamisburg. The distance from the Moraine farm and Delco Dell is two and a half miles southwestward.
Unfortunately the greater part of the earth-walls are in a poor condition of preservation. That part of the large circle which is preserved in the woods between the Big Four railroad track and the Bellbrook road, northeast of the center of the village, is in fairly good condition, the walls varying from 4 to 5 feet in height, and indicating the presence of several of the gates. The diameter of this circle was estimated at 1,950 feet. Formerly it reached the river bank on the north, but the western part never was completed. The square is located along the Gebhart road, which leads directly south from the center of Alexandersville. East of this road there is a farmhouse at the end of a long lane, and in the woods immediately south of the entrance to this lane is located as much as ever was built of the southern part of the western wall of the square. The northern parts of the same western wall may be traced less distinctly northward on the western side of the Gebhart road. The general direction of this wall is about 20 degrees west of north.
Only the eastern half of the southern wall ever was constructed, but even that part has been reduced by plowing to merely a low swell in the ground in the open field. The southern half of the east wall, south of the farmhouse, is distinctly defined, but the northern half of the east wall and [p. 145]
[Photo: View from the northern end of the Delco Dell grounds northward down the Locust farm Valley, with the southern end of the Eastview ridge on the left, and the southern extension of the Highland area on the right. The Adirondack ridge forms the hill outline in the extreme distance.] [p. 146]
the eastern half of the north wall are very indistinct and only a low swell indicates the former course of the western half of the north wall. Open spaces or gates were present both at the angles and at the half-way points along the sides. The square occupied an area of 31 acres. The highest part of the wall was scarcely more than 4 feet in height.
The smaller circle was located directly northwest of the northwestern angle of the square. Its diameter was estimated at 875 feet. Only the southern part of this circle may be traced in the field between the Gebhart road and the Big Four railroad, south of the center of Alexandersville. It never was completed on its northeastern side and the southern end formerly extended across the railroad track westward and then curved northward in the field between the railroad and the Cincinnati pike, connecting with a short straight wall extending through the center of Alexandersville slightly east of north, where it connected with a curved wall, crossing the canal immediately north of the bridge at the Ohio Electric traction station, of which only a trace may be seen in the open field north of the station.
Years ago an old farmer by the name of Binckley owned a part of this property east of Alexandersville and attempted to leave it in an excellent state of preservation to posterity. He was the source of inspiration for many students of the so-called mound builders’ relics, who came from Dayton and many more distant localities to see his collection. At present his collection is gone and the earth-walls are no longer regarded as sacred ground.
68. The Irregular Earthwork at the Calvary Cemetery
The irregular earthworks found on the tops of hills appear to have been made by a very different race of Indians than those who constructed the geometrical earthworks in the plains. In the vicinity of Dayton the old fort within the grounds of the Calvery cemetery was an excellent example of such an irregular earthwork. In the case of these forts there rarely is any evidence of any attempt to change the general topography of the land included within the fort. The earth-walls merely follow the existing sinuosities of the land surface. They usually skirt the margins of the hill tops and where crossing a gully plunge directly downward and ascend on the [p. 147] opposite
side without any evidence of filling in any part of the land. If the earth-wall is accompanied by any ditching, the latter appears to have been comparatively shallow and always is located along the inner side of the wall instead of following the exterior. The ditch evidently was not expected to prove difficult of crossing to the enemy, but offered additional protection to the defending force
In a preceding chapter the original outline of this fort is indicated. It is rapidly disappearing in the regrading operations of the cemetery authorities.
The mound at the northern end of the fort contained not only several skeletons of the mound builders, but also some of their trinkets. Some of the latter were exhibited for a long time at the Public Library museum.
69. The Miamisburg Mound
The tallest mound in the United States occurs on the hill tops about a mile southeast of Miamisburg. Its height is about 80 feet and its top is about 985 feet above sea level. While a burial mound, as is true of most other mounds, it apparently served also as an observation and signal mound. Apparently, most of these mounds were made by the tribes which constructed the forts on the hill tops. Not only do they occur most frequently near the top of high bluffs, but occasionally they are incorporated as part of the fort, as is the case, for instance, with the mound at the northern end of the Calvary cemetery fort. [p. 148]
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