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Art. VIII.

Transactions of the American Philo-
sophical Society, held at Philadel-
phia, for promoting useful Know-
ledge.

[Continued from p.53.]

THIS collection is enriched by
several valuable papers on the
natural history and antiquities of
America. These are chiefly the
productions of Dr. B. S. Barton,
whose eminence, in these instruc-
tive branches of inquiry, is gene-
rally acknowledged.

The most important of these, is
a memoir on the fascinating faculty
ascribed to the rattle-snake, and
other serpents of America, by B.
S. Barton.
This performance has
been long before the world, and
will not, therefore, demand a very
copious analysis. Some of our
snakes have been generally suppos-
ed to attack other animals within
their reach, by steadfastly gazing
at them. The eye is a powerful
organ, and its influence is well
known; but whether that influence
be of a moral, or physical, or mix-
ed kind, is not easily determined.
Whether it darts forth a subtile fluid,
which enters and operates in a me-
chanical manner on the frame, or

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whether it weakens the frame, by
first taking away courage and fore-
thought, is a subject of curious
speculation. The power of the
eye, in general, is signally great;
but serpents have been supposed to
be endued with a larger share of
this power, or, at least, to exercise
it more extensively than any other
animal.

Our author affirms this faculty
in serpents to be no more than a
vulgar error, and alleges a variety
of considerations to shew the proba-
bility, that their food is, in all
cases, procured in the ordinary
modes. He finds that the food of
snakes, consisting of frogs, and the
callow young of birds is, for the
most part, such as can be gained
without the fascinating power.
Hence he infers, that such power,
being unnecessary, is not possessed.
As to the tales of fascination cur-
rent among rustics and travellers,
he thinks the true meaning of ap-
pearances has been mistaken, and
that the flutterings, cries, and rash
approaches of squirrels and birds,
noticed upon these occasions, pro-
ceed only from the anxiety of pa-
rents for their young.

This conclusion is adopted from
noting that the birds most common-
ly observed to experience this in-
fluence, are such as build their
nests upon the ground, or on low
bushes, which only are accessible
to the rattle-snake; that the sto-
mach of snakes is generally found
to contain the young of birds; that
instances of supposed fascination
generally occur at seasons when
these birds lay their eggs and rear
their young; that snakes are often
driven away, and sometimes killed,
by the exertions of the parent; and
that the black-snake, particularly,
has been seen to exert much inge-

nuity to gain access to nests, which
exertions would be superseded by
the fascinating faculty, if that were
possessed.

On an American Species of Dipus, or
Jerboa. By the same.

This animal, hitherto a non-de-
script, is here copiously described.
It is accompanied with a suitable
figure.

Observations on certain Articles taken
from an Indian Grave, in the North-
Western Territory. By the same.

The very curious subject of this
essay will be best explained by the
author himself.

“In the following inquiry, I
shall offer some of my reasons for
believing that there formerly exist-
ed, in many parts of North-Ame-
rica, a race of people, who, whilst
they were more numerous, had
made much greater advances in the
arts, and in improvement, than the
present races of Indians, or than
their ancestors since our actual ac-
quaintance with them.

“The Aztecas, or Mexicans, in
the progress of their migration from
the northern country of Aztlan, to
the vale in which they afterwards
founded the capital of their empire,
discovered many and extensive
ruins. These ruins were supposed,
by the Mexicans, to be vestiges of
the Toltecas, a numerous and
powerful people, who had made
greater advances in the arts of life,
and in one of the sublimest of
sciences,* than any of the other
nations of the new world. The
Toltecas are said to have begun
their emigration towards the close
of the sixth, or the beginning of
the seventh century of the christian
aera. The Mexicans began their
departure about the middle of the
twelfth century. If these accounts,
therefore, can be depended upon,
* Astronomy. † About the year 596, according to Clavigero. ‡ According to Clavigero, in the year 1160. Dr. Robertson says, it was “to-
wards the commencement of the thirteenth century.” The history of America,
vol. iii. p. 156. London. 1796.

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it would appear that the works dis-
covered by the Mexicans had been
constructed sometime between the
beginning of the seventh, and
the middle of the twelfth cen-
tury.

“Whatever credit may be due
to this traditional account concern-
ing the Toltecas, whether they were
the ancestors of the Peruvians, as I
have sometimes been induced to
believe,* whether they were an
aboriginal or foreign colony, whose
progeny exists no more, or whether
the whole is a tale that has no foun-
dation in truth, I shall not pause
to inquire. Whatever may be the
fate of these speculations concern-
ing the Toltecas, I think no per-
son that has minutely attended to
the numerous vestiges which are
daily discovered in various parts of
North-America, will hesitate to
believe that there has been a period
when a great part of this continent
was inhabited by nations who were
more numerous than the present
races of Indians, and who had at-
tained to a considerable degree of
improvement in the arts.”

These vestiges of ancient nations
are said to be,

1. Artificial mounds of earth,
designed to be fortresses in time of
war, the bases of temples, or the
graves of men.

2. Traditions, at this time cur-
rent among the Indian tribes, and
by which they uniformly describe
their ancestors as more numerous
and powerful than themselves, and

ascribe their decay and dispersion
to wars and pestilence.

Little stress should be laid upon
traditions, and the mere tradition
of greater numbers, and conse-
quently greater power, proves no-
thing as to the greater refinement
of the ancients.

3. Decline of the numbers and
improvements of the Indians within
our own historical observation.

Pestilence and war have nearly
extirpated the aborigines between
the Great River and the Ocean;
but is not the remnant on a level,
morally and intellectually consider-
ed, with their forefathers?

The superstitions of unlettered
hunters and fishers cannot be stable;
but it does not appear that the In-
dian dreams were more coherent or
beneficent formerly than at present.
Our author speaks of the loss of the
sublime principles of their religion,
the belief of divine superintendance
and a future state. We are afraid
that it would be hard to shew that
these principles have been, at any
time, less distorted by ignorance,
and polluted by ferocious habits,
than at present. Is there any histo-
rical proof, that the arts, connected
with subsistence or convenience,
have degenerated among our In-
dians? Some of their primaeval arts
and instruments, it is true, they have
abandoned, but merely to adopt
those of the European colonists, and
this is a species of improvement. The
extinction of the Natchez and their
sacred fire, are proofs of change,
* The empire of the Toltecas is said to have terminated about the year 1052.
The Spaniards first arrived in Peru in the year 1526, at which time Huana Capac
was the reigning monarch of the country. According to the Peruvian story,
Huana was the twelfth monarch, in succession, from Manco Capac, who is said to
have founded the empire about four hundred years before. This period will carry
us back to within less than one hundred years of the end of the Toltecan empire.
My account of the Toltecas is taken from the Abbé Saverio Clavigero's History of
Mexico, one of the most valuable works that has ever been published on the subject
of America. The History of Mexico, collected from Spanish and Mexican his-
torians, &c. translated from the original Italian by Charles Cullen, Esq. vol. i. p.
83, 84, 85, 88, and 89. London. 1787. It is rather remarkable that Acosta
makes no mention of the Toltecas.

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but not of degeneracy. The only
circumstance of declension known
to us,
is that of their numbers; but
the causes of this declension began
to operate at the arrival of Colum-
bus. Wars may exterminate a tribe,
and plagues may depopulate a con-
tinent, but the influence of these
causes, prior to the colonization
from Europe, is merely conjec-
tural.

4. Similarity between Indian and
Asiastic mythology.

This may throw some light upon
the origin of American or Asiatic
population, but not upon the state
of ancient manners. Indeed these
facts would rather lead to an oppo-
site conclusion, and prove, if any
thing be proved, not that Ameri-
cans were once as wise as Asiatics
are now, but, on the contrary, that
Asiatics were rude and ignorant at
the time of the migration to Ame-
rica, as the Americans at present
are.

5. Monuments and fragments
have been found in the northern
regions of America, evincing as
great improvement in astronomy
as was attained by the Mexicans.

What are these monuments and
fragments? They may go far to
point out the ancient limits, dwel-
lings, and migrations of the Mexi-
cans.

6. The structure of some Ame-
rican languages is more artificial
and refined, and their fertility greater
than was to be expected from peo-
ple in their uncivilized state.

This is delicate and dubious
ground whereon to build hypothe-
sis. To settle the analogy between
the structure of language, including
derivation, inflection, and syntax,
and the state of the other arts in a
nation, must be an arduous pro-
vince. We are unacquainted with
any incontestable principles, by the
application of which this opinion
of our author is enforced. Mon-
boddo, and other speculators on the

history of language, take things as
they are found, and paint the dia-
lect of Hurons and Oneidas as con-
sistent with their savage condition.

We may mistake the author's
meaning when he speaks of the fer-
tility of language. It commonly
denotes two things: first, many
words for the same object; and,
secondly, words for a great number
of objects. In the first sense, fer-
tility of language proves nothing;
in the second sense, it reflects light
upon the present only, and not
upon the past condition of the
speakers.

The Indian tongues are not
written. Hence, words formerly
in use cannot be compared with
those in use at present. We must
not suppose that the Indians employ
words without meaning. If they
did, it might be permitted to in-
quire whether sounds were once
significant which now signify no-
thing.

There are but two causes of per-
manence in language; the use of
writing, and the permanence of
the moral, social, and intellectual
condition of the speakers. If the
Indians be remarkably retentive
of their language, which is, itself,
a somewhat dubious proposition,
what inference can thence be drawn
respecting their former condition?
That it was the same as their present.
Permanence and change will, in-
deed, be somewhat influenced by
the fertility or poverty of the lan-
guage; but the fertile, contrary to
our author's opinion, is surely more
liable to change, because changes
may be made with more facility
and less inconvenience, than the
poor.

By Indian retentiveness, in this re-
spect, perhaps, was meant their re-
luctance to adopt the words of their
European neighbours. From this,
if it be true, no inference relative
to former times, or the riches of
their native dialect, can be deduced.

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Besides, how should it appear that
they are remarkably retentive? What
nation can be found with whom to
compare them in this respect?

7. The Natchez were distinguish-
ed, like the Mexicans, by a ceremo-
nious and ordinary style of speak-
ing. Some other North-American
tribes had a similar distinction be-
tween the language of political de-
bate and that of conversation.

From this circumstance, nothing
more than affinity or intercourse
with Mexico can be inferred. No
light is hence derived, with respect
to ancient times; at least, no argu-
ment of degeneracy can be built
upon this fact.

8. Radical languages, in Ame-
rica, are few, and dialects slightly,
differing from each other, are ex-
tremely numerous. Hence we may
infer a time when the nations were
more closely united, and numerous
societies cannot subsist without con-
siderable progress in refinement.

From similitude of language a-
mong tribes dispersed over a wide
space, what shall we infer? That
they once lived closer to each other,
and too closely to permit them to
subsist in their present state of fishers
and hunters? This inference is far
less plausible than that they are de-
rived from a common and recent
origin. Population is proportioned
to the means of subsistence; and a
hunting country will usually be
stocked with as many people as mere
hunting will enable to live. Their
numbers may occasionally be thin-
ned by pestilence and war, but will
soon rise to one point, beyond which
they cannot go. Tribes recently
branching out from common ances-
tors, will preserve various resem-
blances to each other, and especially
in language. This community of
origin may, therefore, be inferred
from resemblance in language; but
it is difficult to conceive how those
have come to be scattered over half
the world, whose ancestors, as nu-

merous as themselves,
lived close to-
gether.

9. Hieroglyphical characters were
formerly known in North-America,
as appears from very ancient in-
scriptions of that kind, to be found
in Virginia, and apparently engra-
ven with metalic instruments.

Inscriptions on a rock prove, no
doubt, the existence of an agent and
an instrument; but whether the in-
scribers were many or few; whe-
ther they were sojourners or resi-
dents; whether they were members
of a foreign nation, who left behind
them these lasting memorials of their
journies, or were priests and guides
of a nation settled around the rocks
where these inscriptions appear, are
uncertainties that are not likely to
be ever removed.

The Mexicans were acquainted
with hieroglyphics. It is possible,
therefore, that wanderers from Mex-
ico accidentally visited this spot, and
presently forsook it for some other
abode. It is likewise possible that
these were the former seats of the
Mexican nation, during their con-
tinuance in which, they arrived, at
least, at the knowledge of hierogly-
phic characters. The former sup-
position is most plausible.

On the whole, a cautious rea-
soner will be disposed to lay small
stress upon any of these clues to
the knowledge of antiquity, except
the first. The mounds and emi-
nences, whose regularity evinces
them to be produced by man, and
the fragments of metal or stone,
found below or on the surface of the
earth, and whose mathematical
shapes also prove them to be artifi-
cial, constitute the only basis hi-
therto discovered for speculations
on the ancient state of America.

The remains which are here de-
scribed consist of pieces of stone,
wrought and smoothed with great
exactness, some into mathematical
figures, and one of them into the
shape of a bird's bill, and a small

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piece of copper. Similar figures
are not to be found among the pre-
sent Indians. The grave appears
to have been dug and occupied
many centuries ago.

In search of some plausible con-
jecture as to the nature and uses of
these remains, Dr. B. quotes vari-
ous particulars respecting the man-
ners, and religion, and arts of the
Mexicans. From these inquiries,
he is led to infer, that these were su-
perstitious and ornamental append-
ages of the person of some chief;
and that these remains testify the
ancient existence of a race of men
about the conflux of the Mississippi
and Ohio, not inferior in civiliza-
tion to the Mexicans.

Future discoveries will add new
force to this conjecture, or will
weaken it. Much will depend upon
the number of these sculptured or-
naments. If graves of this kind be
very numerous, and widely scatter-
ed, they will afford stronger proof
of the existence of a nation. A sin-
gle rock covered with inscriptions,
or a single grave, will afford a slen-
der harvest to the sickle of an anti-
quarian.