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C. S. Rafinesque

Atlantic Journal
(Philadelphia, self pub., 1832-33)

  • 1832 - Spring
  • 1832 - Summer
  • 1832 - Autumn

  • 1821 - Western Minerva
  • Transcriber's Comments

  • 1824 Am. History   |   1827 Palenque   |   1828 Am. History   |   1829 to Ethan Smith
    1822 Del Rio booklet   |   1833 Josiah Priest book   |   Mormons & Mound-Builders

    [ 1 ]







    Professor of Historical and Natural Sciences, &c.

    Vol. I.                   PHILADELPHIA,  SPRING OF 1832.                   No. 1.

    Knowledge is the mental food of man.

      [p. 4]


    First Letter to Mr. Champollion, on the Graphic systems of America, and the
    Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, in Central America.

    You have become celebrated by decyphering, at last, the glyphs and characters of the ancient Egyptians, which all your learned predecessors had deemed a riddle, and pronounced impossible to read. You first announced your discovery in a letter. I am going to follow your footsteps on another continent, and a theme equally obscure; to none but yourself can I address with more propriety, letters on a subject so much alike in purpose and importance, and so similar to your own labors.

    I shall not enter, at present, into any very elaborate discussion. I shall merely detail, in a concise manner, the object and result of my inquiries, so as to assert my claim to a discovery of some importance in a philological and historical point of view; which was announced as early as 1828, in some journals, (3 letters to Mr. McCulloch on the American nations,) but not properly illustrated. Their full development would require a volume, like that of yours on the Egyptian antiquities, and may follow this perhaps at some future time.

    It may be needful to prefix the following principles as guides to my researches, or results of my inquiries:

    1. America has been the land of false systems; all those made in Europe on it are more or less vain and erroneous.

    2. The Americans were equal in antiquity, civilization and sciences to the nations of Africa and Europe; like them the children of the Asiatic nations.

    3. It is false that no American nations had systems of writing, glyphs and letters. Several had various modes of perpetuating ideas.

    4. There were several such graphic systems in America, to express ideas, all of which find equivalents in the east continent.

    5. They may be ranged in twelve series, proceeding from the most simple to the most complex.

    1st Series. -- Pictured symbols or glyphs of the Toltecas, Aztecas, Huaztecas, Skeres, Panos, &c. Similar to the first symbols of the Chinese, invented by Tien-hoang, before the flood, and earliest Egyptian glyphs.

    2d. Series. -- Outlines of figures, or abridged symbols and glyphs, expressing words or ideas; used by almost all the nations of North and South America, even the most rude. Similar to the second kind of Egyptian symbols, and the Tortoise letters brought to China by the Longma, (dragon and horse) nation of barbarous horsemen, under Sui-gin.

    3d Series. -- Quipos, or knots on strings, used by the Peruvians and several other South American nations. Similar to the third kind of Chinese glyphs, introduced under Yong-ching, and used also by many nations of Africa.

    4th Series. -- Wampums, or strings

    [p. 5]
    of shells and beads, used by many nations of North America. Similar to those used by some ancient or rude nations in all the parts of the world, as tokens of ideas.

    5th Series. -- Runic glyphs or marks and notches on twigs or lines, used by several nations of North America. Consimilar to the runic glyphs of the Celtic and Teutonic nations.

    6th Series. -- Runic marks and dots or graphic symbols, not on strings nor lines, but in rows, expressing words or ideas; used by the ancient nations of North America and Mexico, the Talegas, Aztecas, Natchez, Powhatans, Tuscaroras, &c., and also the Muhizcas of South America. Similar to the ancient symbols of the Etruscans, Egyptians, Celts, &c., and the Ho-tu of the Chinese, invented by Tsang-hie; called also the Ko-teu-chu letters, which were in use in China, till 827 before our era.

    7th Series. -- Alphabetical symbols, expressing syllables or sounds, not words, but grouped; and the groups disposed in rows; such is the graphic system of the monuments of Otolum, near Palenque, the American Thebes. Consimilar to the groups of alphabetical symbols used by the ancient Lybians, Egyptians. Persians, and also the last graphic system of the Chinese, called Ven-tze, invented by Sse-hoang.

    8th Series. -- Cursive symbols in groups, and the groups in parallel rows, derived from the last, (which are chiefly monumental,) and used in the manuscripts of the Mayans, Guatamalans, &c. Consimilar to the actual cursive Chinese, some demotic Egyptian, and many modifications of ancient graphic alphabets, grouping the letters or syllables.

    9th Series. -- Syllabic letters expressing syllables, not simple sounds, and disposed in rows. Such is the late syllabic alphabet of the Cherokis, and many graphic inscriptions found in North and South America. Similar to the syllabic alphabets of Asia, Africa and Polynesia.

    10th Series. -- Alphabets or graphic letters expressing simple sounds, and disposed in rows. Found in many inscriptions, medals and coins in North and South America, and lately introduced every where by the European colonists. Similar to the alphabets of Asia, Africa and Europe.

    11th Series. --Abbreviations or letters standing for whole words, or part of a glyph and graphic delineations, standing and expressing the whole. Used by almost all the writing nations of North and South America, as well as Asia, Europe and Africa.

    12th Series. -- Numeric system of graphic signs, to express numbers. All the various kinds of signs, such as dots, lines, strokes, circles, glyphs, letters, &c., used by some nations of North and South America, as well as in the eastern continent.

    In my next letter I shall chiefly illustrate the 7th and 8th series so as to decypher and explain one of the most curious and least known of the American modes of expressing and perpetuating ideas. I shall give a figure of a sample of those monumental symbols, with comparative figures of two alphabets of Africa, the nearest related to them, and where the elements may be traced, which are grouped in those glyphs.

    Some years ago, the Society of Geography, of Paris, offered a large premium for a voyage to Guatamala, and a new survey of the antiquities of Yucatan and Chiapa, chiefly those fifteen miles from Palenque, which are wrongly called by that name. I have restored to them the true name of Otolum, which is yet the name of the stream running through the ruins. I should have been inclined to undertake this voyage and exploration myself, if the civil discords of the country did not forbid it. My attention was drawn forcibly to this subject as soon as the account of

    [p. 6]
    those ruins, surveyed by Captain Del Rio as early as 1787, but withheld from the public eye by Spain, was published in 1822, in English.

    This account, which partly describes the ruins of a stone city 75 miles in circuit, (length 32 English miles, greatest breadth 12 miles,) full of palaces, monuments, statues, and inscriptions; one of the earliest seats of American civilization, about equal to Thebes of Egypt; as well calculated to inspire me with hopes that they would throw a great light over American history, when more properly examined.

    I have been disappointed in finding that no traveller has dared to penetrate again to that recondite place, and illustrate all the ruins, monuments, with the languages yet spoken all around. The society of Geography has received many additional accounts derived from documents preserved in Mexico; but they have not been deemed worthy of the reward offered for a new survey, and have not even been published. The same has happened with Tiahuanaco in Bolivia and South America, another mass of ancient ruins and mine of historical knowledge, which no late traveller has visited or described.

    Being therefore without hope of any speedy accession to our knowledge of those places, I have been compelled to work upon the materials now extant, which have happily enabled me to do a great deal, notwithstanding all their defects, and throw some light on that part of the history of America.
                                   C . S. RAFINESQUE.
    Philadelphia, January, 1832.


    [ 37 ]







    Professor of Historical and Natural Sciences, &c.

    Vol. I.                   PHILADELPHIA,  SUMMER OF 1832.                   No. 2.

    Knowledge is the mental food of man.

      [p. 40]


    Second Letter to Mr. Champollion, on the Graphic Systems of America, and the
    Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, in Central America -- Elements of the Glyphs.

    I have the pleasure to present you herto annexed, a tabular and comparative view of the Atlantic alphabets of the 2 continents, with a specimen of the Groups of Letters or Glyphs of the monuments of Otolum or Palenque; which belong to my seventh series of graphic signs, and are in fact words formed by grouped letters or elements as in Chinese Characters, or somewhat like the cyphers now yet in use among us, formed by acrostical anagrams or combinations of the first letters of words or names.

    When I began my investigation of these American Glyphs, and became convinced that they must have been groups of letters, I sought for the elementary letters in all the ancient known alphabets, the Chinese, Sanscrit and Egyptian above all; but in vain. The Chinese characters offered but few similarities with the glyphs, and not having a literal but syllabic alphabet, could not promise the needful clue. The Sanscrit alphabet, and all its derived branches, including even the Hebrew, Phoenician, Pelagic, Celtic and Cantabrian alphabets were totally unlike in forms and combinations of grouping. But in the great variety of Egyptian form of the same letters, I thought that I could trace some resemblance with our American Glyphs. In fact, I could see in them the Egyptian Cross, Snake, Circle, Delta, Square, Trident, Eye, Feather, Fish, Hand, &c., but sought in vain for the Birds, Lions, Sphynx, Beetle, and a hundred other nameless signs of Egypt.

    However, this first examination and approximation of analogy in Egypt and Africa was a great preliminary step in the enquiry. I had always believed that the Atlantes of Africa have partly colonized America, as so many ancient writers have affirmed; this belief led me to search for any preserved fragments of the alphabets of Western Africa, and Lybia, the land of the African Atlantes yet existing under the names of Berbers, Tuarics, Shelluhs, &c. This was no easy taskk the Atlantic antiquities are still more obscure than the Egyptian. No Champollion had raised their veil; the city of Farawan, the Thebes of the Atlantes, whose splendid ruins exist as yet in the mountains of Atlas, has not even been described properly as yet, nor its inscriptions delineated.

    However, I found at last in Gramay, (Africa lllustrata) an old Lybian alphabet, which has been copied by Purchas, in his collection of old alphabets. I was delighted to find it so explicit, so well connected

    [p. 41]
    with the Egyptian, being also an Acrostic Alphabet, and above all, to find that all its signs were to be seen in the Glyphs of Otolum. Soon after appeared, in a supplement to Clapperton and Denham's travels in Africa, another old and obsolete Lybian alphabet, not acrostical, found by Denham in old inscriptions among the Tuarics of Targih and Ghreat, west of Fezan: which, although unlike the first had yet many analogies, and also with the American glyphs.

    Thinking, then that I had found the primitive elements of these glyphs, I hastened to communicate this important fact to Mr. Dupouceau (in a printed letter directed to him in 1828,) who was struck with the analogy, and was ready to confess that the glyphs of Palenque might be alphabetical words; although he did not believe before that any American alphabets were extant. But he could not pursue my connection of ideas, analogies of signs, languages and traditions, to the extent which I desired, and now am able to prove.

    To render my conclusions perspicuous, I must divide the subject into several parts; directing my enquiries, 1st. on the old Lybian alphabet. 2dly. On the Tuaric alphabet. 3dly. On their element in the American glyphs. 4thly. On the possibility to read them. While the examination of their language in connecticn with the other Atlantic languages, will be the theme of my third letter.

    I. The old Lybian delineated in the table No. 1, has all the appearance of a very ancient alphabet, based upon the acrostical plan of Egypt; but in a very different language, of which we have 16 words preserved. This language may have been that of a branch of Atlantes, perhaps the Getulians, (Ge-tula, or Tulas of the plains) or of the Ammonians, Old Lybiaus, and also Atlantes.

    Out of these 16 words, only 5 have a slight affinity with the Egyptian, they are:

    Nose  Lybian: Ifr   Egyptian: Nif
    Sea  Lybian: Mah   Egyptian: Mauh
    Saturn  Lybian: Siash   Egyptian: Sev
    Venus  Lybian: Uaf   Egyptian: Ath
    Ear  Lybian: Aips   Egyptian: Ap
    While this Lybian has a greater analogy with the Pelagic dialects, as many as 12 out of 16 being consimilar.

    Eye  Lybian: Esh   Pelagic: Eshas
    Nose  Lybian: Ifr   Pelagic: Rinif
    Hand  Lybian: Vuld   Pelagic: Hui, chil
    Earth  Lybian: Lambd   Pelagic: Landa
    Sea  Lybian: Mah   Pelagic: Marah
    Fire  Lybian: Rash   Pelagic: Purah
    Moon  Lybian: Cek   Pelagic: Selks, kres
    Mars  Lybian: Dor   Pelagic: Hares, Thor
    Mercury  Lybian: Goreg   Pelagic: Mergor
    Venus  Lybian: Uaf   Pelagic: Uenas
    Saturn  Lybian: Siash   Pelagic: Satur, Shiva
    Jupiter  Lybian: Thue   Pelagic: Theos
    Therefore, the numerical analogy is only 32 per cent with the Egyptian, while it is 75 per cent. with the Pelagic. Another proof among many that the ancient Atlantes were intimately connected with the Pelagian nations of Greece, Italy, and Spain; but much less so with the Egyptians from whom they however borrowed perhaps their graphic system.

    This system is very remarkable. 1. By its acrostic form. 2. By having only 16 letters like most of the primitive alphabets, but unlike the Egyptian and Sanscrit. 3. By being susceptible of 22 sounds by modification of 6 of the letters, as usual among the Pelagian and Etruscan. 4. Above all, by being based upon the acrostics of 3 important series of physical objects, the 5 senses represented by their agents in man, the 4 elements of nature and the 7 planets: which are very philosophical ideas, and must have originated in a civilized nation and learned priesthood. 5. By the graphic signs being also rude delineations of these

    [p. 42]
    physical objects or their emblems. The ear, eye, nose, tongue and hand, for the 5 senses. The triangle for the earth, fish for the sea or water, snake for the air, flame for fire. A circle for the sun, crescent for the moon, a sword for Mars, a purse for Mercury, the V for Venus, double ring for Saturn, and trident for Jupiter. Venus being the 5th planet, has nearly the same sign as U, the 5th letter.

    These physical emblems are so natural and obvious, that they are sometimes found among many of the ancient alphabets; the; sun and moon even among the Chinese. But in the Egyptian alphabets, the emblems apply very often to different letters, owing to the difference of language and acrostic feature. Thus the hand applies to D in Egyptian instead of U, the eye to R, the circle to O, the snake to L, &c.

    II. The second Lybian alphabet, No. 2 in the Tables, was the ancient alphabet of Tuarics, a modern branch of the Atlantes, until superseded by the Arabic. Denham found with some difficulty its import, and names of letters which are not acrostic but literal, and 18 in number. It is doubtful whether these names were well applied in all instances, as the explainer was ignorant, and Denham not aware of the importance of this alphabet. Some appear not well named, and U with V have the same sign W; but these are always interchangeable in old language, and in alphabet No. 1, V is called UAF instead of VAF, and U is VULD instead of UULD!

    As we have it, this alphabet is sufficiently and obviously derived from the First, 11 out of the 16 letters being similar or nearly so, while only 5 are different, E, M, R, G and Z. This last appears the substitute of TH, of No. 1, and GH represents G. Yet they are by far more alike than the Demotic is from the Hieratic Egyptian, and I therefore deem this No. 2 a Demotic form of the ancient Lybian or Atlantic.

    I might have given and compared several other Lybian alphabets found in inscriptions; but as they have been delineated without a key or names, it is at present very difficult to decypher them. I however recommend them to the attention of the learned, and among others, point out the Lybian inscription of Apollonia, the harbour of Cyrene, given by Lacella, in his travels in the Cyrenaica. The letters of this inscription appear more numerous than 16 or even 22, and although they have some analogies with the 2 Lybian alphabets, yet approximate still more to the Demotic of Egypt and the Phenician. But the inscriptions in Mount Atlas and at Frawan, when collected and decyphered, will be found of much greater historical importance.

    III. Meantime in the column No. 3 of the tabular view, are given 46 elements of the Glyphs of Otolum or Palenque, a few of these glyphs being given also in column No. 4. These 46 elements are altogether similar or derived from the Lybian prototypes of No. 1 and 2. In some cases they are absolutely identic, and the conviction of their common origin is almost complete, particularly when taken in connection with the collateral proofs of traditions and languages. These elements are somewhat involved in the grouping, yet they may easily be perceived and separated. Sometimes they are ornamented by double lines or otherwise, as monumental letters often are. Sometimes united to outside numbers represented by long ellipses meaning 10, and round dots meaning unities, which approximates to the Mexican system of graphic numeration. Besides these 46 elements, some others may be seen in the glyphs, which I left off, because too intricate; although they appear reducible if a larger table could have been given. There is hardly a single one that may not be traced to these forms, or that baffles the actual theory. Therefore the conclusion must occur, that such astonishing coincidence cannot

    [p. 43]
    be casual, but it is the result of original derivation.

    The following remarks are of some importance:

    1. The glyphs of Otolum are written from top to bottom, like the Chinese, or from side to side indifferently like the Egyptian and the Demotic Lybian of No. 2. We are not told how No. 1 was written, but probably in the same way. Several signs were used for the same letter as in Egypt.

    2. Although the most common way of writing the groups is in rows, and each group separated, yet we find some framed, as it were, in oblong squares or tablets like those of Egypt. See plate 12, of the work on Palenque by DelRio and Caberera. In that 12th plate there are also some singular groups resembling our musical notes; could they be emblems of songs or hymns ?

    3. The letter represented by a head occurs frequently; but it is remarkable that the features are very different from those of the remarkable race of men or heroes delineated in the sculptures.

    4. In reducing these elements to the alphabetical form, I have been guided by the more plausible theory involved by similar forms. We have not here the more certain demonstration of Bilingual inscriptions; but if the languages should uphold this theory, they certainly will be increased of the Atlantic origins of Otolum.

    IV. But shall we be able to read these glyphs and inscriptions, without positively knowing in what language they were written! The attempt will be arduous, but it is not impossible. In Egypt, the Coptic has been found such a close dialect of the Egyptian, that it has enabled you to read the oldest hieroglyphs. We find among the ancient dialects of Chiapa, Yucatan and Guatemala, the branches of the ancient speech of Otolum. Nay, Otolum was perhaps the ancient TOL or TOLA, seat of the Toltecas, (people of Tol) and their empire; but this subject will belong to my third letter. I will now merely give a few attempts to read some of the groups. For instance:

    1. The group or word on the seat of the sitting man of plate 4 of monuments of Palenque, I read UOBAC, being formed by a hand, a tongue, a circle, an ear, and a crescent. It is perhaps his name. And underneath the seat is an eye with a small circle inside, meaning EB.

    2. In plate 5, is an eye with 2 annexed rings, meaning probably BAB, and perhaps the Sun, which is BAP in the Lybian alphabet.

    3. In plate 7, the glyph of the corner with a head, a fish, and a crescent, means probably KIM.

    4. The 1st glyph of plate 15, is probably BALKE.

    5. I can make out many others reading ICBE, BOCOGO, POPO, EPL, PKE, &c.

    If these words and others (although some may be names) can be found in African languages, or in those of Central America, we shall obtain perhaps the key of the whole language of old Otolum. And next reach, step by step, to the desirable knowledge of reading those glyphs, which may cover much historical knowledge of high import. Meantime I have open[ed] the path, if my theory and conjectures are correct, as I have strong reasons to believe.

    Besides this monumental alphabet, the same nation that built Otolum had a Demotic alphabet belonging to my 8th series; which was found in Guatemala and Yucatan, at the Spanish conquest. A specimen of it has been given by Humboldt in his American Researches, plate 45, from the Dresden Library, and has been ascertained to be Guatemalan instead of Mexican, being totally unlike the Mexican pictoral manuscripts. This page of Demotic has letters and numbers, these represented by strokes meaning 5, and dots meaning unities, as the dots never exceed 4. This is nearly similar to the monumental numbers.

    [p. 44]
    The words are much less handsome than the monumental glyphs; they are also uncouth glyphs in rows formed by irregular or flexuous heavy strokes, including within small strokes, nearly the same letters as in the monuments. It might not be impossible to decypher some of these manuscripts written on metl paper: since they are written in languages yet spoken, and the writing was understood in Central America, as late as 200 years ago. If this is done, it will be the best clue to the monumental inscriptions.
                                C. S. RAFINESQUE.
    Philadelphia, February. 1832.

    NOTE. -- While this letter is going to press, we hear of the death of the learned Campollion, a great loss to sciences and erudition. The 3 letters directed to him were written in January, February and March of this year, while his career of usefulness was yet umimpaired; but they were as much intended for the learned all over the world, as for himself, and therefore were printed instead of being sent. The third which is to appear in the next number, will however be inscribed to Klaproth as a substitute.

    We have lately heard that the 1st number of 3 excursions to Mitla and Palenque, performed in 1805 to 1807, by Capt. Depaix, has lately been published in Paris under the title of Mexican Antiquities; but it has not reached us.


    [ 91 ]







    Professor of Historical and Natural Sciences, &c.

    Vol. I.                   PHILADELPHIA,  AUTUMN OF 1832.                   No. 3.

    Knowledge is the mental food of man.

      [p. 98]

    ARE  NOT

    As early as 1829, I published in the Evening Post a letter to the Rev. Ethan Smith, against the singular but absurd opinion that the American tribes descend from the Hebrews or the ten lost tribes. This opinion based upon some religious prejudices and slight acquaintance with philology and antiquities, has been entertained by Penn, Adair, Boudinot, and several other superficial writers, among which Ire Hill, author of a late work, Antiquities of America Explained. Hagerstown, Maryland, 1831. It is to me astonishing how in this enlightened age, any such unfounded belief can be sustained; if greater absurdities still did not prevail as yet among a few.

    Two recent instances of egregrious folly based upon this singular tenet, have induced me to republish my letter of 1829, which if read by those laboring under this delusion cannot fail to shake their belief.

    A new Religion or sect has been founded upon this belief the Mormonites, thus called after a new Alcoran, or Book of Mormon, (which is not a Jewish name.) Supposed to be written in gold letters more than 2000 years ago by Mormon, leader of the American Jews. This Book which no one has seen nor read but the founder of the sect, the probable writer thereof, has made the Bible of a new sect. I have tried in vain to procure a copy of the translation, wherein I could certainly detect a crowd of absurdities and incogruities. Meanwhile a Sect of Fanatics has arisen therefrom, and wandered from New York to Ohio and Missouri; an evident proof how false beliefs can be

    [p. 99]
    spread and made subservient to crafty purposes.

    The second instance is that of Lord Kingsborough, who having adopted the delusive idea of the Mexicans and other American nations being Jews, has vainly spent the vast sum of 80,000 pounds sterling, or $135,000!!! to publish fac similes of Mexican Antiquities and Manuscripts in the Libraries of Dresden, Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Rome, and Bologna, executed by Aglio, and with notes of his own in support of the Jewish origin of the Mexicans. This Work in 7 volumes folio, sells for 200 pounds sterling, or $900 and is deemed a wasteful employment of money, even by the learned, because it does not contain the translations which would be more useful than the glyphic texts. It lacks also the Mexican Manuscripts preserved in Madrid and Simanaca's archives of the Indies; the only valuable novelty in this huge work are the Mexican monuments, drawn by Depaix, with the history of Mexico, by Sahagun a Spanish monk, who spent 30 years in Mexico in the 16th century. The great sum spent by this nobleman for this vain support of his fallacious jewish theory, would have been sufficient to unfold the true history of all the nations of America, by their monuments, languages, traditions and books, or publish 100 valumes on the subject.       C. S. R.

    Pastor of Poultney in Vermont.

    REV. SIR:
      I have lately met by chance the second edition of your work on the Hebrews in America, and read it with attention, as I do all works on our Indians, while writing theit history before and after Columbus.

    Your work and Boudinot's Star in the West, have widely spread again among the religious readers, the old, obsolete and I may say absurd notion that our Indians, nay all the various American tribes and nations descended from the ten tribes of Israel. This theory advanced by some Jews, by William Penn & Adair, who knew but few tribes of our Indians, is now laughed at by all the learned and enquirers on American history. As it is a pity that the religious community should be again deluded into such improbable belief, I mean to try to show you the impossibility of the fact, and request that should you publish a third edition of your work you will add my remarks, and answer if you can my cogent arguments.

    I shall first state why their origin is impossible and next confute your boasted proofs of it.

    The American nations cannot descend from the ten tribes of Israel; because:

    1st. These ten tribes are not lost, as long supposed, their descendants more or less mixt with the natives, are yet found in Media, Iran, Turan, Cabulistan, Hindostan and China., where late travellers have traced them, calling themselves various names.

    2d. The American nations knew not the Sabath, or Sabatical weeks and years. This knowledge could never have been lost by Hebrews. The only weeks known in America, were of three days, five days and half lunations, as among the primitive five nations, before the week of seven days was used in Asia, and based upon the seven planets, long before the laws of Moses.

    3. The Indians hardly knew the use of iron; although common among the Hebrews, and likely never to be lost: nor did they know the plough.

    4. The same applies to the art of writing, such an art is never lost, when once known.

    5. Circumcision was unknown and even abhored by the Americans, except two nations who used it, the Mayans of Yucatan who worshipped one hundred idols and the Calchaquis of Chaco who worshipped the sun and stars, believing that departed

    [p. 100]
    souls became stars. These beliefs are quite different from Judaism, and besides this rite was common to Egypt, Ethiopia, Edom, Colchis, &c.

    6. None of the American tribes have the striking sharp Jewish features, and physical conformation.

    7. The Americans eat hogs, hares, fish, and all the forbidden animals of Moses; but each tribe abstain from their tutelar animals, or badges of families of some peculiar sort, as we abstain from the dog and horse without any rational cause.

    8. The American customs of scalping, torturing prisoners, canibalism, calumet, painting bodies, and going naked even in very cold climates, are totally unlike the Hebrew customs.

    9. A multitude of languages exist in America, which may perhaps be reduced to twenty-five radical languages and two thousand dialects and sub-dialects. But they are often unlike the Hebrew in roots, words and grammer: they have by far more analogies with the Sanscrit, Celtic, Bask, Pelagian, Berber, Lybian, Egyptian, Persian, Turan, &c., or in fact all the primitive languages of mankind.

    10. The Americans cannot have sprung from a single nation, because independently of the languages, their features and complexions are as various as in Africa and Asia. -- We find in America; white, tawny, brown, yellow, olive, copper, and even black nations as in Africa. Also dwarfs and giants, handsome and ugly features, flat and aquiline noses, thick and thin lips, &c.

    Let us now examine your proofs.

    1. You say all the Americans had the same god, Yohewah; this is utterly false. This was the god of the Chactas and Floridians. I have found a multitude of names for it among the Unitarians. Many had triple gods or trimurtis as in Hindustan and with names nearly Sanscrit. Polytheism, idolatry and a complex mythology prevailed among all the most civilized nations. All the ancient religions were found in America, Theism, Sabeism, Magism, Hinduism, Shamanism, Fetichism, &c. but no Judaism!

    2. The few examples you give of affinities with the Hebrew language, belong only to the Floridan and Carib languages. I could show you ten times as many in the Aruac, Guaranu, &c. but what is that, compared with the 100,000 affinities with the primitive languages.

    3. All the civilized American[s] had a priesthood or priestly caste, and so had the Hindus, Egyptians, Persians, Celts, Ethiopians! were they all Jews?

    4. Tribes are found among all the ancient nations, Arabs, Berbers, Celts, Negroes, &c. who are not Jews. The most civilized nations had castes instead of tribes in America as well as Egypt and India: the Mexicans, Mayans, Muhizcas, Peruvians, &c. had no tribes. The animals badges of tribes are found among Negroes and Tartars as well as our Indians.

    5. Arks of covenant and cities of refuge are not peculiar to the Jews; many Asiatic nations had them, also the Egyptians, and nine-tenths of our American tribes have none at all, or have only holy bags, somewhat like Talismans or Fetiches.

    6. The religious cry of Aleluyah is not Jewish, but primitive, and found among the Hindus, Arabs, Greeks, Saxons, Celts, Lybians, &c. under the modification of hulili, yululu, luluyah, &c., other Americans called it ululaez, gualulu, aluyuh, &c.

    7. The mentioned traditions of our Indians or rather the Algonquin stock only, point to a N. W. origin; but the Natchez, Apalachians, Talascas, Mexicans, Mayans, Muhizcas, Haytians, &c. have traditions to have come from the East or through the Atlantic Ocean. It is important to distinguish the American nations of Eastern origine from the later invaders from Tartary: they are as

    [p. 101]
    different as the Romans and Vandals.

    8. All the alledged customs common to Jews and Americans, are postively of primitive origine and found among nearly all the ancient nations of Asia, Europe and Polynesia, nay even among the wild negros to this day; are they then all Jews? The actual Puritans and Sabatarians who keep the Jewish Sabath and bear Jewish names, would be greater Jews by far, if customs alone were to settle this question.

    You will therefore perceive that this old notion of yours is totally impossible and at variance with all our knowledge of the Americans, when we study all the Nations, instead of taking as you do the Algonquin or Lenapian although a widely spread family for your rule and main example of all.

    I hope you will consider again the question with impartiality, divesting it of your mystical problems, and studying the writers on South America with more care. You will find that Garcia a Spanish writer, had 200 years ago, in his origin of the Indians proved that they may have come from many ancient Nations, even before the flood, and Dr. M'Culloh of Baltimore, has proved the same thing in his researches on America.         C . S. RAFINESQUE .
    Philadelphia, August, 1829.

    See also: Rafinesque's Third Letter to Champollion


    C. S. Rafinesque

    Western Minerva
    (Lexington, KY, Trans. Univ., 1821)

  • "Alleghawee Antiquities"

  • Transcriber's Comments


    [ 53 ]


    Alleghawee Antiquities of Fayette County, Ky. in a letter of
    Prof. Rafinesque to the American Antiquarian Society.


    I feel grateful for the honor conferred upon me by electing me a member of your society, and I shall endeavor to acknowledge it by becoming a useful fellow-labourer in the wide field of Ancient American History. The numerous monuments scattered throughout the Western States, are the principal records left us by a powerful nation, which dwelt in them at an early period, and to which I apply the name of Alleghawee, given to it by the Lennape Tribes. It is high time that these monuments should all be accurately surveyed, described and drawn, ere they disappear under the plough, or through wanton neglect. It is my intention to perform this, respecting all those of this state. I have already during last year examined thoroughly and delineated those existing as yet in the counties of Fayette, Wondford, Jessamine, Montgomery, Bourbon, Harrison, &c. and hope to complete this year the survey of those which I have heard of in the counties of Garrard, Madison, Clarke, Bath, Warren, Jefferson, &c.

    Meantime I will offer you in the first instance an account of those observed in Fayette county, which appear to be as numerous and interesting, as any other groups. The whole of my descriptions will be accompanied by plans and views, surveyed and drawn by myself.

    The principal ancient monuments of Fayette county lay on the south banks of North Elkhorn creek. I have already described the upper group in a letter directed to Caleb Atwater, Esq. of Circleville, and published in the Western Review, vol. 3, page 53. I shall now proceed to notice the lower group, which is the most interesting by its perfect preservation, height and size. Let us call it Group No. 2.

    It alys due north from Lexington at 7 miles distance, and nearly two miles west of the upper group No. 1, between the farms of Major Meredith and Dr. Witherspoon, in a fine open wood or park, which has never been under cultivation.

    The Creek meanders in a fine valley and is very crooked, all the monumnets are on the high ground south of the valley. There is a singularspouting spring in the very bed of the Creek, north side, and south of it a chain of sinks, sinking springs and brooks.

    This group consists in 6 monuments, a town, two circumvallations and three mounds.

    The town is a large icosogonal monument of an oval shape, with twenty unequal sides, all straight except one. It lays nearly half a mile east of Major Meredith's farm, & nearly as far south from the Creek on a beautiful level. Its whole circumference is 3736 feet. It is surrounded by a ditch about 15 feet wide and from 4 to 8 feet deep. It has no parapet; but the Area appears to be somewhat higher than the outward ground. There are no mounds or remains inside. It has only one visible gateway on the south side. There must have been formerly a spring inside of it towards the west, there being a hollow in that direction emptying into a run. The direction of the oval

    [ 54 ]

    is from S. W. to N. E. the narrowest end being N. E. The longest side is S. E. being 500 feet long, it has south an arched concave side. The smallest sides are 100 feet long, and there are many of that length.

    This must have been the site of a ditched town.

    The second monument or largest circumvallation, lays half a mile distant from the town, to the N. E. and on the immediate margin of a high cliff along side of which flows the creek. It is one of the best preserved monument[s] of the kind in Kentucky, and has one of the largest ditches I ever saw, being from 15 to 20 feet deep and 60 feet wide. The outward parapet is 6 feet high and 30 feet wide: its circumference is 850 feet. The gateway is over 20 feet wide, looking towards the S. W. or the town, and level with the interior area, which is perfectly circular and about 125 feet in diameter. This must have been a temple and a magnificent one: the high outward parapet, and deep inside ditch could never have been calculated for defence.

    The third monument or smaller circumvallation, lays nearly half way between the town and large temple, in the valley of a run flowing north into the Elkhorn, and on the right side of it: the ground is now an Ironweed brake. Its gateway lays N. E. looking towards the large temple. The circumference is 400 feet, ditch 2 feet deep, outward parapet 1 foot high. This must have been a small temple, or the temple of the Moon, if the former was that of the Sun.

    The three mounds are of earth, circular and hemispherical: they lay irregularly.

    The largest has a circumference of 200 feet and is 8 feet high: it lays west of the small temple, over the run and valley.

    The second in size, is 162 feet around and 3 feet high; it lays half a mile south-west of the town.

    The smallest is100 feet around and 3 feet high; it lays north of the small temple and S. W. of the large one at the mouth of the Run.

    There is north of the Elkhorn, another small group (No. 3.) of monuments, consisting of a Dromis and 3 mounds.

    The Dromus or Raceground is a most singular monument in the shape of a Hook, laying north and south, about half a mile S. from Little Elkhorn Creek, and two miles N. from North Elkhorn, near the farms of Dr. Innis and Captain Grant, towards the S. E. It will be very difficult to describe it properly; but the figure will explain whatever may appear obscure. It consists in a hollow straight way 5 feet deep and 8 feet wide, having on each side a parapet 4 feet high and 8 feet wide, and divided in 4 parts, the first or nothern is 850 feet long, rounded and open at its beginning or end, and separated from the second part by a gateway or cross road through the parapets. The second part is 600 feet long, and the hollow way terminates abruptly at the third part which is a raised area on a level with the parapets 75 feet long, 20 wide and 4 high; it surrounds to the south a mound 190 feet in circumference and 6 feet high. From this mound the fourth part or hook spurs to the right and soon takes a due north direction. This hook or spur is 400 feet long, 75 wide, separated from the second part by a space 200 feet wide, it has also a parapet on each side and a large hollow way 40 feet wide and 5 deep: its end is rounded and raised in parapet.

    It is difficult to ascertain exactly the purpose of this strange monument. It has been supposed erroroneously to have been a mining work for lead, of which it is said that there are traces in it; but I could

    [ 55 ]

    not perceive any: while its regularity, double parapet, mound, &c. prove that it must have had a different designation. I have called it a Dromus or Raceground, because I venture to assert that it was a religious place or sport. The mound might be the funeral pile of a great hero or warrior, and games might have been instituted in his honor; and principally foot races.

    This monumnet lays partly in woods and partly in corn fields, it has already been impaired by the plough, which is fast leveling the mound. There is a sinking brook next to it on the eastern side.

    The second mound lays a quarter of a mile N. N. W. of the upper end of the Dromus by the side of a large never failing sinking spring, and is a lind of short parapet 20 feet long, 5 wide and 2 high. I cannot conceive of what use it might be. It lays near Capt. Grant's farm, in the direction of N. E. and S. W.

    The third mound is a very large one, nearly half way between the Dromus and the group No. 2, which it appears to connect together. It lays south of Major Long's farm and is represented to be 500 feet in circumference and 15 feet high; but I have not measured it myself.

    A fourth group of monuments (No. 4.) lays about 4 miles N. W. from Lexington on the upper Frankfort road, and near the Town Fork Creek, on its right bank and out of its valley. It includes a square monument and a circumvallation.

    The square monument is surrounded by a ditch only, and has no parapet. It may have been a ditched village. It has four equal sides, each 500 feet long, making the whole circumference 2200 feet; the sides are eactly fronting N. W. and S. E., N. E. and S. W. The gateway is in the middle of the N. W. side, looking towards the Creek and 15 feet wide. The ditch is only 14 feet wide and 4 deep at present. The angles are rounded. There is in the centre a small mound 40 feet round and 1 foor high: while in the N. E. ditch, there is another mound 50 feet round and 6 feet high, formed of stones and earth. This last has been opened and found to enclose a grave and coffin laying due east and west, made of large flat stones, and measuring 8 feet in length, and 2 feet in breadth. It must have been erected for a chief of gigantic stature who fell on the very spot, in defending the ditch. There is no water inside of the monumnet: the nearest water is that of a Run south of it, flowing into the Town Fork: it lays in the woods, between the farms of Mess. Bainbraidge and M'Cracken.

    The circumvallation lays in a corn field north of it and a quarter of a mile distant, separated by another run. It has been nearly levelled to the ground by cultivation. It is only 300 feet in circumference, parapet 1 foot high. Ditch two feet deep, Gateway due west, and opposite a fine spring, which lays 150 yards distant.

    No. 5, or fifth group of monuments in Fayette county, lays on the South Elkhorn Creek, north or right side, about 7 miles west of Lexington. It includes a Polygone, a circumvallation, two mounds and several graves.

    The Polygone is the site of a town and lays in the woods, on a high level ground, in a bend of the Creek and near the farm of Colonel Mulgher's. It has sine unequal sides: its circumference is 3100 feet. It has no parapet. The ditch is commonly 10 feet broad and 3 feet deep; but obsolete in some places. The area appears to be 1 foot higher than the outward ground. The gateways cannot be ascertained; but there are now two crossing

    [ 56 ]

    it, and of course 4 gateways, one leads to Morgan's mill and the other to Calley's ford. Three vallies begin close by the E. S. and W. this last begins inside of it. There is besides to the east a large regular hollow, which has the appearance of having been dug for a well. No remains are seen inside.

    The circumvallation was probably the temple of this town. It was about half a mile distant, to the S. W. in the fork formed by the junction of Shannon Run and South Elkhorn, in the fields of Major Ashby's farm. It has been completely destroyed by cultivation; but is said to have been 30 years ago, about 300 yards in circumference, and the ditch one yard deep, gateway due east.

    The mounds are round about 200 feet in circumference and four feet high; one lays S. W. of the last monument, on the left side of Shannon run, and another south of it, and near Mr. Milton's farm, on the right side of SGannon run.

    The graves are numerous quite along the South Elkhorn and near the Polygone; they are on the banks of the Creek, shaped like the elliptical mound, but formed of loose stones and containing inside a row of stone coffins, the sides and tops of which are formed with large flat stones. They always lay in a row across the mounds, the head to the west, and feet to the east. These graves are very common in Fayette county: although great numbers have been wantonly destroyed, to make lime with the stones, or to build with. They were exceedingly numerous at the settlement of the country on South Elkhorn, North Elkhorn, Town Fork, Grave Run a branch of Hickman's Creek, &c. They have often been noticed as highly singular: we find them mentioned in Brooke's Gazateer, &c. and lately again in the Western Review, vol. 2, page 200.

    Having accurately surveyed one, its description will serve for the whole. Circumference 210 feet, Elliptical, length from N. to S. containing 8 graves, on a level with the ground, beginning all at the same point east; but of different lengths and breadths, without regularity, form 4 to 6 feet long and from 1 to 2 feet wide. It appears that they were family vaults or tombs. There are some with several rows of graves or coffins one upon the other in a pyramidal shape, and containing as many as one hundred coffins. One of the largest (now totally destroyed) was on the Town Fork, close by Lexington W. near the Woollen Factory: it was 450 feet round and 25 feet high, entirely of stones. Another on Grave Run near Frogtown, 4 miles S. E. of Lexington, was nearly 400 feet [round] and 20 high. Many were 300 feet round and 15 feet high. I conjecture that there must have been 300 of them in this country, under which were buryed about 2000 individuals. A few coffins being sometimes 7 or 8 feet long, show a gigantic stature in the tenants.

    There is a small group of Earthen circular mounds west of Lexington. One of them which was in the town on a hill has been destroyed, it was about 150 feet round and 8 feet high.

    Another still exists near the Versailles road, which is also 8 feet high and about 200 feet round. It has been dug, and found to contain bones and broken ware.

    The last monument of Fayette county is the town with 7 unequal sides, near the head of Hickman's Creek, described in my letter to Caleb Atwater, Esq. printed in the

    [ 57 ]

    Western Review, volume 2, page 242.

    I have already sent you the drafts of my surveys of this last town and the two groups on North Elkhorn; through care of Mr. Atwater. I now send you the plans of the Dromus, the group on Town Fork, the group on South Elkhorn and several views of the graves.

    My next letter will describe [for] you, the singular aquatic town at the mouth of the Town Fork, Woodford county, and the town on Stoner's Creek, Bourbon county, where the remains of the houses are seen as in Tennesee.

    Meantime, I am yours respectfully,                   C. S. R.
    Lexington, 3d January, 1821.



    Constantine S. Rafinesque

    Professor Constantine S. Rafinesque is remembered for his many contributions to scientific knowledge (in Botany, in comprehending the Mayan numerical system, etc.) as well as for his numerous, less than professional, self-advancements and half-baked anthropological speculations.

    According to researcher and author David M. Oestreicher, the celebrated "Walam Olum" (now generally viewed as his fabrication) fits into the latter category. Professor Rafinesque, a man of considerable talent and accomplishment, was also a self-promoter who occasionally stepped over the lines demarcating academic and scientific professionalism to advocate certain fanciful, unsubstantiated claims. Mr. Oestreicher argues, in his 1995 Rutgers University Ph.D dissertation ("The Anatomy of the Walam Olum: The Dissection of a Nineteenth-Century Anthropological Hoax"), that Rafinesque created the "Walam Olum" hoax, out of a desire for public recognition in an era when America's scientists and scholars were taking him less and less seriously. Oestreicher also presents the intriguing theory that Rafinesque was more than a little inspired by Joseph Smith, Jr.'s claims to have uncovered an alternative American Indian history. Rafinesque openly denounced the Book of Mormon as being a fraudulent history, but he could not ignore the phenomenal growth and widespread publicity the Mormon Church enjoyed between 1830 and 1836. Oestreicher's reporting leaves the reader uncertain as to whether Rafinesque was hoping to manufacture an American legend that paralled and exceeded the Mormon beliefs, or was simply attempting to undermine the LDS announcements saying that the Indians were wandering ancient Israelites. In either case, his methodology of "junk science," intermixed with careful research, insightful observations and personal pettiness gave rise to an almost believeable series of now largely discredited discoveries.

    A good con-man always weaves enough veritable evidence into his hoax to give it the air of believability. The verisimilitude of the Book of Mormon may wear laughably thin in some places, but the apparent authenticity of the "Walam Olum" has continued to capture the confidence of many a scholar, as well as the attention of less informed and more gullible laypersons. Rafinesque's fabricated Indian history may contain a certain amount of truth -- but his Lenape pictographs and Delaware Indian written "texts" are more "the things dreams are made of" than what has been confirmed by dry and boring scientific investigation. For more about this mystery and about the Delaware Indians see Oestreicher's articles and recent book: "Unmasking the Walam Olum: A 19th-Century Hoax," in Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of New Jersey, #49, 1994, pp 10-44; "Unraveling the Walam Olum," in Natural History, October 1996, 14-21; and The Algonquin of New York, (NYC: Rosen Publishing, 2002). For more quasi-scientific output from Constantine S. Rafinesque, see his 1832 descriptions of the "glyphs of Otolum" in his letter of Jan. 1, 1827 and in his controversal Atlantic Journal. For a less than complimentary view of Rafinesque's work, see writers of Mormon history like John Hyde and William A. Linn. Typical Latter Day Saint admiration of Rafinesque's reporting may be seen in the Times and Seasons for Sept. 15, 1841 and in the following short excerpt from page 50 of RLDS Elder Josiah Ells 1881 Prophetic Truth. Numerous other, similar examples might also be cited:

    Two years after the Book of Mormon appeared in print, Professor Rafenseque, in his Atlantic Journal for 1832, gave a public fac simile of American glyphs found in the ruins of a stone city; they are thus described" 'The glyphs of Otolum are written from top to bottom, like the Chinese, or from side to side indifferently, like the Egyptian or Demotic Lybian, although the most common way of writing the groups is in rows, and each group separated, yet we find some formed, as it were, on oblong squares or tablets, like those of Egypt." They are arranged in columns, being forty-six in number. These the learned professor denominates the "elements of the glyphs of Otolum;" and he supposes that by the combination of these elements, words and sentences were formed, constituting the written language of the ancient nations of this continent. By an inspection of the fac simile of the forty-six elementary glyphs, we find all the particulars, which Professor Anthon ascribes to the ["reformed Eqyptian"] characters [supplied by Joseph Smith, Jr.]

    Mormon writers have seemed strangely hesitant to cite Rafinesque's 1836 "Walam Olum" with the same confidence they extend to his "glyphs of Otolum." Rafinesque's controversial history of the Lenape supports certain LDS claims for ancient America, but it might also be used to debase other cherished Mormon notions about the mythical "Lamanites." Thus, LDS writers have generally not cited the "Walam Olum" for supposed scraps of pre-Columbian history. For some further thoughts along these lines see Charles Boewe's "A Note on Rafinesque, the Walum Olum, the Book of Mormon, and the Mayan Glyphs" in Numen XXXII:1 (1985), pp. 101-113.

    Did Professor Rafinseque know about the LDS claims for their Book of Mormon being the sacred "lost book" of the Indians, before that volume of holy writ went to press? Possibly he did; at any rate, once the book was printed, he was not long in condemning it as "an evident proof how false beliefs can be spread and made subservient to crafty purposes." Rafinesque was also familiar with Elias Boudinot's 1816 publication (see his 1819 letter to Ethan Smith) and must have read with some interest the account given there of a purported "lost book" of the Indians. However, in responding to Ethan Smith's Israelite Indians theory, Rafinesque says: "The American nations cannot descend from the ten tribes of Israel; because... The Indians hardly knew the use of iron, although common among the Hebrews, and likely never to be lost... The same applies to the art of writing -- such an art is never lost, when once known." Obviously, in his decision to create the "Walam Olum," as an example of "lost" Indian writing, Rafinesque countermanded his own better judgment

    Another query comes to mind at this point -- apart from the question of whether Constantine S. Rafinesque made use of the purported "lost book" tradition to help manufacture and promulgate his fabrications -- and that query is: Did the fabricator(s) of the Book of Mormon make use of Rafinesque's early writings in the "bringing forth" of the Book of Mormon? If ever an answer is to be given to that particular line of interrogation, it might be discovered in the fact that Sidney Rigdon's older brother certainly must has known Professor Rafinesque. Loammi Rigdon moved from the family farm, on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, to Lexington, Kentucky at an early date (perhaps before his southern Ohio marriage in 1815). In Lexington Loammi attended Transylvania Medical College and did not graduate from that institution until 1823. After receiving his degree, Dr. Rigdon remained in that region of country, practicing medicine in Lebanon, Warren Co., Ohio -- a hotbed of religious upheavel an innovation located not far from Cincinnati. Not only was Transylvania Medical College located adjacent to Transylvania University (where Rafinesque was a professor from 1819 to 1826), but periodicals printed in Lexington and Cincinnati continued to publicize Rafinesque's marvelous reporting in exactly the same region where Loammi Rigdon lived. The young doctor could hardly have avoided encountering Rafinesque's views on pre-Columbian America's purported glorious past, the importance of her ancient monuments, and the alleged origins of her native peoples. How much (if any) of C. S. Rafineque's odd notions Loammi shared in communications to his brother Sidney history has not said. But that might well be a fruitful topic for further research.

    more on C. S. Rafinesque

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