.. famous armada of galleys. The warriors themselves were painted with ocher and wore many feathers. They would stand upright on the canoes, and they had elaborately decorated leather shields with which to protect themselves and the oarsmen. In spite of all of the information that has seemingly been amassed by historians and architects, much of the accumulated information is actually nothing but theories based on observations of other cultures. While researchers were fortunate that de Sotos chroniclers wrote some descriptions of the mound builders, the Spanish were generally apathetic towards the Indians and wrote vaguely of their observations. One of de Sotos chroniclers, Garcilaso de la Vega wrote, Having seen one town we shall have seen practically all of them.
President Thomas Jefferson, however, did have a great interest in the origins of the Mound Builders, and he initiated some groups that studied ethnology to help solve the mystery. The theories began, however, with the first European settlers in America. Colonist discovered the mounds, and deduced that they were very old after noticing the ancient trees that had grown on some of them. Settlers from Virginia and Pennsylvania made inquiries about the mounds to the local Indians, but received only shrugs and very little help. Not realizing that the people they had asked had just migrated into that region, they assumed that the mounds must all together come from some mysterious race not connected to the Native Americans. They also believed that Indians were too indifferent to work to build such massive earthen works anyway. Later learned men began to compare the Mound Builders to other European and Asian civilizations that had mounds, and in that way they drew links from the Old World to the New.
Herodotus, the father of history, had written about the burial of a Sythian king on the Russian plains and included the use of mounds: After this they set to work and raise a vast mound above the grave, all of them vying to make it as tall as possible. The Old Testament stated that the Canaanites worshiped their deity in high places. Theorists hoped that these high places were actually temple mounds. In the Iliad Achilles had buried the dead body of his friend Patroclus in a mound. Alexander the Great even built a burial mound for Hephaestion.
The Mormon religion is based upon the theory that Israelites had at one time lived in America. It was even believed that the ancient European residents of North America were wiped out by the savage Indians that currently lived in their old dwelling places! In the 1880s, however, the Bureau of Ethnology put to rest many of the early theories of the mystery culture. Major J.W. Powell was one of the greater opponents of the Old World -New World myth. Even after the myth was somewhat cleared, the origins of the ancient Mound Builders was still undetermined.
Many scholars quickly found connections with the ancient Maya, who lived during the same period that the Mound Builders flourished. They noted that the flat topped temple mounds found in the Southern parts of the United States bared great resemblance to the Mayan stone temple pyramids. The distinct layers that the Mounds were compose of shared similarities with the layers found near the top of the Mexican structures. The Mexican layers were deposits of ash over time from sacrifices in the case of the Maya, and were also deposits of ash from the undying fire in the case of the Aztec predecessors. The layers from the southern United States mounds were possibly created in either of the two fashions, or, as some scholars theorize, a new layer of earth was added to the top of the mound every time the mound became home to a new Great Sun.
Other similarities between the Mound Builders and the Maya lead researchers to believe that the two cultures traded with each other, carrying goods back and forth from the Yucatan Peninsula across the Gulf of Mexico. The northern mounds bear the least resemblance to the Mexican temples, and the cone shape mounds in the middle regions seem to be a compromise between the northern and southern styles. For this reason, many theorist believe that the mounds are a clue to the migration pattern of the mound builders. Two theories have developed from these patterns: one states that the mound builders began in the north, and as they slowly made their migration southward they became more skilled at mound building until they reached the point of elaboration that was near to that of the Maya. In that way the ancient civilization was not lost, they just became known in later times as the Aztecs. The second theory suggests that the Mound Builders had their origins in Mexico, and then a portion of the Mexican civilization broke away and migrated northward.
The reasoning behind this theory is that the Mound Builders gradually lost their old customs as they traveled, and developed their own style. The most current research leads theorists to believe that the Mound Builders didnt disappear, but instead their society evolved over time, and time is the only factor that stole from eastern America the rich civilization that once existed. The myth and mystery are still alive today, however. Modern scholars have not completely abandoned the ideas that formulated 500 years ago. Barry Fell, a professor at Harvard did extensive research to try to prove the existence of European civilizations in America before the Christian Era.
He has been somewhat discredited after jumping to conclusions, but much of the information that he has found has proven to be valid. For example, he found Libyan inscriptions in America that date back to ancient times. More recently, a stone with the Ten Commandments inscripted on it was found in Los Lunes, New Mexico and was written in a style of Hebrew that was common before Babylonian captivity (around 600 BC). In addition, coins from ancient Roam were found in Peru. Mormons, belonging to a religion whose basis is rooted in the origins of the ancient mound builders, believe that the Nephites established a civilization in the Mississippi Valley.
It is not surprising that the legends are carried on. The mystery of the ancient Mound Builders will continue to interest people far into the future. American History.