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Excerpt: Description of Grave Creek Mound in 1810

“The Big Grave is three hundred paces round at the base, seventy feet perpendicular, and the top, which is about fifty feet over, had sunk in, forming a regular concavity, three or four feet deep.  This tumulus is in the form of a cone, and the whole, as well as its immediate neighborhood, is covered with a venerable growth of forest, four or five hundred years old, which gives it a most singular appearance.  In clambering around it’s [sic] steep sides, I found a place where a large white oak had been lately blown down, and had torn up the earth to the depth of five or six feet.  In this place I commenced digging, and continued to labour for about an hour, examining every handful of earth with great care; but except some shreds of earthenware, made of a coarse kind of gritty clay, and considerable pieces of charcoal, I found nothing else; but a person of the neighborhood presented me with some beads fashioned out of a kind of white stone, which were found in digging on the opposite side of this gigantic mound, where I found the hole still remaining.  The whole of an extensive plain, a short distance from this, is marked out with squares, oblongs, and circles, one of which comprehends several acres.  The embankments by which they are distinguished are still two or three feet above the common level of the field.  The Big Grave is the property of a Mr. Tomlinson, or Tumblestone, who lives near, and who would not expend three cents to see the whole sifted before his face.  I endeavored to work on his avarice, by representing the probability that it might contain valuable matters, and suggested to him a mode by which a passage might be cut into it, level it with the bottom, and by excavation and arching, a most noble cellar might be formed for keeping his turnips and potatoes.  ‘All the turnips and potatoes I shall raise this dozen years,’ said he, ‘would not pay the expense.’  This man is not antiquary, or theoretical farmer, nor much of a practical one either, I fear: he has about two thousand acres of the best land, and just makes out to live.”

From Alexander Wilson's Description of the Ohio Valley in 1810. Wilson (July 6, 1766–August 23, 1813) was an ornithologist who traveled widely, observing and painting birds.

Source: Lewis and Hennen, West Virginia: Documents in the History of a Rural Industrial State (1991).

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