I decided to go up to Moundsville, WV up in the panhandle to visit the archeological museum there in spite of my truck problems. It’s on the Ohio river, and we had some beautiful bike rides along their planetary bike trail, although we didn’t quite make Pluto, or even Neptune, with Petey’s health. Along the trail, we saw resting canadian geese, deer, a raccoon, and other small animals. Spin managed to give me a strong pull on the bike right at the chin up bar, so that I splattered all over the trail, scraping my knee in front of the smiley face – yeah he keeps trying to train me…even if I can’t do a chin up, he doesn’t give up.
The prison across the street from the museum was offering free tours.
I carefully opt for the archeology tour instead.
Choices. The museum was a fascinating exposition of the prechristian era mound that was behind it, and a culture that disappeared.
I had for a long time wondered at the relationship between property and writing. How does one document that land belongs to someone without writing – something that most indians did not have. Indeed, many tribes were migratory – having very broad claims to territory, defended, but not well-defined. I have questioned the oral nature of the nomadic jewish culture that is oftened argued in Bible studies. Abraham bought a lot to bury his wife Sara. How did this precise transfer of property occur without writing? The mound, with 2 excavated very important ceremonial burials inside, apparently had inside, one of the first discovered plaques with letters on it.
There is obvious speculation that the letters bear a resemblance to phoenician alphabet, underscoring the possiblity of a preColumbus interaction with middle eastern historic culture. Like heaven, it could be that earlier people arrived, and never came back to tell.
So, here’s a theory. A man came over on a boat from a phoenician sea-faring culture – maybe he got lost, maybe he was an escapee. He found the indians and their culture and was given an indian name that he carved into a piece of metal that he brought with him (maybe the indians were not using metallurgy/mining yet), with the phoenician lettering (or a crude attempt at it) carved above it. Because he probablyh had a different set of skills than the indians he was given a special status by the tribe, married an indian woman (explaining why 2 people were in the grave), and killed together (because they were buried together). This might explain the significance of the site. That’s theory 1. Of course, the whole thing might just be a cruel joke too. Someone putting a pile of dirt somewhere and making up a story about an excavation and a plaque. One always has to rule out hoaxes. But I like my first theory.
At the end of the tour, I went to visit the archeological lab in the building.
There was a map on one side showing several of the different types of sites in west virginia, and a window view of the actual lab. I called the number outside the lab, and was met by a woman with a bachelor’s degree in public history, and a master’s degree in anthropology. She worked in the lab. We talked for a bit.
1) How did the indians move the dirt for the mound? She said baskets, I thought the ground was too heavy for this.
2) It’s on a river. Was there any evidence of boats, like canoes? Maybe they could have been used to carry dirt. What is the oldest boat discovered in the western hemisphere?
3) There were many stencilled arrowhead points. How long does a stencilling take? They are done by hand. I thought a laser might move over the point, making a computer map.
4) How do they store the artifacts? A special coated plastic bag standard controlled conditions for temperature and humidity. My thought was do a mass spec and analyze the sample, then use a glove box to create the right chemical atmosphere to retard decomposition that is likely to occur.
I thought it was neat that I could get all that with just a phone call.