Dunbar High School Turns to Archeology

Charleston Daily Mail
May 2, 1926

Preserve Relics of Early Day

Skeletons in Mounds Near Town

Students Gathering Collection of Articles Left in Valley by Indians

Prehistoric Race Left Specimens of Their Handiwork Around Neighboring City

Dunbar high school has an amateur bureau of archaeology and almost every day the boys and girls unearth hammers, drills, paint pots or arrowheads, relics of the stone age culture of the early inhabitants of the Kanawha Valley.

When the more or less mysterious builders of the mounds at Dunbar and South Charleston were driven out of the valley by the warring tribes of Indians of Ohio they left behind them besides cleared fields and many earth heaps, samples of their handiwork which are now being collected from the fields and vicinity of the mounds by the school children.

According to Clifford R. Myers, state historian and archivist, this is the only high school in the state whose pupils are making a collection of Indian relics, although flint and stone objects are found in many parts of the state. Parkersburg high school has a collection but it was purchased outright, it is understood. While making a talk on prehistoric man in the Kanawha valley at Dunbar school, Mr. Myers complimented the school on its efforts to collect from its surrounding district the stone age objects left by the red men.

Prehistoric Dice

The white ball pictured in the accompanying photograph, is the first of the sort that has ever been found in West Virginia, Mr. Myers told the school assembly, and is considered very rare. He said it is supposed the ball was used by the Indians in a game of chance. A sort of prehistoric "craps" game with wampum, tobacco or a freshly dressed pup at stake, one may suppose.

Directly in front of the Indian golf ball is a hard marble like stone, a small paint cup. The Indian men carried that, of course, and it is the earlier forerunner of the paint patties in the Kanawha valley, the great difference being that the male in that day carried the make-up stuff. The red man's squaw had not at that time had the thrill of expressing her artistic impulses upon her own person, but the men more than made up for that, according to popular notions.

Interest in collecting the Indian relics was aroused in the school by accident. Last fall the general science classes of Clarke M. Furbee started an aquarium and one of the boys dropped an arrowhead into the bottom of the laboratory "pond," and remarked that he could find lots of flints in the bottoms around the school. Mr. Furbee suggested that the pupils bring in all they could find and in a short time arrowheads, celts, spearheads and drills began to come in. Mounted in specimen cases, they are forming a permanent collection for the school.

Mounds Opened

A rare piece is a pipe in the first stages of making. The bowl part is drilled out for a quarter of an inch, and the sides have been cut away. The form, according to the state archivist, is of the kind the Indians obtained in Minnesota.

The white ball was donated by Charles Noffsinger and Russell Raines. It is extremely hard and when first found the boys, not realizing its value, threw it against a cement walk, but were unable to break it.

The long spear point shown in the photograph was contributed by Forest Given. Ethel Samson brought in the hand mallet, which is one of the most primitive of stone implements, being merely a stone about the size of a man's fist. No handle was used.

Other stone hammers are highly polished and have grooves used in fastening on handles.

The arrow and quiver in the lower right picture was brought to the school by Georgia Anderson. They are Indian articles handed down in her family for many years.

In the early eighties the United States bureau of ethnology explored the mounds at Dunbar and South Charleston, and the report of the scientists was published in the fifth annual publication of the bureau.

What They Found

The mound indicated by the cross in the diagram accompanying this article was 312 feet in circumference and 25 feet high. A second growth of timber was then on the mound, the decaying stumps of the first growth being still present. Sinking a shaft in the mound, a large vault was soon disclosed which contained numerous human bones and two entire skeletons. Four feet below this deposit and just below the original level of the ground were found six circular oven shaped pits three feet in diameter and three in depth. Those unearthed were in a semi-circle and it was assumed that the pits extended all the way around the mound. The pits contained a dark substance taken for the remains of Indian corn in the ear.

The mound indicated at the extreme left of the same row was called the altar mound, and was taken to be a connecting link between the mounds of this region and those Ohio. It was 318 feet in circumference. At the depth of two feet the shaft disclosed a foot layer of clay and ashes, in which two entire skeletons lay horizontally, one immediately above the other. The upper and larger one lay with the face down, and the lower with the face up, indicating a double burial.

There was no indication of fire as is the case sometimes. Over the heads were found a celt and three lance heads.

Charred Bones

At a depth of 13 feet and just north of the center was found two very large skeletons in sitting posture, with the extended legs interlocked to the knees. Their arms were extended and the hands were elevated as if holding up the stone mortar. It had been subjected to the action of fire, and the cavity contained white ashes in which were found fragments of charred bones. Over the mortar and covering it was a slab of limestone three feet thick, on the under side of which were small cup shaped excavations. Near the hands of the skeleton of the eastern side of the stone were a celt and lance head.

On the level of the ground was found that which in the Ohio mounds is called an altar, although the stone was not completely exposed, it was believed to be 12 feet long and 8 wide. Mingled on the stone were water worn boulders, clay, ashes and charred human bones.

The material exposed by the shaft after the first layer of three feet was almost wholly of finely packed ashes, which had been deposited layer by layer.

Perhaps the most interesting of all was the headless skeleton of a giant found in one of the mounds, the remains of a prehistoric resident of a suburb of Charleston, and perhaps the big chief whose "golf ball" the Dunbar school children have found.

An Indian Giant

The usual plan of sinking a shaft was followed. Earth and irregular sandstones, some of which made a load for two men, covered a vault seven by four feet in dimensions. In the vault was found a large and much decayed skeleton, wanting the head, which could not be found. A rough spear head was found with the skeleton. The Indian was seven and a half feet tall, and the skeleton measured 19 inches between the shoulder sockets. It was enclosed in a bark coffin, and was placed on the back with the head towards the east. Six heavy copper bracelets were on each forearm.

The mound was double, one having been built over the other. In the lower section was found another and larger vault which was originally built of heavy walnut timbers. In this, five skeletons were found. One was prostrate on the floor, 19 feet from the top. The others had been placed in each of the four corners in a standing position, judging from the positions. The first was in an almost erect position, leaning against the rotten logs, and remains of the bark shrouds still clinging to the bones. The bones were much decayed except in the left forearm, which was preserved by two heavy copper bracelets.

The head of the skeleton in the center had been encased in mortar with a spear point of black flint, and the whole had been wrapped with a textile fabric, it was believed. On the breast was a copper gorget, a piece of armor for the throat. In each hand were three spear heads of black flint and others were scattered about the head, knees and feet. Near the right hand were two hematite celts and on the shoulders were three large and thick plates of mica. Around the shoulders, waist and thighs were numerous perforated shells and shell beads.

While filling in the excavations a pipe was found in the dirt, carved of gray steatite and highly polished. The pipe was of the form made by the Cherokee Indians.

Of Asiatic Origin

The agent of the bureau of ethnology said of the mounds here:

"I am disposed to connect the mound builders of the Kanawha valley with those of western North Carolina. It cannot be claimed that all or even the larger portion of them were built by Indians inhabiting the district when first visited by the whites.

"There was during the mound building age a powerful tribe or association of tribes occupying the Ohio valley, whose chief seats were in the Kanawha, Scioto and Little Miami valleys. The works are relatively contemporaneous in these valleys."

It is generally believed now that the mound builders were of the Indian race, although it was formerly believed they were a separate branch of the human tree, and that the Indians exterminated them. The Indians, as we know them, built mounds after the white men reached America, it is definitely known.

When the whites first came to the Kanawha valley the territory here was not the home of any tribe. When Virginia was first settled the lands around Charleston were occupied by a comparatively peaceable tribe which tilled many of the fields which were found cleared and ready for plowing when the pioneers arrived. Then ensued a war among the Indians, annihilating the local tribes, and giving this section to the warring tribes of Ohio for a hunting ground.

That brings one to the question of the origin of the Indians. The coming of the red man was shown in a recent Zane Grey moving picture which follows H. G. Wells' story in his "Outline."

The Indian is an offshoot of an Asiatic people, it is now agreed. His ancestors came to America from northern Asia and followed the coast southward. Many migrations may have stocked the country. Their minds were developed, from different angles, the "spooky" culture of Central and South America, with their human sacrifices, where it was considered an honor to have one's heart cut out while still alive, in order to help along crops and "good times," running to one extreme, and the simple farmer mound builders the other.

Yet it is popularly supposed by non-scientific folk in this state that the mound building tribes practiced the custom of burying the mate of a dead man or woman. This belief arose from the fact that two skeletons are found in the same burial mound at times. It does not seem to have the approval of the authorities on American ethnology, however.

Native Americans