By Sidney Secular
August 12, 2022
THE ADENA: THE FIRST CIVILIZERS OF NORTH AMERICA
The pyramid-like structure was discovered 60 feet at the bottom of Rock Lake in Southern Wisconsin in 1991. Three thousand years ago, that same structure stood at the edge of the lake. Sea levels had risen since the end of the Ice Age, hiding the now submerged remnants of extinct civilizations in various locations around the globe.
Archeologists affected surprise that a structure of such intricacy requiring complex social organization, a hierarchy of labor, building technology, tool production and a uniform system of measurement existed in an area previously supposedly populated only by hunter-gatherer Indians at the turn of the First Millennium, BC, a time before even the bow and arrow were invented. The sunken structure, called the Temple of the Moon, was not an anomaly. Similar structures just as old had already been discovered/uncovered in many scattered areas east of the Mississippi River and near the Great Lakes but were more numerous in the Ohio Valley than elsewhere. Indeed, there may have been thousands of them extant at any one time. They were stumbled upon by settlers and pioneers moving west and were nearly all obliterated for use as building materials for wells and walls and to provide land for farms with little fanfare or efforts at preservation. These were the remnants of North America’s first civilization named by archeologists, the Adena from the name of a complex of such structures located at the plantation of Ohio’s sixth governor, Thomas Worthington of Chillicothe.
The civilization showed no signs of gradual development but seemed to appear full-blown around 1,000 BC. Radiocarbon dating showed that the civilization was long-lived, expiring about 700 AD having reached an apex of development about 300 BC and gradually declining after 400 AD. The people were called Allegwi, Alleg and Talligewi by their Indian neighbors, and later Allegheny. This is the derivation of the names Allegheny Mountains and the Allegheny River. There was a tradition there were “giants” among them, people of a larger size and stature than the Indians. They were robust and many were about 7 feet in height, both men and women. The Adena introduced artistically advanced pottery that the Indians copied. They also introduced copper and iron bracelets and necklaces having the talent, knowledge and capability to produce; they also produced beads of precious stones, chert axes and crescents.
All of their fabrications shared basic common features indicating that they were produced during the same time period and by the same people. Their burial mounds consisted of long trenches in which were laid varying numbers of their dead with burial accoutrements including copper ornaments, ceremonial daggers and impressive necklaces. For dwellings, stones were selected for size and heaped symmetrically into a tent-shaped structure resembling an elongated pyramid 102 feet long by 12 feet wide by 12 feet high oriented exactly to the compass points, north-south or east-west and all without exception were built in close proximity to water, whether a stream, river, lake, or the seacoast. The few stone mounds that have survived were initially mistaken for heaps of rock left behind by retreating glaciers despite their organized appearance. In several locations, they also built gigantic geoglyphs representing natural subjects such as eagles and other animals. A particularly noteworthy example is located near Lake Pepin in Minnesota being comprised of thousands of white crystals, each the size of a baseball, carried to the site from all over the Adena’s far flung trading network. Over time the site was robbed of its crystals that were then replaced with ordinary rocks. These are laboriously washed each year by members of a Boy Scout troop to preserve a resemblance/remembrance of the original geoglyph.
Two nearly identical geoglyphs are found in Georgia. All three structures are 102 feet long and located on high ridges overlooking rivers. Adena ceremonial centers and gathering places were earthen or stone structures in the same typical somewhat pyramid-like configuration. The most prominent survivor of these is West Virginia’s Grave Creek Mound, the largest conical earthwork in the United States with a diameter of 295 feet and standing 69 feet high. It is believed that about 3 million basket loads of soil comprising some 57 tons in weight went into construction of that site. It was then encircled by a massive moat of water 40 feet wide and 5 feet deep. A causeway also ran around the structure’s perimeter. One of the male skeletons found in the structure was accompanied by over 2,000 finely cut discs of seashell, 250 pieces of mica, 17 beads made of bone, together with a collection of copper bracelets and rings. These offerings came from such far-flung locations as the Gulf Coast, the Carolinas and the Upper Great Lakes.
Another mound, the Miamisburg Mound in Ohio, comes close to the stature of the West Virginia mound, it’s circumference being 877 feet with a height of 70 feet. 54,000 cubic yards of earth went into building that structure that was originally encased in stone. But “Alleg” accomplishments did not end with their prodigious mounds. They built prodigious walls, over 3 miles long that served not only as defensive ramparts but as enclosures for huge ceremonial centers. At least fifteen of these entities have been found in southern Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Tennessee located atop high bluffs overlooking rivers in thickly wooded areas. “Fort Ancient,” near Lebanon, Ohio, is the largest known structure of this type and has been incorporated into a state park of 764 acres featuring walking trails and 3.5 miles of wall left by the Adena. It is thought that about 12,000 people gathered there for special occasions.
Other complexes of a similar nature are found at “Indian Fort Mountain,” 3 miles east of Berea, Kentucky; and “Old Stone Fort” in Coffee County, Tennessee. Clearly, North America’s so-called “Indian mounds” were not crude piles of dirt produced by primitive savages. Rather, they were expressions of applied geometry, skilled materials handling and structured design accomplished by an organized workforce with advanced skills able to create structures that would defy the passage of millennia, succumbing only to the greed and ignorance of modern man who discovered them.
The Adena also produced objects that can be characterized as representing the fine arts. Tablets of fine-grained sandstone, baked clay, and limestone were used as media to create complex designs exemplifying lively expressionism and abstract art. Paint pigments were produced from graphite, manganese oxide, red ochre and pulverized galena.
Materially, these were the first true farmers in the United States living in permanent settlements and cultivating a wide variety of plants including squash and corn usually associated with the Indians. They were in no way a “hunter-gatherer” civilization. Indeed, it is more than likely that the Indians copied Adena techniques for growing these crops rather than being their source as is still believed to this day. As would be expected from an advanced culture, the Adena hunted and fished for the great variety of fish and game plentiful in their primordial surroundings. Sadly, experts believe that less than one percent of their cultural artifacts remain and that the rest have either been destroyed or otherwise lost and so are not subject to further examination and analysis.
The Adenas’ sad fate was extermination at the hands of neighboring Indian tribes carried out in coordinated attacks in large numbers – although there is evidence of genetic and health problems that also decimated their numbers and weakened them physically over a period of centuries. Indeed, those very factors may have led to the above more directly hostile circumstances. As well, other factors may also have been involved in their disappearance, but more on that anon. And so, by the time the traders and pioneers from Europe had arrived, the Adena had long since vanished into local Indian lore leaving their actual existence to be considered nothing but “Indian lore.”
There are many enigmas associated with the Adena, and if you believe the conventional archeologists, their origin is one of them. They literally burst upon the scene over 3,000 years ago as public works engineers, astronomers, metalsmiths, and the land’s first farmers and potters, but today are only remembered as “the mound builders.” Pitifully few shreds of their material accomplishments remain and as their lineage had no commonalities with the woodland Indians, they are virtually considered mere folklore as noted. But if we look beyond – and outside – North America, we can trace their origins.
Of all the major events that transpired beyond the Americas circa 1,000 BC the most notable one was the simultaneous rise of the Celts. Having moved westward in massive waves from their primeval homelands in the steppes of Central Asia, thence to the bogs and swamps of Poland, then through Bavaria, southern Germany and Austria, and then into northern France and central Spain – where they were called “Gauls” – and then finally winding up for the most part in the British Isles, they were described as being “tall of body, muscular, white of skin, and blond of hair.” They were given to fighting like frenzied beasts and were characterized as barbarians though they were admitted artists of consummate skill. They manufactured prodigious quantities of tools, weapons, luxury goods, and art objects (especially jewelry and metalwork) and they bartered throughout Europe and the Near East, engaging in far-flung commerce. They had extraordinary maritime abilities and built especially sturdy and seaworthy ships that were better than others extant including those of the Romans, whom they bested in a famous battle. As a group, their main fault was that they did not form cohesive military and political units better able to confront their adversaries. They acted as assemblies of individuals rather than a cohesive force fighting for group goals.
Without doubt, the Celts possessed deep water vessels capacious enough to ferry thousands of people across the Atlantic Ocean. As such, their sudden appearance into central and western Europe and their abrupt debut as the Adena into eastern North America at the same time should at least prompt an examination of the commonalities among them. Such an examination would show that the two groups were remarkably similar. The European Celts were above average in height and so too the Adena stood out from North America’s indigenous populations with larger skulls, higher and broader foreheads, prominent jaws, and more pronounced cheekbones. These characteristics were very similar to those of the European Celts. There are very few Adena skulls to work with so it is difficult to make definitive statements on the matter. Studies show the Adena entered America on the eastern seaboard and then moved into the heartland of the continent. The stone chambers found in New England, especially at “Mystery Hill” (dubbed “America’s Stonehenge”) in New Hampshire, are architecturally similar to those in Scotland and Ireland. Three stones at Mystery Hill have markings associated with Beltane, an annual pagan Irish festival. The aforementioned fort-like Adena hilltop structures and mounds are remarkably similar to structures found in Europe in areas through which the Celts passed.
While the American pioneers were busy obliterating nearly all the Adena mounds, some of the earthworks near bogs revealed a surprise – a primitive kind of pit furnace used in the production of iron along with heaps of white ash, the result of high temperatures used in iron smelting. The local Indians claimed to know nothing about the “ancient race of white giants” who built the mounds and were responsible for “all kinds of strange magic.” The said furnaces were not properly identified as such until 1949. In Europe, Celtic life was centered around bogs where the same kind of smelters were found as in the Ohio Valley. In fact, the Celts were the ones who inaugurated the Iron Age producing weapons, tools, and various implements of the medal that replaced bronze as the primary one that had characterized the Bronze Age.
The Celts were also famous for painting their bodies with exotic colors and designs – as did the Adena. The Romans referred to the Scots as “Picts,” a term derived from a Latin root meaning “to paint.” The Romans also found that the Southern people of Britain, also painted themselves with woad. Among the most emblematic of symbols used by the Celts and Adena was the swastika. A Celtic rendition known in Ireland as “Brigid’s Cross” is identical to that found on Adena artifacts. These crosses are still employed by superstitious Irish Catholic households to ward off fire and evil. Like all other swastikas, the Irish variant is used to symbolize the return of light and regeneration and is displayed on the first day of Spring. The swastika was and still is regarded as a sign of good luck by many Indian tribes – most famously by the Hopi – and the symbol’s origin appears to have been the Adena.
The Adena were great weavers excelling in complex patterns and techniques. Although rare, a few examples still exist to prove that the mound builders arrayed themselves in magnificent attire. Like the Adena, the Celts were master weavers, delighting in complex, colorful, expressionistic patterns that bordered on the abstract. Helmets of Celtic warriors were often adorned by representations of hawks or eagles, an image often stylized in artistic renderings of unusual helmets and imitated by officers in the Imperial German Army during World War I. As well, both the Adena and Celts revered the wolf for its courage, worshipping animals in their spiritual lives, a practice that was passed to the American Indian and Eskimo. This belief was reflected in elaborate costumes and ceremonial artifacts. Adena shamans dressed as werewolves in their ceremonies.
It is amazing that no records or representations of the long-dead language of the Mound Builders are extant. However, Algonquian speech which once spread across a large swath of North America is peppered with Celtic cognates and loan words. Appropriately, a strong concentration of Algonquians was centered in the Ohio Valley, the Mound Builders’ heartland. The Algonquians themselves show some “whitish” traits, including being taller than the other Indian tribes. Stone tablets scattered throughout the Adenas’ area of settlement have been found inscribed with Celtic symbols.
What became of these North American Celts? Folk traditions of the Ottawa, Ojibwa and Pottawattamie relate that their ancestors formed an alliance to kill the “white giants.” Since their population had been dwindling, the Indians decided to “gang up” on them in their reduced circumstances. The Indian alliance proved irresistible and the “fair-skinned Giant Sorcerers” as they were called by the Tuscarora made a last stand below the rapids at “Sandy Island.” It was there that thousands of human skeletons were found by colonists well into the late 18th Century. It is also interesting to note that the Adenas were accused of cannibalism when it appears that it is more likely that they were its victims. That last stand was the finale of a war that ranged from the Atlantic Coast to the Mississippi River and beyond. Vast killing grounds have been uncovered near the junction of the Hart and Missouri Rivers. One is one-hundred acres in extent. The ground there was filled with trenches piled full of dead bodies of both man and beast and covered with several feet of earth. In many places, mounds from 8 to 10 feet high, some more than 100 feet in length have been thrown up and are filled with broken pottery, vases of bright colored flint and agates. The work shows great skill and a higher degree of civilization available from the Native Americans of the time. Some of the vast cemeteries have yet to be explored. Indian lore of the genocidal conflict is profuse.
In May 1773, a representative of Lord Dunmore, the governor of Colonial Virginia visited the town of Chillicothe in what was to become Ohio. Thomas Bullitt was seeking permission from the Shawnee for his fellow Virginians to settle in the area. Chief Black Fish told Bullitt that he was not able to authorize the Whites to settle in the lands involved, which were then part of Kentucky. The Chief said that “. . . we have never owned that land. It belongs to the ghosts of the murdered Azgens (Adena) – a white people from across the eastern sea. Their bones and their ghosts own and occupy every hill and valley of the country. Long ago our forebears killed off the Azgens, but we now fear the spirits of these people more than our forebears feared them when they were flesh.” It is amazing how the Indians were willing to acknowledge the existence of those whom their own people refuse to recognize.
The reason for the Adenas’ dwindling numbers, other than the Indian attacks, have never been fully ascertained, although disease is likely to have something to do with it. Their warrior and exploratory spirit and advanced weaponry would seem to militate against hostile activities leading to a sufficient decrease in numbers and geographical considerations seem unlikely as they were always ready to move from one place or another to meet their needs or their fancies. However, as with all past civilizations, it is possible that they might have been growing soft and too content with a growing materialism, a matter that has been the downfall of all civilizations to date.
There are some strange anomalies to be noted in all of this. For instance, not one example of the Celts’ most iconographic artifact – the torque – has been found in prehistoric America. The torque was a twisted ornament of precious or semi-precious metal worn around the wrist or neck. Although its significance is not understood, its far-flung reverence as a cult object is beyond question. Large numbers of torques were produced by the Celts in Europe for over 1,000 years until they were prohibited by the Christian Church. Even so, no mound builder grave has yielded a single specimen. Moreover, Celtic warriors were renowned for their silver ornaments and iron and steel weapons, but no such items have been found in Adena earthworks. Far less than 1% of the Adena cultural residue remains, but that doesn’t explain this lack of finds.
One problem or deficiency, if you will, of the Celts in general in Europe and with the Adena in North America in the early historical periods was that the Celts presented as a people vice as organized nations. They didn’t get beyond the tribe or clan level of organization. That phenomenon made them less politically united or militarily cohesive, and thus more prone to disunity and unable to present a united front against their enemies. This could have contributed to the downfall of the Adena, as each group of them could have been picked off, one by one. Still, it is all rather strange and disheartening that such an advanced race could disappear virtually without an understandable history. Today, basically all that remain are broken bones, the gaunt ruins of their grand but failed hill forts, a dwindling collection of their earthworks, fragmentary artifacts, and folk memories preserved by the descendants of their enemies. Thus, a lost White civilization of America remains lost.
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