Page images

the yellow loam, bones of the Mastodon Ohioticus, a species of megalonyx, bones of the genera Equus, Bos, and others, some of extinct and some presumed to be of living species, had been detached, and had fallen to the base of the cliffs. Mingled with the rest, the pelvic bone of a man (os innominatum) was obtained by Dr. Dickeson, of Natchez, in whose collection I saw it. It appeared to be quite in the same state of preservation, and was of the same black color, as the other fossils, and was believed to have come, like them, from a depth of about thirty feet from the surface. In my · Second Visit to America,' in 1846,* I suggested, as a possible explanation of this association of a human bone with the remains of a mastodon and megalonyx, that the former may possibly have been derived from the vegetable soil at the top of the cliff, whereas the remains of extinct mammalia were dislodged from a lower position, and both may have fallen into the same heap, or talus, at the bottom of the ravine. The pelvic bone might, I conceived, have acquired its black color by having lain, for years or centuries, in a dark, superficial, peaty soil, common in that region. I was informed that there were many human bones in old Indian graves in the same district, stained of as black a dye. On suggesting this hypothesis to Colonel Wiley, of Natchez, I found that the same idea had already occurred to his mind. No doubt, had the pelvic bone belonged to any recent mammifer other than man, such a theory would never have been resorted to; but so long as we have only

* Vol. ii. p. 197.

[ocr errors]

one isolated case, and are without the testimony of a geologist who was present to behold the hone when still engaged in the matrix, and to extract it with his own hands, it is allowable to suspend our judgment as to the high antiquity of the fossil.” *

Allowable! And is this science, which from the finding of a bone that confessedly may have come from the soil itself, — possibly from an old Indian grave, — makes a merit of its candor in only not claiming it as demonstration that man lived in the Mississippi valley "more than a thousand centuries ago"? Why did not Sir Charles say as much, at least, as that we are required to suspend judgment; or, rather, that the case proves nothing at all, except the willingness of the author to find evidence in support of what was, in his mind, already a foregone conclusion?

3. The next case adduced for the same purpose is that of the skeleton found near New Orleans.

" In one part of the modern delta, near New Orleans, a large excavation has been made for gas works, where a succession of beds, almost wholly made up of vegetable matter, has been passed through, such as we now see forming in the cypress swamps of the neighborhood, where the deciduous cypress (Taxodium distichun), with its strong and spreading roots, plays a conspicuous

* Geological Evidences, pp. 202, 203.

[ocr errors]

part. In this excavation, at the depth of sixteen feet from the surface, beneath four buried forests, superimposed one upon the other, the workmen are stated by Dr. B. Dowler, to have found some charcoal and a human skeleton, the cranium of which is said to belong to the aboriginal type of the red Indian race. As the discovery in question had not been made when I saw the excavation in progress at the gas works in 1846, I can not form an opinion as to the value of the chronological calculations which have led Dr. Dowler to ascribe to this skeleton an antiquity of 50,000 years.” *

This case has always been regarded as an important one by the advocates of a high human antiquity. Who has not heard of this skeleton, under the "four buried forests”! And yet how very uncertain the data ! Mr. Lyell gives them at second or third hand, and admits that he can not judge of the evidence adduced as to the great age of this fossil. In his " Second Visit to the United States” (vol. ii. p. 191), he describes the growth of the cypress swamp, and quotes from a writer in Silliman's Journal (Sec. series, vol. v. p. 17), as follows: "Sections of such filled-up cypress basins, exposed by the changes in the position of the river, exhibit undisturbed, perfect, and erect stumps, in a series of every elevation with respect to each other, extending from

[ocr errors][merged small]

high-water inark down to at least twenty-five feet below, measuring out a time when not less than ten fully matured cypress growths must have succeeded each other, the average of whose age could not have been less than four hundred years, thus making an aggregate of 4000 years since the first cypress tree vegetated in the basin. There are also instances where prostrate trunks, of huge dimensions, are found imbedded in the clay, immediately over which are erect stumps of trees numbering no less than 800 concentric layers.” But the skeleton referred to was found under four of these " buried forests,” or "cypress growths;" so that, according to the mode of calculation here proposed, its antiquity is only 1600 years. And we venture to suggest, what to our view is at least equally probable, that if it was sunk in the soft mud of the swamp, or in some ancient grave, it may have reached the place where it was found even within the time since Europeans settled in the country.

Sir Charles Lyell is inclined to think the delta of the Mississippi very ancient. " Although we can not estimate correctly how many years it may have required for the river to bring down from the upper country so large a quantity of earthy matter, - the data for such computation being as yet incomplete, — we may still approximate to a minimum of the

[ocr errors]

time which such an operation must have taken, by ascertaining, experimentally, the annual discharge of water by the Mississippi, and the mean annual amount of solid matter contained in its waters. The , lowest estimate of the time required would lead us to assign a high antiquity, amounting to many tens of thousands of years (probably more than 100,000), to the existing Delta.” (p. 43.) But a recent "Report upon the Physics and Hydraulics of the Mississippi River,” by Captain A. A. Humphreys, and Lieutenant H. L. Abbot, of the United States Topographical Engineers, states that it is apparent" from many considerations, that the mouth of the river was once more than two hundred miles above where it now is, and that it is building out into the gulf new land at the rate of 262 feet every year.”* Assuming this as the basis of calculation, we find but little more than 4000 years requisite for the formation of the Delta from at least one hundred miles above New Orleans. Still another estimate is that of Major Stoddard, in a treatise on the State of Louisiana,t who says, " It is calculated that from 1720, a period of eighty years, the land has advanced fifteen miles into the sea; and there are those who assert that it

* N. Am. Rev. for April, 1862.

+ Quoted in “ Campaign to the Rocky Mountains,” p. 240, by James Hildreth.

« PreviousContinue »