An article from a West Virginia newspaper (The Charleston Gazette-Mail), while ostensibly a travelogue about archaeological sight-seeing, highlights the many mound formations that have been found throughout the state in the last 153 years and the eerie, weird folklore that has sprung up around these mounds. While the article may seem like it brings some interesting information about giants and mound builder artifacts, it is actually just a tourism promotional piece that barely skims some poorly researched and previously debunked claims.
It is important to understand the Mound Builder Myth in the context of all these sites the article discusses. The Mound Builder Myth refers to “19th century interpretations of the mounds and enclosures of eastern North America as the works of a lost civilization unrelated to the American Indian cultures that inhabited this region at the time Europeans arrived on the scene.”
Basically, the Europeans who discovered these mounds did not believe that the “primitive” Native Americans could possibly have built these large, impressive structures. The Mound Builder Myth served as a justification for the genocide and displacement of the indigenous peoples of America. From the Ohio History research paper: “In most versions of the myth, the Moundbuilders were some non-Indian ‘race’ from Europe, Asia, or perhaps Atlantis that built a magnificent empire in this hemisphere only to be overrun and obliterated by the ancestors of the ‘savage’ American Indians.” If the Native Americans actually wiped out the European ancestors who were settled here, then the Europeans were completely justified in then wiping them out. It’s an ugly bit of racism and Eurocentrism that has all but disappeared from modern thinking, which is why it is so strange to find the Mound Builder Myth regurgitated in a travelogue.
The article begins at Grave Creek Mound, an earthen mound that is about 240 feet in diameter and 62 feet high. The author, Jeanne Mozier, claims that the site is 295 feet in width, which immediately should call her research into question. She then says the Indians of the area called the mound builders “the old ones” but now refer to them as the Adena. This is misleading, however. The Adena are actually a mishmash of various Native American tribes found in quite a few northern States that “probably shared a burial and ceremonial system.” Mozier mentions that while the Adena were thought by archaeologists to be relatively short, there is “evidence of 7 foot tall giants” among the burial system. She does not explain what this evidence is, who found it, where the skeletons are now, or her source for this information: she just drops the "giant" bomb and moves on!
She also references a mysterious tablet, which at first blush sounds very cool and appealing for those in search of the odd and fascinating. What she is actually referring to is the Grave Creek Stone, a small stone with markings on it that resemble a form of alphabet.
But a very quick Google search and a bit of research illuminates a few problems: first, the stone is no longer available, and there is only one known photograph of it. A plaster cast is on display in the Smithsonian, but that’s the only way to interact with this particular artifact. Second, and more importantly, this tablet is almost certainly a hoax, as it is a verbatim copy of an 18th century Spanish book about unknown letters on coins and statues in Spain. They even shared the same mistakes, meaning the tablet was likely copied rune for rune from this book. The Bureau of American Ethnology's 12th Annual report shows that even 19th century archaeologists suspected the tablet was fake, writing that “The folly of relying upon such relics as this Grave Creek tablet as evidence of written language… yet made up of several alphabets… is apparent." As Mozier’s main goal is tourism and attraction, she does not put in the time or research, so validity and specificity do not factor into her article. Like the “giant evidence” bomb she drops in the same section on Grave Creek’s mound, she simply mentions the appealing and alluring bait, provides no context or evidence, and moves on.
This trend continues in the article as we move on the Charleston Mound. The author writes, “A giant skeleton surrounded by a dozen others was found along with the requisite artifacts.” What? Where are all those skeletons now? Is there a museum we can visit to see this stuff? Again, there are no sources and absolutely no indication of where this information came from.
I think my favorite part of all of it is the “requisite artifacts” phrase. It feels like she's suggesting that she knows there should be evidence of the giants’ lives and homes, and yeah they found that stuff, but whatever you think should be there is there. It’s just bizarre language.
The Bureau of American Ethnology's 12th annual report has information on the South Charleston mound as well. While it verifies her claims of being the second biggest mound in West Virginia next to Grave Creek, when it comes to giant skeletons, the only information is that of ”a decayed human skeleton… lying horizontally in a very rude box-shaped stone coffin. Beneath this were other flat stones, and under them charcoal, ashes, and baked earth, overlying the charred remains of at least three or four other skeletons.” Where are the reports of giant skeletons?
Mozier then writes about the petroglyphs found inside of various cave formations. She acknowledges that most of the markings can be identified as Native American,, but then she sneaks in another bomb: “There are several sets of controversial petroglyphs including two that some claim are runic writings of 13th century Irish monks.”
So this is two-fold interesting: one, she writes that “some claim” this wild thing (like certain political candidates we know of who like to suggest without specifically owning the claim themselves); and two, just like said candidates, she offers no proof, no specificity, and no source. It’s just a random nugget of info that has no actual basis in fact. I tried to find any other article or source that suggests this, and did not find anything concrete.
All of these places seem very intriguing. Mozier has assembled a collection of sites that appeal to an innate fascination with mysteries, paranormal, and ancient beings. With some more research or maybe any kind of sourcing at all, this could have been an interesting, Americana-influenced take on giants and mounds. As it stands, it reads as merely a travel-bait paranormal hit piece, designed to make tourists curious and interested. I feel like that’s all she was trying to accomplish, so bravo to her for succeeding there. But as far as being any kind of evidence for the existence of giants or anything other kind of strangeness, it does not pass the scientific bar.
These blog posts were written by students in Forbidden Archaeology (Fall 2016)