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Full text of "Notes on the Indian burial mounds of eastern North Carolina"

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N OTES 



ON THE 



Indian Bui^ial (Qounds 



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GASTEI^N nOI^TH (©AI^OLINA. 



J. A. HOLMES. 



So far as is known to me, no account of the Indian burial mounds, 
which are to be found in portions of Eastern North Carohna, have, 
as yet, been published. This fact is considered a sufficient reason 
for the publication of the following notes concerning a few of these 
mounds which have been examined in Duplin and a few other coun- 
ties in the region under consideration. 

It is expected that the examination of other mounds will be 
carried on during the present year, and it is considered advisable 
to postpone generalized statements concerning them until these 
additional examinations have been completed. It may be stated, 
however, of the mounds that have been examined already, that 
they are quite different from and of much less interest, so far as eon- 
tents are concerned, than those of Caldwell and other counties of the 
western section of the State. As will be seen from the following 
notes, they are generally low and rarely rising to more than three 
feet abov^e the surrounding surface, with generally circular bases 
varying in diameter from 15 to 40 feet; and ihey contain little more 
than the bones of human (presumably Indian) skeletons, arranged 
in no special order. They h ive been generally built on somewhat 
elevated, dry, sandy places, out of a soil similar to that by which 
they are surrounded. No evidence of an excavation below the gen- 
eral surface has as yet been observed. In the process of burial, 
the bones or bodies seem to have been laid on the surface or above, 
and covered up with soil taken from the vicinity of the mound. 
In every case that has come under my own observation charcoal 
has been found at the bottom of the mound. 

Mound No. 1 — Duplin county, located at Kenansville, about one- 
half mile southwest from the courthouse, on a somewhat elevated. 






dry, sandy ridge. In form, its base is nearly circular, 35 feet in 
diameter ; height 3 feet. The soil of the mound is like that which 
surrounds it, with no evidence of stratification. The excavation 
was made by beginning on one side of the mound and cutting a 
trench 35 feet long, and to a depth nearly 2 feet below the general 
surface of the soil, (5 feet below top of mound) and removing all 
the soil of the mound by cutting new trenches and filling up the old 
ones. In this way all the soil of the mound and for two feet below 
its base was carefully examined. The soil below the base of the 
mound did not appear to have been disturbed at the time the mound 
vpas built. The contents of the mound included fragments of char- 
coal, a few small fragments of pottery, a hand-full of small shells, 
and parts of sixty human skeletons. No implements of any kind 
were found. Small pieces of charcoal were scattered about in dif- 
ferent portions of the mound, but the larger portion of the charcoal 
was found at one place 3 or 4 feet square near one side of the mound. 
At this place the soil was colored dark, and seemed to be mixed with 
ashes. There were here with the charcoal, fragments of bones, 
some of which were dark colored, and may have been burned; but 
they were so nearly decomposed that I was unable to satisfy myself 
as to this point. I could detect no evidence of burning in case of 
the bones in other portions of the mound. Fragments of pottery 
were few in number, small in size, and scattered about in different 
parts of the mound. They were generally scratched and cross- 
scrated on one side, but no definite figures could be made out. The 
shell "beads" were small in size — 10 to 12 mm. in length. They 
are the Marginella roscida of Redfield, a small gasteropod which is 
said to be now living along the coasts of this State. The specimens, 
about 75 in number, were all found together, lying in a bunch near 
the skull and breast bonesof a skeleton. The apex of each one had 
been ground off obliquely so as to leave an opening passing through 
the shell from the apex to the anterior canal — probably for the pur- 
pose of stringing them. 

The skeletons of this mound were generally much softened from 
decay — many of the harder bones falling to pieces on being handled, 
while many of the smaller and softer bones were beyond recogni- 
tion. They were distributed through nearly every portion of the 
mound, from side to side, and from the* base to the top surface, 
without, so far as was discovered, any definite order as to their ar- 
rangement. None were found below the level of the surface of the 
soil outside the mound. In a few eases the skeletons occurred singly, 
with none others within several feet ; while in other cases several 



3 



were found in actual contact with one another; and in one portion 
of the mound, near the outer edge, as many as twenty-one skeletons 
were found placed witliin the space of six feet square. Here, in the 
case last mentioned, several of tlie skeletons lay side by side, others 
on top of these, parallel to them, while still others lay on top of 
and across the first. When one skeleton was located above another, 
in some cases the two were in actual contact, in other cases they 
were separated by a foot more of soil. 

As to the position of the parts of the individual skeletons, this 
could not be fully settled in the present case, on account of the de- 
cayed condition of many of the bones. The following arrangement 
of the parts, however, was found to be true of nearly every skele- 
ton exhumed : Tlie bones lay in a horizontal position or nearly so. 
Those of the lower limbs were bent upon themselves at the knee, so 
that the thigh bone (femur) and the bones of the leg (tibia and 
fibula) lay parallel to one another; the bones of the foot and ankles 
being found with or near the hip bones. The knee cap or patella, 
g3nerally lying at its proper place, indicated that there must have been 
very little disturbance of the majority of the skeletons after their 
burial. The bones of the upper limbs, also, were see;' ingly bent 
upon themselves at the elbow ; thos** of the fore-arm (humerus) gen- 
erally lying quite or nearly side by side with the bones of the thigh 
and leg; the elbow Joint pointing toward the hip bones, while the 
bones of the two arms below the elbow Joint (radius and ulna) were 
in many cases crossed, as it were, in front of the body. The ribs 
and vertebrae lay along by the side of, on top of, and between the 
bones of the upper and lower limbs; generally too far decayed to 
indicate their proper order or position. The skulls generally lay 
directly above or near the hip bones, in a variety of positions ; in 
some cases the side, right or left, while in other cases the top of the 
skull, the base or front was downward. 

But two of the crania (A and B of the following table) obtained 
from this mound were sufficiently well preserved for measurement; 
and both of these, as shown by the teeth, are skulls of adults. C 
of this table is the skull of an adult taken from mound No. 2. 
below. 



Crania. 


Length. 


Breadth. 


Height. 


j 
Index of Index of 
Breadth. Height. 

t 


Facial 
Angle. 


A 
B 
C 


193 mm. 
172 mm. 
180 mm. 


151 mm. 
133 mm. 
137 mm. 


144 mm. 
136 mm. 
147 mm. 


.746 
.772 
.761 


•746 
.790 
.816 


74° 
66° 
630 



The skeletons were too much decomposed to permit the distin- 
guishing of the sexes of the individuals to whom they belonged ; 
but the size of the crania (adults) and other bones seem to indicate 
that a portion of the skeletons were those of women. One small 
cranium found was evidently that of a child — the second and third 
p.air of incisor teeth appearing beyond the gums. 

Mound No. 2, located If miles east of Hallsville, Duplin county, 
on a somewhat elevated, dry, sandy region. Base of mound nearly 
circular, 22 feet in diameter; height, 3 feet, surface rounded over 
the top. Soil similar to that which surrounds the mound— light 
sandy. Excavations of one-half of the mound exposed portions of 
eight skeletons, fragments of charcoal and pottery, arranged in 
much the same way as described above in ease of mound No. 1. The 
bones being badly decomposed, and the mound being thoroughly 
penetrated by the roots of trees growing ove; it, the excavation 
was stopped. No implements or weapons of any and were found. 
There was no evidence of any excavation having been made below 
the general surface, in the building of the mound, but, rather evi- 
dence to the contrary. The third cranium (C) of the above table 
was taken from this mou^id. 

Mound No. 3, located in a dry sandy and rather elevated place 
about one-third of a mile east of Hallsville, Duplin county. In size 
and shape, this mound resembles those already mentioned. Base 
circular, 81 feet in diameter ; height 2^ feet. No excavation was 
made, other than what was sufficient to ascertain that the mound 
contained bones of human skeletons. 

Mound No. 4, Duplin county, located in a rather level sandy 
region, about one mile from Sarecta P. O., on the property of Branch 
Williams. Base of mound circular, 35 feet in diameter; height 2^ 
feet. Soil sandy, like that which surrounds it. Around the mound, 
extending out for a distance varying from 5 to 10 yards, there was a 
depression, w ieh, in addition to the similarity of soils mentioned 
above, affords ground for the conjecture that here, as in a number 
of other cases, it is probable the mound was built by the throwing 
on the soil from its immediate vicinity. Only a partial excavation 
was made, with the result of finding human bones, and a few small 
fragments of charcoal and pottery. 

Since the above mounds were visited, I have obtained information 
as to the localities of mounds similar to those described, in the east- 
ern, southern and western portions of Duplin county; and I can 
hardly doubt but that a closer examination of this region will prove 



them to be more numerous than they are now generally supposed 
to be. 

In Sampson county, the localities of several mounds have been 
noted; but one of these, however, so far as I am informed, has been 
examined with care. This one (Mound No. 5), examined by Messrs. 
Phillips and Murphy of the Clinton School, is located about 2-k miles 
west of Clinton (Sampson county), on the eastern exposure of a 
small hill. In general characters it resembles tlie mounds already 
described. Base circular, 40 feet in diameter ; height 3J feet ; soil 
sandy loam, resembling that surrounding the mound. Contents con- 
sisted of small fragments of charcoal, two bunches of small shell 
"beads," and the parts of 16 human skeletons. These skeletons 
were, not distributed uniformly throughout the portion of the mound 
examined. At one place there were 9, at another 6, and at a third 
place 5 skeletons, lying close to, and in some cases on top of one 
another. In this point as in the position of the parts of the skele- 
tons ("doubled-up") this mound resembles those described above. 
The bones were generally soft from decay. The small shells were 
found in bunches under two skulls; they are of the same kind (Mar- 
ginella roscida, Redfleld) as those from Mound No. 1, and their ends 
were ground off in the same way. No bones were found below the 
surface level, and there was no evidence of excavations having been 
made below this point. No stone in plements of any kind were 
found in the mound. One-half this mound was examined. 

In Robeson and Cumbeiiand counties several mounds have be^n 
examined; and for information concerning these, lam indebted to 
Mr. Hamilton McMillan, of Dora, Robeson county. Five mounds 
are reported as having been examined in Robeson county, averaging 
60 feet in circumference, and 2 feet high, all located on elevate d, 
dry ridges, near swamps or water-courses; and all contained bones 
of human skeletons. One of these mounds, located about two miles 
east of Red Springs, examined by Mr. McMillan, in 1882, contained 
about 50 skeletons. Many of these bones near the surface of the 
mound, in Mr. McMillan's opinion, had been partly burned — those 
nearer the bottom were in a better state of preservation. There w^as an 
"entire absence of skulls and teeth" from this mound — a somewhat 
remarkable fact. A broken stone "celt" was found among the re- 
mains ; buf. with this one unimportant exception, no mention has 
been made of implements having been found. 

In addition to the above, Mr. D. Sinclair, of Plain View, Robeson 
county, has informed me that he has seen four mounds in the south- 
ern portion of this county — two near Brooklyn P. O., and two be- 



6 



tween Leesville and Fair Bluff, about five miles from the latter 
place. 

In Cumberland county, two mounds are reported by Mr. McMil- 
lan as having been examined. One of these loccated about ten miles 
south of Fayetteville, was found to contain the crumbled bones of 
a single person, lying in an east and west direction. There was also 
found in this mound a fragment rock rich in silver ore. The other 
mound, located ten miles southwest from Fayetteville, near Rock- 
flsh Creek, was examined by Mr. McMillan in 1860, and found to 
contain a " large number of skeletons," — "bones were well preserved 
and, without exception, those of adults." The mound was located 
on a high sandy ridge, its base about 20 feet in diameter ; height 2^ 
feet. 

In Wake county one mound has been reported as being located 
on the northeast and several on the southwest side of the Neuse 
River, about seven miles east from Raleigh ; and from the former it 
is stated that large numbers o stone implements have been removed. 
But I have been unable to examine these or to obtain any definite 
information concerning them. One mound in this county, examined 
in 1882 by Mr. W. S. Primrose, of Raleigh, is worthy of mention 
in this connection, as it resembles in general characters the mounds 
of Duplin county. This mound is located about ten miles south of 
Raleigh, orj a small plateau covered with an original growth of pines. 
Base of mound circular, about 14 feet in diameter ; Ireight 2 feet. 
The contents of the mound consisted of small fragment of charcoal, 
and the bones of 10 or 12 human skeletons, much decayed, and, ar- 
ranged, so far as could be determined, without any reference to order 
or regularity. No weapons or implements of any kind were found. 



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