Ancient Works at Marietta, Ohio.




Archaeological and Historical Publications

Volume XII. Pg 37-66


The ancient earthworks at Marietta, Ohio, have received much attention, and have been written about more than any of the prehistoric remains of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys. These structures were great and ranked high in importance, although not so extensive and complicated as certain other remains, which have been fully considered.  At the time of the opening of the great West the Ohio river was the main artery that led into the wilderness, and hence the Marietta antiquities invited early notice; but the first to be recorded were those at Circleville.  Rev. David Jones, of Freehold, New jersey, in 1772-3, spent some time among the western Indians, and in his journal makes mention of some of the works on the Scioto.  On October 17, 1772, he made a plan and computation of the works at Circleville.

            The company of settlers, organized by Gen. Rufus Putnam, arrived at the mouth of the Muskingum April 7, 1788, and then took possession of the land purchased of the United States Government.  The Directors of the company, appreciating the importance of the ancient remains, took immediate measures for their preservation.  One of their earliest official acts was the passage of a resolution, which they caused to be entered upon the journal of their proceedings, reserving the two truncated pyramids and the great conical mound, with a few acres attached to each, as public squares.  The great avenue, named “Sacra Via,” by special resolution was “never to be disturbed or defaced, as common ground, not to be enclosed.”  These works were placed under the care of the corporation of Marietta, with the direction that they should be embellished with shade trees of native growth, the varieties of which being specified.

            It is no credit to the people of Marietta to examine into the cause of their falseness to their trust.  When I visited these works in 1882, I found the truncated pyramids denuded and the walls of the Sacra Via gone.  On inquiring what had become of these walls I was informed that the material had been moulded into bricks; that a brick-maker had been elected a member of the town council, and he had persuaded the other members to vote to sell him the walls.  This unpleasant fact has also been reported by Prof. Wright.  Quite a voluminous report of the Centennial Celebration of Marietta is given in volume II, Ohio Archaeological and Historical Quarterly, replete with oratory and glorification, but no word concerning what has really made Marietta known.  The editor of the Quarterly, more considerate, accompanies the account with a cut of the remains, taken from Squier & Davis’ “Ancient Monuments,” and an original picture of the conical mound in the cemetery.

            With but little exaggeration it may be stated the antiquities at Marietta are principally obliterated.  What few remain do not exhibit the value of what existed at the time the Ohio Company took possession.  For all archaeological purposes we must depend on the integrity of those who made surveys and plans of the works when they were practically complete.  Fortunately we are not at a loss in this matter.  The works were of sufficient note, not only to call the attention of military men and travelers, but also to excite the curiosity of the intelligent in the older states.  The descriptions and plans of these early observers have been preserved.  The changes that have taken place in the condition of these structures, and the variations noted by different observers, all point to value in summing up the evidence.  When the works were denuded of their trees and the iconoclastic hand of the white man protruded itself, the change in the appearance of the remains must have been very rapid.




            In all probability the first of the ancient earthworks west of the Alleghanies that were carefully surveyed were those under consideration.  During the years 1785 and 1786 many letters from army officers found their way into the public prints giving an account of these remains, some of which were highly exaggerated.  It was due to Gen. Samuel H. Parsons, that an authentic character should be given to the reports.  In a letter addressed to President Willard, of Harvard College, dated October 2, 1786, he described the Grave Creek mound – Moundsville, W.Va. – and referred to the remains at Marietta, a description of which he had sent previously to President Stiles, of New Haven.

            The first plan and description of the works have been ascribed to Capt. Jonathan Heart.  General Harmar, in a letter dated Fort Pitt, March 17, 1787, to General Thomas Mifflin, of Philadelphia says:  “Be pleased to view the inclosed plan of the remains of some ancient works on the Muskingum, taken by a captain of mine (Heart), with his explanations.  Various are the conjectures concerning these fortifications.  From their regularity I conceive them to be the works of some civilized people.  Who they were I know not.  Certain it is, the present race of savages are strangers to anything of the kind.”3

            Daniel Stebbens states, under date of Northampton, Mass., May 1842, that the drawing sent to Dr. Stiles, was copied by him, to be preserved in the archives of Yale College.  In his letter he explains the drawing.  “No, I, Town.  No. 2, The Fort.  No. 3, The Great Mound and Ditch.  No. 4, The Advance Work.  No. 5, Indian Graves.  No. 6, Covered Way from the town to the then locality of the river, which is supposed at that time to have run along the edge of the second bottom.  These walls are now twenty feet high, and the graded road between them was once hundred feet wide, and beautifully rounded like a modern turnpike.  No. 7, A Second Covered Way with walls of less elevation.  No. 8, Caves.  Nos. 9 and 10, Elevated Squares.  These works were interspersed with many small mounds as represented in the drawings.”

            The Columbain Magazine, for May 1789, contains Capt. Heart’s plan with an elaborate description.

            The Pennsylvania Gazette, October 22, 1788, contains a letter from a gentleman at Marietta, to his fried in Massachusetts, dated September 8, 1788, from which the following is extracted:  “An accurate survey of the ancient ruins within the limits of our city has been made in presence of the governor, judges, directors of the company, and a number of other gentlemen, that we may be able to ascertain all the facts respecting them; in the course of this survey we had several of the large tress, on the parapet of those works, cut down, and have examined their ages by the rings of grains from the heart to the surface, computing each grain to be one year’s growth.  We found one tree to have stood 443 years, another 289, situated so as to leave no room to doubt of their having began to grown since those works were abandoned.  We find the perpendicular height of the walls of this covert to be at this time twenty feet and the base thirty-nine, the width twelve rods.”

            In the third volume of the American Philosophical Society, appear Captain Heart’s replies to inquiries, which he wrote in January 1791.  In this paper he treats the subject in a judicious manner observing “that the state of the works and the trees growing on them indicated an origin prior to the discovery of America by Columbus; that they were not due to the present Indians or their predecessors, or some tradition would have remained of their uses; that they were not constructed by a people who procured the necessaries of life by hunting, as a sufficient number to carry on such labors could not have subsisted in that way; and, lastly, that the people who constructed them were not altogether in an uncivilized state, as they must have been under the subordination of the law, with a strict and well-governed police, or they could not have been kept together in such numerous bodies, and been made to contribute to the execution of such stupendous works.”٭

            It was most unfortunate that two such intelligent observers as Gen. Parsons and Capt. Heart should meet with death so soon after their interest in western antiquities had been awakened. The former was drowned in the Ohio river in December 1791, and the latter was slain the disastrous defeat of St. Clair, in November 1791, while, with a handful of men, he was covering the retreat of the army.

            Col. Winthrop Sargent, in March, 1787, wrote a more elaborate and finished sketch that that of Capt. Heart, and sent it to Governor Bowdoin, which was not published until 1853, when it appeared in “Memoirs American Academy of Arts and Science.”




            In the year 1803, Rev. Dr. Thaddeus M. Harris, of Massachusetts, examined some of the ancient structures, and published his “Journal of a Tour” in 1805.  The following is the oft repeated description taken from his book (Page 149): “The situation of these works is on an elevated plain, above the present bank of the Muskingum, on the east side, and about half a mile from its junction with the Ohio.  They consist of walls and mounds of earth, in direct lines, and in square and circular forms.

            The largest square fort, by some called the town, contains forty acres, encompassed by a wall of earth, from six to ten feet high, and from twenty-five to thirty-six in breadth at the base.  On each side are three openings, at equal distances, resembling twelve gateways.  The entrances at the middle, are the largest particularly on the side next to the Muskingum.  From this outlet is a covert way, formed of two parallel walls of earth, two hundred and thirty-one feet distant from each other, measuring from center to center.  The walls at the most elevated part, on the inside, are twenty-one feet in height, and forty-two in breadth at the base, but on the outside average only five feet in height. This forms a passage of about three hundred and sixty feet in the length, leading by a gradual descent to the low grounds, where at the time of its construction, it probably reached the river.  Its walls commence at sixty feet from the ramparts of the fort, and increase in elevation as the way descends towards the river; and the bottom is crowned in the center, in the manner of a well founded turnpike road.

            Within the walls of the fort, at the northwest corner, is an oblong elevated square, one hundred and eighty-eight feet long, one hundred and thirty-two broad, and nine feet high; level on the summit, and nearly perpendicular at the sides.  At the center of each the sides, the earth is projected, forming gradual ascents to the top, equally regular, and about six feet in width.  Near the south wall is another elevated square, one hundred and fifty feet by one hundred and twenty, and eight feet high, similar to the other, excepting that instead of an ascent to go up on the side next to the wall, there is a hollow way ten feet wide, leading twenty feet towards the center, and then rising with a gradual slope to the top.  At the southeast corner, is a third elevated square, one hundred and eight, by fifty-four feet, with ascents at the ends, but not so high nor perfect as the two others.  A little to the southwest of the center of the fort is a circular mound, about thirty feet in diameter and five feet high, near which are four small excavations at equal distances, and opposite each other.  At the southwest corner of the fort is a semicircular parapet, crowned with a mound, which guards the opening in the wall.  Towards the southeast is a smaller fort, containing twenty acres, with a gateway in the center of each side and at each corner.  These gateways are defended by circular mounds.

            On the outside of the smaller fort is a mound, in form of a sugar loaf, of a magnitude and height which strikes the beholder with astonishment.  Its base is a regular circle, one hundred and fifteen feet in diameter; its perpendicular altitude is thirty feet. It is surrounded by a ditch four feet deep and fifteen feet wide, and defended by a parapet four feet high, though which is a gateway towards the fort, twenty feet in width.  There are other walls, mounds, and excavations, less conspicuous and entire.”

            Mr. Harris adopted from Clavigero his account of the emigration of the Toltecs, and to them ascribed the construction of all similar works, and maintained that the mural works had been surmounted by palisades, intended for protection in the gradual progress made by these people though the territories of less civilized tribes.




            At the same time Mr. Harris was engaged in making his observations on one side of the Ohio river, on the other, James Madison, then Episcopal bishop of Virginia, was likewise entertaining himself.  The result of his observations he communicated in a letter which was read before the Philosophical Society, and subsequently appeared in one of its volumes.  It appeared to Bishop Madison that such remains were too numerous and various in form, besides being too unfavorably situated to be regarded as places of defense; and their striking figures indicated one common origin and destination.  He regarded the mounds as burial places.




            At the request of the President of the American Antiquarian Society, and by him assisted with pecuniary means, Caleb Atwater undertook to prepare a comprehensive account of the antiquities of the Western States.  This contribution was published by the society in 1820, and comprises 164 pages of Vol. I. of its Transactions.  Seven pages are devoted to the Marietta works.  The text is accompanied by a plan take from a survey made by B. P. Putnam.

            The contribution, with accompanying plates, was republished by the author, in 1833, together with his “Tour to Prairie Du Chien.” under the title of “Western Antiquities.”  A reduced plan of the work is given in Howe’s “Historical Collections of Ohio.”  The account given by Atwater is drawn from descriptions written by Dr. Hildreth and Gen. Edward W. Tupper.  He quotes in extenso from Harris’s “Tour.” He concludes his narrative in the following language:

            “It is worthy of remark, that the walls and mounds were not thrown up from ditches, but raised by bringing the earth from a distance, or taking it up uniformly from the plain; resembling in that respect, most of the ancient works at Licking, already described.  It has excited some surprise that the tools have not been discovered here, with which these mounds were constructed.  Those who have examined these ruins, seem not to have been aware, that with shovels made of wood, earth enough to have constructed these works might have been taken from the surface, with as much ease, almost, as if they were made of iron.  This will not be as well understood on the east as the west side of the Alleghanies; but those who are acquainted with the great depth and looseness of our vegetable mound, which lies on the surface of the earth, and of course, the ease with which it may be raised by wooden tools, will cease to be astonished at what would be an immense labor in what geologists call ‘primitive’ countries.  Besides, had the people who raised these works, been in possession of, and used ever so many tools, manufactured from iron, by lying either on or under the earth, during that long period which has intervened between their authors and us, they would have long since oxidized by rusting, and left but faint traces of their existence behind them.”

            Under the genius of Atwater a highly creditable and authentic representation of the ancient structures and other objects of interest and curiosity was systematically connected.  Some of the structures he believed to have been fortifications; others sacred enclosures, such as mounds of sacrifice, or sites of temples; other mounds were for burial, and some places were for diversion.  The accuracy of the regular works, which enclose large areas, is adduced as proof of scientific ability, and that the gradual development of the works would indicate that the strain of migration was toward the south.  The growth of generations of forest trees over the remains, and the changes in the courses and bends of the streams on whose banks the ancient works are located are given as evidence of antiquity.




            Dr. Hildreth’s “Pioneer History of the Ohio Valley” and “Biographical and Historical Memories of the early Pioneer Settlers of Ohio,” will long remain standard works.  For upwards of forty years he was a constant contributor to scientific journals.  While he published no books on western antiquities, yet he wrote fully on the works at Marietta, all the details of which were perfectly familiar to him, as well as all that had been written on the subject.  He was very much interested in those at Marietta, besides being well informed on the general subject.  What he has written is worthy of candid consideration.  In a letter sent to Caleb Atwater, and dated June 8, 1819 he says:

            “Mr. Harris, in his ‘Tour,’ has given a tolerably good account of the present appearance of the works, as to height, shape and form.  The principal excavation or well, it as much as sixty feet in diameter, at the surface; and when the settlement was first made, it was at least twenty feet deep.  It is at present twelve or fourteen feet; but has been filled up a great deal from the washing of the sides by frequent rains.  It was originally of the kind formed in the most early days, when the water was brought up by hand in pitchers, or other vessels, by steps formed in the sides of the well.

            The pond, or reservoir, near the northwest corner of the large fort, was about twenty-five feet in diameter, and the sides raised above the level of the adjoining surface by an embankment of earth three or four feet high.  This was nearly full of water at the first settlement of the town, and remained so until the last winter, at all seasons of the year.  When the ground was cleared near the well, a great many logs that laid nigh, were rolled into it to save the trouble of piling and burning them.  These, with the annual deposit of leaves, etc., for ages, had filled the well nearly full; but still water rose to the surface, and had the appearance of a stagnant pool.  In early times poles and rails have been pushed down into the water, and deposit of rotten vegetables, to the depth of thirty feet.  Last winter the person who owns the well undertook to drain it, by cutting a ditch from the well into the small ‘covert-way;’ and he dug to the depth of about twelve feet, and let the water off to that distance.  He finds the sides of the reservoir not perpendicular, but projecting gradually towards the center of the well, in the form of an inverted cone.  The bottom and sides, so far as he has examined, are lined with a stratum of very fine, ash colored clay, about eight or ten inches thick; below which, is the common soil of the place, and above it, this vast body of decayed vegetation.  The proprietor calculates to take from it several hundred loads of excellent manure, and to continue work at it, until he has satisfied his curiosity, as to the depth and contents of the well.  If it was actually a well, it probably contains many curious articles, which belonged to the ancient inhabitants.

            On the outside of the parapet, near the oblong square, I picked up a considerable number of fragments of ancient potters’ ware.  This ware is ornamented with lines, some of them quite curious and ingenious, on the outside.  It is composed of clay and fine gravel and has a partial glazing on the inside.  It seems to have been burnt, and capable of holding liquids.  The fragments, on breaking them, look quite black, with brilliant particles, appearing as you hold them to the light.  The ware which I have seen, found near the rivers, is composed of shells and clay, and not near so hard as this found on the plain.  it is a little curious, that of twenty or thirty pieces which I picked up, nearly all of them were found on the outside of the parapet, as if they had been thrown over the wall purposely.  This is, in my mind, strong presumptive evidence, that the parapet was crowned with a palisade.  The chance of finding them on the inside of the parapet, was equally good, as the earth had recently ploughed, and planted with corn.  Several pieces of copper have been found in and near to the ancient mounds, at various times.  One piece, from the description I had of it, was in the form of a cup with low sides, the bottom very thick and strong.  The small mounds in this neighborhood have been but slightly, if at all examined.  The avenues or places of ascent on the sides of the elevated squares are ten feet wide, instead of six, as stated by Mr. Harris. His description as to height and dimensions, are otherwise correct.”®

            In the “American Pioneer,” for Oct. 1842, (Vol. I. p. 340), Dr. Hildreth has the following extended notice of the conical mound:

            “The object of the present article is not to describe the whole of these works, but only ‘the mound,’ which beautiful structure is considered the pride and ornament of Marietta.

            The venerable and worthy men, who were the directors of the Ohio company, and superintended the platting of the city of Marietta, viewing with admiration this beautiful specimen of the arts amongst the ancient proprietors of this region, reserved a square of six acres around this mound, and appropriated it to the use of a burying ground, thus giving a hallowed aspect to that spot, and preserving it from the violation of private individuals.  It yet remains in all its pristine beauty, a monument of the industry and arts of the ancient inhabitants of the valley, and a lasting memento of the classic taste of the directors of the Ohio company.  Every provision was made that could be, for the protection of the two elevated squares, or truncated pyramids, about half a mile northwest of the mound, by appropriating three acres around each of them as public squares, and placing them under the authority of the future mayor and corporation of the city.  They also remain uninjured; while some of the parapets of the ancient fort and city have been dug away in grading the streets, and in some instances by individuals, where they fell within their inclosures; but to the credit of the inhabitants, it may be said that the old works have been generally preserved with more care, than in any other towns in Ohio. ‘The mound,’ a drawing of which accompanies this article, was, when first measured, fifty years since, about thirty feet in height; it is now only about twenty-eight feet.  it measures one hundred and thirty yards around the base, and should be one hundred and thirty feet in diameter.  It terminates not in a regular apex, but is fat on top, measuring twenty feet across it.  The shape is very regular, being that of a cone, whose sides rise at an angle of forty-five degrees.  It stands in the center of a level area, which is sixty-six yards in diameter.  This is surrounded by a ditch one hundred and ninety-seven yards in circumference; it is now about four feet deep, and ten feet wide at the top, sloping evenly and regularly from the top of the parapet, and inner edge of the ditch to the bottom.  Outside the ditch is a wall of earth, being apparently that thrown out of the ditch, and elevated about four feet above the adjacent surface of the earth.  The parapet is two hundred and thirty-four yards in circumference.  On the north side is an avenue, or opening of fifteen feet in width, through the parapet, across which no ditch is dug.  A few rods north, in a line with the gateway or opening, are three low mounds; the nearest oblong or elliptical, sixty feet in length, and about twenty in width, with an elevation of six or eight feet in the center in the center tapering gradually to the sides.  These mounds communicate with the fort as seen in the old plan.^  The parapet, ditch, circular area, and mound itself, are now covered with a vivid and splendid coat of green sward of native grasses, which protects them from the wash of the rain.  There are several beautiful oaks growing on the sides of the mound.  When first noticed by the settlers, it was covered with large forest trees, seven of them four feet in diameter.  A few years since, sheep were allowed to pasture in the cemetery grounds.  In their repeated and frequent ascents of the ground, they had worn paths in its sides, down which the wintry rains taking their course, cut deep channels, threatening in a few years to ruin the beauty of the venerable structure, if not to destroy it entirely.  Some of the more intelligent inhabitants of Marietta, observing its precarious state, set on foot a subscription for its repair, and for building a new fence, and ornamenting the grounds with shade trees.  Four hundred dollars were raised by subscription, and four hundred were given by the corporation, and a very intelligent man appointed to superintend the work.  Three hundred dollars went to the mound, and five hundred to the fencing, planting trees, and opening walks, etc.  Inclined planes of boards were erected on which to elevate the earth in wheel-barrows.  At this day it would require a sum of not less than two thousand dollars to erect a similar mound of earth.  At the same time a flight of forty-six stone steps, were mound on the north side, making an easy ascent to the top. A circular seat of planks is build on the summit, protected in the outer edge by locust posts, with iron chains from post to post.  The scene from this elevation is one of the finest in the country, commanding a prospect of eight or nine miles up and down the Ohio river, with a broad range over the hilly region which skirts the Muskingum.  No examination has been made by digging, to discover the contents of this mound, with the exception of a slight excavation into the top, many years ago, when bones of two or three human skeletons were found.  The public mind is strongly opposed to any violation, or disfiguring the original form of this beautiful structure, as well as of the old works generally.  Several curious ornaments of stone and copper have been brought up at various times in digging graves in the adjacent grounds.

            From the precaution taken to surround this mound with a ditch and parapet which was probably crowned also with palisades, it has been suggested that it was a place of sacrifice, and the defenses for the purpose of keeping off the common people, while the priests were engaged in their sacred offices.”

            The last article taken from Dr. Hildreth appeared in the “American Pioneer” for June 1843 (Vol. II, No. VI), and treats of the mounds:

             PYRAMIDS AT MARIETTA. –This beautiful specimen (see Fig. 5) of the skill and good taste of that ancient race of inhabitants who once peopled the rich bottoms and hillsides of the valley of the Ohio, stands on the western border of that high sandy plain which overlooks the Muskingum river, about one mile from its mouth.  The elevation of this plain is from eighty to one hundred feet above the bed of the river, and from forty to sixty feet above the bottom lands of the Muskingum.  It is about half a mile in width, by three-fourths of a mile in length, and terminates on the side next the river by a rather abrupt natural glacis, or slope, resting on the more recent alluvious or bottom lands.  On the opposite side, it reclines against the base of the adjacent hills, except where it is cut off by a shallow ravine excavated by two small runs, or branches, which head near each other at the foot of the hills.  On this plain are seated those ancient works so often mentioned by various writers.  The main object of this article is to describe the two truncated pyramids, or elevated squares, as they are usually called.  Since reading the travels of Mr. Stevens in Central America, and his descriptions of the ruins of Palenque and other ancient cites of that region, I have become satisfied in the belief, that these two truncated pyramids were erected for the purpose of sustaining temples or other public buildings.  Those which he describes were generally constructed of stone, and the temples now standing on them are of the same material.  He however saw some that were partly earth, and part stone.  They are the work of a people further advanced in the arts than the race who erected the earthworks of Ohio; but that they were made by people of similar habits and policy of government, there can be little doubt by anyone who has taken the trouble to compare the two.  It may be objected that they are too distant from each other ever to have been built by the same race.  Allowing that they were not of the same nation; yet similar wants, and similar habits of thinking, would probably lead to very similar results.  But there can no reasonable objection to their being erected by a colony from Mexico, where the same works are found as in Central America.  Neither is there any serious objection to their being the parent tribe of the Mexicans, driven away southerly by the more northern and warlike tribes; and these the structures which precede the more perfect one of stone.  In Illinois there are similar earthen structures nearly one hundred feet high and three hundred in length._  Broad, elevated basements of this kind were no doubt intended for the support of public buildings or temples and must have been thrown up by the joint labor of the tribe for their general benefit.

            While the structures of this character in the valley of the Mississippi were made of earth, and the superstructures or buildings were crowned them, of wood, those in Central America were build of stone, the imperishable nature of which has preserved them to this day.  The wood has decayed and returned again to its parent earth hundreds of years since, while the clay on which the buildings rested, being also imperishable, remains to this day, bearing the outlines of the truncated pyramid in all its original beauty of form and proportion.  The sides and top where not covered with buildings, were probably protected from the action of rains and frosts by a thick coating of turf, which prevented the wasting action of these powerful agents of destruction.  And when, in the course of after years, the primeval forest had again resumed its empire, that served as a further protection and preserved them in the state in which they were found by the first white inhabitants of this valley.  Our own opinion is, that these earthworks of the valley of the Ohio, were more likely to have been built by the ancestors of the Mexicans, rather than by a colony from that country.  One principal reason is, that if they proceeded from Mexico they would have left some relics of their labor in stone, as the Mexicans worked the hardest varieties with their indurated copper tools, with great neatness and facility.  Nothing, however, of the kind has yet been discovered, unless the sculptured impressions of two human feet in the hard limerock near St. Louis be samples of their skill in the use of metallic implements.  Further researches and careful analysis of known facts may yet throw more light on this dark subject.  Dr. S. G. Morton, of Philadelphia, who has spent years in examining skulls of the aboriginal inhabitants of America, “collected from the mounds and cemeteries from all parts of this continent, has come to the conclusion that the numerous tribes of dead and living Indians form but one race, and that race is peculiar to America. (Here follow several excerpts take from Dr. Morton’s paper delivered before the ‘Boston Society of Natural History,’ in April, 1843.Ì)

            But to return to the description of the truncated pyramid, a figure of which stands at the heard of this article.  The spectator is standing on the top of one of the earthen parapets which form the walls of this ‘ancient city,’ within which the pyramid is situated.  It is distant less than one hundred yards, northeasterly, from the opening of the ‘via sacra,’ or covered way. Which leads down to the Muskingum river; a drawing and description of which also accompanies this article.  The dimensions are as follows:  The form is a parallelogram, one side of which is forty yards and the other sixty-five yards; the longer direction is southerly.  The height is four yards, or twelve feet, above the adjacent surface of the plain; a regular glacis or avenue of ascent is thrown up on each side near the centre of the work; these are ten yards wide and eighteen yards long, rendering the ascent very easy.  The foot of the south glacis terminates directly opposite the north wall of the ‘via sacra,’ which is about one hundred yards distant.  The top of the pyramid is entirely level.

            Lesser Truncated Pyramid: -- This work is seated near the southeast corner of the ‘ancient city,’ distant about forty rods from the larger one.  Its dimensions are as follows: Fifty yards long by forty-five yards wide; its height is eight feet above the surface of the plain.  It has a glacis or avenue of ascent on three sides only, viz. the south, west, and east.  Those on the west and east sides are not in the centre, but near to or only nine yards from the north side; that on the north side is near the centre.  On the south side there is a recess or excavation in place of a glacis.  It is sixteen yards long, and ten yards wide, and eight feet deep.  This opening was probably covered by the building which stood on the pyramid, and formed a dark or secret chamber, in some way connected with their religious rites.  The other three glacis are each ten yards wide and sixteen yards long.  The whole is in a fine preservation, and coated over with a nice turf of native grasses.

            Via Sacra,’ or Covered Way: – This work, which exceeds all the others in magnitude of labor, is finely represented in the drawing.  The observer is standing a little past the middle of the work towards the upper end of the way next to the truncated pyramid, and facing upon the Muskingum river, which runs at the foot of the little ridge between the trees figured on its banks.  On the opposite shore are the Harmar hills.  This road or way is two hundred yards long, and proceeds with a very gradual descent near the western parapet walls of the city to the present bottom lands of the Muskingum.  It is supposed that at the period of its construction the river ran near the termination of the road; but this is quite uncertain.  it is fifty yards or hundred and fifty feet in width, and finished with a regular crowing in the centre like a modern turnpike.  The sides of this ancient ‘Broadway’ are protected by walls of earth rising in height as they approach the river, commencing with an elevation of eight feet and ending with eighteen feet on the inside; on the outside of the wall is about seven feet above the adjacent surface in its whole length; the increased height within, as it approaches the river, being made by the depth of the excavation in digging away the margin of the elevated plain to the level of the Muskingum bottom lands.  The average depth of the excavation in constructing this avenue, may be placed at ten feet, which will make one million of cubic yards of earth to be removed in constructing this grand way into the city.  This earth was probably used, as we see no other source from which it could come so readily, in the erection of the larger truncated pyramid, and a portion of the adjacent walls of the ‘fenced city.’  But as this would consume but a small portion of the earth removed, the balance was probably used in constructing a quay for the convenience of their boats.  The earth from which the pyramid is made, was apparently not take from the immediate vicinity, as there is no appearance of holes, or sunken spots, or vestiges of any earth being removed.

            The transportation of this earth must have been an immense labor, as there is no probability that the inhabitants had any domestic animals to assist them in the work.  The supposition is, that it was carried away in baskets on the shoulders of the men and women, a distance of one or two hundred yards, and placed where we now see it.  This mode of removing earth is still practiced by several rude nations.  The population of this ancient city must have been very considerable to have required so broad an avenue for their ingress and egress from its gates.

            Traces of their hearths may yet be seen by digging away the earth in the inside of the parapets or walls, along the borders of which their dwellings would seem to have been erected.  Numerous relics of copper and silver have been found in the cinders of these hearths.  They are generally in the form of ornaments, rings of copper, or slender bars of copper that had been used as awls.  In the mounds have been found several curious articles of metal.  The bowl of a brass spoon is in the possession of the writer, take from one of the parapets in the northwest corner of the old city, at the depth of six feet below the surface.  Large quantities of broken earthenware was found when Marietta was first settled, lying on the surface, and especially in the bottom of an excavation called ‘the well,’ about one hundred yards from the lesser pyramid in a southerly direction.  It was sixty or eighty feet wide at the top, narrowing gradually to the bottom like an inverted cone, to the depth of fifty feet.  Numerous fragments of broken vessels where found here, as if destroyed in the act of procuring water from the well.”


Josiah Priest’s “American Antiquities.”


            The work of Josiah Priest, entitled “American Antiquities,” originally published in 1833, is a sort of curiosity shop, made up of odds and ends of theories and statements pertaining to American antiquities.  It is of value in this connection only as contains a plate of the Marietta works made from a survey by S. De Witt in 1822. (See Fig. 7).


Work of Squier and Davis


            In the year 1848 “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,” by Squier and Davis, was published by the Smithsonian Institution.  The result of this work was to promote a more active spirit of inquiry upon all questions connected with the ancient remains in the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi.  In one form or another it has become the real basis of all books written on the subject since its advent.  In short it is the one standard authority on the subject.  Although it has been criticized and even assaulted, yet it has maintained its position while its detractors have either or else are passing into oblivion.  Both men, who engaged in its compilation, were singularly fitted for the task they essayed to perform.

            “Ancient Monuments” publishes a map (Plate XXVI.) of the Marietta works taken from the survey and plan made by Colonel Charles Whittlesey in 1837.  At that time Colonel Whittlesey was topographical engineer of the state.  The great ability, well known accuracy and integrity of the man will always make this survey the authoritative one, however meritorious the others may be.  The plan of the works (Fig. 8.) is supplemented (Fig. 9.) by cross and longitude sections which greatly enhance the value of the plate.

            “Ancient Monuments” gives a view (Fig. I.) of the remains as they appeared just after the forest trees were cut away. This illustration has been made to do service in several different publications.  A full page, colored illustration (Fig. 10.) of the conical mound also appears in the contribution.

            The account accompanying the plan embraces four and one half pages.  The description of the two truncated pyramids is taken from that of Dr. Hildreth which first appeared in the “American Pioneer,” for June 1843, and as I have already given it, there is no necessity for its repetition.

            “In the vicinity (of the conical mound) occur several fragmentary walls, as shown in the map.  Excavations, or ‘dug holes,’ are observable at various points around these works.  Near the great mound are several of considerable size.  Those indicated by m and n in the plan have been regarded and described as wells.  Their regularity and former depth are the only reasons adduced in support of this belief.  The circumstance of regularity is not at all remarkable, and is a common feature in excavations manifestly made for the purpose of procuring material for the construction of mounds, etc.  Their present depth is small, through it is represented to have been formerly much greater.  There is some reason for believing that they were dug in order to procure clay for the construction of pottery and other purposes, inasmuch as a very fine variety of that material occurs at this point, some distance below the surface.  The surface soil has recently been removed, and the manufacture of bricks commenced.  The ‘clay lining’ which has been mentioned as characterizing these ‘wells,’ is easily accounted for, by the fact that they are sunk in a clay bank.  Upon the opposite side of the Muskingum river are bold precipitous bluffs, several hundred feet in height.  Along their brows are a number of small stone mounds.  They command an extensive view, and overlook the entire plain upon which the works here described are situated.

            Such are the principal facts connected with these interesting remains.  The generally received opinion respecting them is, that they were erected for defensive purposes.  Such was the belief of the late President Harrison, who visited them in person and whose opinion, in matters of this kind, is entitled to great weight.  The reasons for this belief have never been presented, and they are not very obvious.  The numbers and width of the gateways, and accompanying remains, present strong objections to the hypothesis which ascribes to them a warlike origin.  And it may be here remarked, that the conjecture that the Muskingum ran at the base of the graded way already described, at the period of its erection, seems to have had its origin in the assumption of a military design in the entire group.  Under this hypothesis, it was supposed that the way was designed to cover or secure access to the river, -- an object which it would certainly not have required the construction of a passage-way one hundred and fifty feet to the effect.  The elevated squares were never designed for military purposes, -- their very regularity of structure forbids this conclusion.  They were most likely erected as the sites for structures which have long since passed away, or fore the celebration of unknown rites, --corresponding in short, in purpose as they do in form, with those which they so much resemble in Mexico and Central America.  Do not these enclosed structures give us the clue to the purposes of the works with which they are connected? As heretofore remarked, the sacred grounds of almost every people are set apart or designated by enclosures of some kind.

            There are no other works in the immediate vicinity of Marietta.  At Parkersburgh, Virginia, on the Ohio, twelve miles below, there is an enclosure of irregular form and considerable extent.  There are also works at Belpre,] opposite Parkersburgh.

            The valley of the Muskingum is for the most part narrow, affording few of those broad, level and fertile terraces, which appear to have been the especial favorites of the race of Mound builders, and upon which most of their monuments are found.  As a consequence, we find few remains of magnitude in that valley, until it assumes a different aspect, in the vicinity of Zanesville, ninety miles from its mouth.”

            The supplemental plan (Fig. 9.) is of very great importance on account of the relative proportion of the works.  The section marked z h gives the Via Sacra, and i u the conical mounds with accompanying wall.




            As heretofore remarked all books published since that by Squier & Davis, and which treat of the Marietta antiquities, are largely indebted to “Ancient Monuments.”  Some of these later publications are of value, while others use the descriptions to bolster up a theory. It is not the object here to give an account of these more recent books, however interesting and important their contents may be.




            With the mass of information now before us we learn the following:

            At the junction of the Muskingum and Ohio Rivers is a high sandy plain, from eighty to one hundred feet above the bed of the river, and from eighty to one hundred feet above the bed of the river, and from forty to sixty above the bottom lands of the Muskingum, being about three-fourths of a mile long by half a mile in width.

            Upon this plain, in 1785, and for many years afterwards, were located a series of ancient works, consisting of two irregular squares, containing respectively fifty and twenty-seven acres area, in connection with a graded way, truncated pyramids, sundry other mounds, exterior embankments, and large artificial wells or reservoirs.

            The Graded Way, or Via Sacra, was exterior to and disconnected from the major squire and was six hundred and eighty feet long and one hundred and fifty feet in width, the bottom of which was regularly finished by a crown form of construction.  This ancient way was covered by exterior lines of embankment seven feet in height above the adjacent surface.  The depth of the excavation near the square was eight feet, but gradually deepened towards the farther extremity where it reached eighteen feet on the interior, -- the average depth of the avenue being about ten feet.

            The largest of the truncated mounds was one hundred and twenty feet by one hundred and ninety-five feet, and twelve in height, while the second is one hundred and fifty feet long, by one hundred and thirty-five in breadth and eight in height.  The conical mound, when first measured was thirty feet in height, with a diameter at the base of one hundred and thirty feet.  This mound is surrounded by a ditch five hundred and ninety feet in circumference. On the exterior of this ditch was a wall four feet in height.

            It will be noticed that in Fig. 8 Colonel Whittlesey gives a single embankment  between the circle and the lesser square.  I examined the structure in 1882 and noticed the double wall, with slight depression between them, as given in Fig. 10.

            Partly enclosed by an exterior wall, the lesser square and the conical mound was a well fifty feet deep and between sixty and eighty feet in diameter at the top.

            From the general study of these and other ancient remains of the Ohio valley, we may obtain the following results:

            That it was the same race who built the mural structures and great mounds.

            The people had arrived at a considerable degree of civilization and had made great progress in the arts.

            The builders were skilled in the art of fortification and the construction of regular geometrical works.

            The ancient remains show an antiquity long ante-dating the advent of the white man.

            The crania, from the mounds, indicated that the people belonged to the great division, denominated by Cuvier, the “American Family.”  The ancient structures prove they were greatly removed from the wild tribes that inhabited the Ohio valley at the time of the discovery.  There is not a scintilla of proof that the wild tries descended from the Mound Builders, or vice versa.

            The regular structures are usually classed as sacred enclosures.  The graded avenues are only found in connection with such works. The object of the Via Sacra at Marietta must be left to our consideration of the Graded Way at Piketon, in Pike county, Ohio.

            Franklin, O., Nov. 9th 1902.







3 Butterfield’s Journal of Captain Jonathan Heart, p XIII.

American Pioneer, Vol I, p 339

Journal and Letters of Colonel John May, p. 58.

٭ Haven’s Archaeology of the United States, p. 24.

® Archaeologia Americania, Vol. I, p 137 also Western Antiquities, p. 39

^ Reference here is made to Figure 2.

_ In all probability Dr. Hildreth refers to the great Cahokia mound near East St. Louis, which is ninety feet high, seven hundred feet long and five hundred in breadth.

Ì Dr. Hildreth contributed crania taken from the mounds, in Morton’s Crania Americana. See pp. 219, 220, and also from the caves, pp. 235-6. None from Marietta.

] In my paper on Blennerhassett’s Island (Smithsonian Report for 1882, p. 767), I called to the miniature representation of the conical mound at Marietta, located on the plain of Belpre, opposite the isle, having the wall, interior ditch, and the elevated gateway leading from the mound to the gateway.