John Russell on Early Findings in Michigan

The book written by John Russell is entitled Prehistoric Discoveries in Wayne County, Michigan and was published in 1911. This report is favorable on the legitimacy of artifacts found in Michigan during the time when the majority of these artifacts were found. Artifacts are still being found but generally disregarded as not important.

Below are some very important quotes from the book:

One in Ten with Artifacts

Pages 6-8

The researches of the present day explorers in Wayne County are wholly confined to existing timbered areas or those which have lately been cut over and remain uncleared. It seems to be almost idle to hope that the areas which have been cleared and cultivated will give up their undoubtedly rich content of prehistoric evidence for the reason that, even in the days of deep soil cultivation, the plough-share rarely cut more than 10 or 12 inches below the surface, while the discoveries now being made are of objects buried from one and a half to three feet in the ground. The effect of the plow and the cultivator, supplemented by the action of the rains, the winds and the frosts, has naturally obliterated the mounds, which even in their original form were far from pretensious earth works.

The explorations so far made have covered areas located in several directions outside the city of Detroit. One area which has been most productive of results, lies directly north of the city, in the village of Highland Park. In this 40-acre woodlot there appear to be upwards of 1,200 mounds, of which something more than 400 have been opened. To the northeast of the city and about three miles from the first mentioned location another group of mounds has been discovered and about 120 of them opened. To the east of the city, and five miles southeast of the last mentioned area, a 60-acre woodlot has recently been attacked, and about 20 mounds so far opened. Still another productive area a mile north and west of the first mentioned, has been discovered and 30 mounds opened therein. To the west of Detroit, at a point two miles west of the Village of Wayne, a woodlot has been located which contains a larger number of mounds, a considerable number of which have been opened by a pair of youthful explorers and some interesting objects taken therefrom. On the banks of the Ecorse River, about ten miles from the center of Detroit, and in the Township of Ecorse, a small group of mounds has been located, three of which have been opened and have proved productive of objects of archeological value.

It must not be imagined that every mound opened has been a storehouse of objects of interest. On the contrary, the proportion of productive to non-productive mounds has not been greater than as one to ten. The characteristics of the mounds are that they were evidently constructed on the original surfaces of the burial areas, the original soil being slightly hollowed out; that a wood-fire was burned thereupon, whether for the purpose of incinerating the dead or not, being open to question; that upon the ashes and unconsumed charcoals of these fires, when cooled, were placed the objects which are now being recovered, and that the earth surrounding the mounds and undoubtedly other earth from a distance was piled thereupon to produce the tumulus. These tumuli are invariably ellipsoidal in form, the major axes thereof being approximately twice the length of the minor axes, and the direction of the major axes being quite generally east and west. The great majority of the mounds lie, as to their greater diameters, in an east and west direction, if account be taken of the variation of the solar east consequent upon the progress of the seasons. This rule is not, however, inflexible, many mounds showing a north and south direction of their greater diameters.

In all the earth structures which have been identified as true examples there is evidence of the action of the fire upon the surface earths or clays, and a stratum of wood ash mixed with charcoal-the latter frequently found in pieces of considerable size-completes the identification of the structure.

Copper, Sandstone, Limestone, Burned Clay and Slate

Pages 9 – 10

The objects recovered from the Wayne County mounds are, variously, of copper, sandstone, limestone, burned clay and slate. The copper and slate objects predominate. The copper appears to be true mass Lake copper. Of the slates the greyish black variety predominates, this being of the quality which outcrops near Baraga, in northern Michigan. The sandstone is of fine texture, quite of the quality of the material known as Amherst buff stone, now quarried at Amherst, in Ohio. Red and green slates appear with comparative frequency. Only a few examples of limestone appear, these being of an argillaceous character and having a good polish.

To enumerate the articles recovered would call for a catalogue quite out of keeping with either the purposes or the limits of this paper. They may, however, be classified rather generally, as follows:

  1. Written records, incised upon copper or stone, or stamped in clay, subsequently baked or sun-dried.
  2. Records partly written and partly pictorial, engraved upon the same materials.
  3. Articles of personal adornment, composed of copper, slate and sandstone.
  4. Articles of use in warfare, of copper and stone.
  5. Articles of domestic use, of copper and slate.

Of the first class there are entire plates of copper, certain panels of stone tablets containing other matter, and entire tablets of sunburnt clay, upon which are inscribed what appears to be a regular language, uniform in character. It is only fair, both to the explorers and those who doubt the authenticity of these examples to say that these writings have not been sufficiently exhibited, either in the original or in photographic reproductions, to competent scholars, to enable them to determine to what linguistic stock or period they belong.

Sword, Knives, and Saw

Pages 15-16

Another battle ax of perfect classic design, though smaller, was unearthed by Mr. Carlton James in his explorations in November, 1910, in the Highland Park location. A curved sword blade or cutlass of copper was taken out in the same locality and showed an extreme blade surface of twenty-three inches from the point to the guard, a notching in the latter providing for its attachment to whatever hilt or grip-handle was used by the warriors of that civilization.

The knives which have been recovered, also of copper, vary in dimension and may have been instruments of warfare or objects of domestic use. All of them are curved, all present sharp edges after the centuries that have preceded their exhumation, and they are uniformly notched at the end of the blade to facilitate binding them to hilts.

To the fifth arbitrary division of these examples of a previous civilization, namely, those which apparently represent its domestic economy, the largest number of the objects recovered must be referred. These include, besides the copper knives to which the writer has just referred, many objects of copper and slate. Among the coppers may be mentioned a saw 12 inches in length, with a haft for a handle of the modern cross-cut type, which even to-day will cut ordinary red cedar; a left handed scraping tool, apparently useful for fleshing hides; a cold chisel with flaring bit, octagonal stock and battered head; a copper box with curved ends, made of a single plate, with mortised ends and sides, which would give joy to a modern tinker; and a great variety of slate…

Chopping Away of Tree Roots Representing Many Years of Growth

Page 22 – The criticisms aside, these facts are well established by the testimony of a great number of people who have participated in the explorations in Wayne County, namely; That there have been unearthed from no less than half a dozen different locations objects similar to those unearthed in other counties, composed of hardened copper, slate, sandstone and limestone; that these objects are recovered from timber areas containing trees from ten to two hundred years old; that to follow the ash strata of the opened graves has called for the chopping away of tree roots representing many years of growth; that these objects are ornamented with drawings, flutings and decorations quite out of touch with the culture of the American Indian; and that they carry in great quantity hieroglyphic writings which their finders cannot read and which they have so far found nobody capable of interpreting. This statement represents the sum of all the claims made regarding their discoveries.