TALKING BONES: Secrets of Indian Mound Builders by William O. Steele

TALKING BONES: Secrets of Indian Mound Builders

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Talking bones: the title suggests secrets revealed and taps the lure of the spooky, and Steele's brief text lives up to the promise without undue dramatics or shivers. Concentrating on certain Indian burial mounds along the Ohio River, Steele tells how they were discovered and explored and what the findings reveal about the lives of their builders. From a cautionary word on archaeological guessing, he slides easily into a description of ""how it might have been"" when an Adena leader died and the people prepared his body for burial; later he evokes an eerie spectacle--with a ""bone picker"" scraping the flesh from a dead man's bones and the people mourning around a ""cry pole""--which, again, might have occurred among the Bone House people as similar Choctaw customs suggest. The mounds of other, earlier and simpler cultures are made of fish shells--""what began as a garbage dump ended as a burial place and also as a record of how these people lived""--and the most elaborate mounds belonged to the Hopewell Indians, whose society seems to have been centered on a cult of the dead. Steele tells their stories with disarming simplicity and a seemly proportion of dramatic reconstruction, archaelogical theory, and acknowledged uncertainty; the well-matched illustrations alternate full-page portraits, plain drawings of artifacts, and atmospheric double-page scenes of the rituals in action.

Pub Date: Oct. 18th, 1979
Publisher: Harper & Row