Mound Builders and Myth Builders

Barbara Alice Mann, Native Americans, Archaeologists, & the Mounds

Barbara Alice Mann, Native Americans, Archaeologists, & the Mounds, foreword by Ward Churchill  (New York: Peter Lang, 2010)

A Review of Barbara Mann’s Native Americans, Archaeologists and the Mounds

Matriarchy vs. Patriarchy – Part 5

I really wanted to like Barbara Mann’s book about Indian Mounds in North America, knowing little about them or their supposed builders. Mann was a tenured professor at a research university, supposedly Ohio Bear Clan Seneca, and specialized in indigenous studies. The book was documented with hundreds of footnotes and included a huge bibliography. It was published by Peter Lang and had a foreword by Ward Churchill, the professor of ethnic studies and author (A Little Matter of Genocide, 1997, cited in n. 55, p. 373) who was fired by the University of Colorado in 2007 for falsification of research and other academic misconduct (charges later modified). No slouch, Mann had written dozens of works in her field and was the co-compiler of an international bibliography of matriarchal studies with the celebrated philosopher Heide Goettner-Abendroth.

Someone should tell Mann that typographical errors, jokey prose and mockery of other writers do not instill faith in one’s academic product. Is it Allegheny (p. 132) or Alleghany (p.133)? Prince Modoc (passim) or Madoc? Mann (p. 128) explains the rules of “Savagism” and the view that “only one migration, in one direction, is permitted one people” with the comment “No, by gum—no double-dipping allowed!” She breezily writes that “the Spaniards had been prancing about Florida since 1513”—and footnotes it. Anthropologists “skedaddle” away with evidence, instead of absconding with it (p. 44), and Indians repeatedly and wrongly “swoop down from the north.”

Apropos of one historian’s use of the male term “Great Spirit” (p. 123), Mann comments, “The missionaries had already set to performing their sex change operation on the original female creator of the Shawnee, Kokomthena.” “Oookay,” she snarkily adds after summarizing an antiquarian author’s theory about refugees from Atlantis.

What does it mean when she says that the “twinned spirits of Sky and Earth were present” (p. 109), or a mythic creature “went on the offensive, creating many wrinkled things…[later] giving … songs for successful hunting, war and healing, all Earth-linked endavors [sic]” (p. 157), or “fire mediates the colors of death, which have so puzzled archaeologists” (p. 217). What are “the gound [sic] houses of the Cherokee” (p. 153)? Or the cannibals that grow “mystically through wrinkled spirit power into giants” (p. 151)? Is this the way Indians talk in Ohio? We are assured in the writings of novelist Walker Percy that everyone in Ohio wears a windbreaker and says things like “just between you and I,” but we are not quizzed about Indian colloquialisms there.

There are some errors of fact. Adena, the name of Ohio settler Thomas Worthington’s estate, did not come from Greek and did not mean “sufficient grounds” (p. 116). The name comes from Hebrew and is translated “pleasant.” Mann’s point that the term was a poor one for a “very Native culture” is wide of the mark anyway, since the names of almost all Indian cultures or tribes are artificial and “Euro-forming,” to use a word Mann herself introduced, from Delaware Indians and Creek to Chacoan and Fort Ancient.

You’ve got to call tribes and periods something. Instead of Hopewell and Adena, Mann makes resort to “phase-one” and “phase-two,” which begs the question of what divides and distinguishes mound building eras. Curiously, she doesn’t make much of the Cherokee medicine man Swimmer’s statement to the anthropologist James Mooney in 1887 that the “original builders” were the Ani’ntsi (Natchez or Itza or Rafinesque’s Iztacans) and “those picking up on the custom after them were the Ani-Kitu’hwagi—the Kitu’hwa—or ancient Cherokees” (Keetoowah Tribe, p. 160). Perhaps Swimmer, after being “half-cajoled, half-tricked … into revealing sacred mound knowledge,” was engaged in leg pulling anyway, a favorite behavior of Indians in the presence of a rude, inquiring white man, according to Mann (p. 109).

Mann writes (p. 202) that the meaning of the lunar deity’s name in Cherokee, Age’yaguga, is unknown, but the word plainly translates literally as Bottle Woman, a common title of the goddess in the Americas as the nourisher and source of life. We discussed the etymology of the name in our book Old World Roots of the Cherokee (Jefferson: McFarland, 2012), pp. 116-17.

What really upsets us is Mann’s arrogance. Of the early scientist who first interpreted the Wallam Olum, or Painted Record, Mann writes that “the waters around the Lenâpe versions were greatly muddied in 1836 by a rascally raconteur, Constantine Samuel Rafinesque-Schmaltz (1783-1840), who sullied them with his publication of a hoax that he entitled the Walam Olum, purportedly meaning, ‘The Red Score” or “Painted Sticks.” She superciliously calls the epic narrative preserved in many versions down to the present “a lengthy pseudo-tradition” (p. 140) and Rafinesque “an intelligent and skillful hoaxer, who wrapped his deceit in several layers of seeming authentication, which take real work to unravel” (p. 141).

Too bad Mann did not engage in any real work of her own but took another academic’s word. I have studied Rafinesque’s publications for decades and admiringly perused his scholar’s autobiography, A Life of Travels and Researches (Philadelphia, 1836). He visited Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and advised the president on how to go about excavating a mound. Rafinesque was a Jew born in the Ottoman Empire and lived in the U.S. for only a part of his life, but he proposed that his adoptive country establish a national depository for the natural sciences—which Congress duly did with the Smithsonian Institution in 1846. Dilettante or rascal he was not!

Mann is scathing about Rafinesque’s “faulty linguistics,” but it is important to note that the “text” of the Wallum Olum was (and still is) composed of sheer pictograms, painted symbols, not words or sounds. Calling Rafinesque’s book a “harum scarum history” and “laugh-a-minute funride” (p. 142), Mann adopts snap judgments nearly two hundred years later that are neither fair nor informed. They are by no means shared by everyone. Rafinesque’s Indian history, which he based on tribal sources that may have included even Tenskwatawa at nearby Shawneetown, are not at odds with today’s DNA story. Haplotype diversity has long suggested European and North African contributions to the peopling of the Americas. Diffusionism is no longer a taboo subject. Rafineque’s account is much more comprehensive, detailed and accurate than Mann’s. Were the Cherokee and Shawnee and Iroquois, for instance, great mound builders? Not according to Rafinesque. But they, along with the Lenape, are made to fit the bill in Mann’s book.

The edition I used was published in 2010, long after consumer DNA testing and even ancient genome analysis came into currency, but Mann rationalizes away such subjects as giants (some of the Iroquois were tall, a skeleton might become disarticulated and appear taller in the grave and besides, giants are mythical, never historical), European DNA from mounds (contamination from “western” scientists handling native bones) and iron and copper in ancient burials (must be trade items from colonial days). The Grave Creek Stone is “a fraud” (p. 83), the Rockford Tablet an “arti-fake” copied from a best-seller book (p. 85), the “forged” Davenport Tables “salted into the site by pranksters” (p. 85), and the “Holy Stones” of  Newark, Ohio (Mann’s apologetic quotation marks), as everyone knows by now, debunked (p. 86).

Mann is sure that the spirals and circular motifs in the mounds similar to those at New Grange in Ireland reflect “only the western fixation on female sexuality…another conceit of the New Age movement.” She states clearly, “For the record, there is absolutely no connection between European Celts and Native North Americans,” a view that would seem not only counter-intuitive and unproved but ignorant and perverse to many students of indigenous history and matriarchal societies.

According to Richard Thornton, “It seems that the first History of the State of Georgia (1847) by Dr. William Bacon Stevens was far more accurate ethnologically than modern texts.” Stevens’ book opens up by stating:

Early settlers on the South Carolina and Georgia coast encountered light-skinned Indians, who spoke a dialect of Gaelic, which Irish immigrants could understand. They were the Duhare (Du H’Aire) or Early Medieval Irish colonists. Stevens said that the Norsemen from Dublin and Wexford, who ferried the Irish over in their Scandinavian ocean-going boats, settled to the north of the Irish in South Carolina…. He also said that peoples from the Caribbean Basin settled to the south of them (“A Constellation of Peoples Once Lived on the South Atlantic Coasts”; cf. William Bacon Stevens, A History of Georgia from Its First Discovery by Europeans to the Adoption of the Present Constitution in 1798, 2 vols., Mishawaka: Palala, 2015).

Certainly, Rafinesque would never have made the mistake of thinking the Ani-Kutani anything more than an ethnic group whom he calls the Cutans (probably from Kittim, East Mediterranean seafaring peoples). Upon very flimsy evidence, Mann portrays them as a corrupt old patriarchal priesthood of superstitious spiritualists whose downfall changed the course of history, ushering in women’s rights, secular enlightenment and democratic society.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, here’s verbatim how Mann concludes the first section of her book, ending it with what she calls “the destruction of shamanic rule” in the three biggest Eastern North American tribes of the Lenape, Iroquois and Cherokee: (pp. 167f.):

… All three peoples continued on a brighter path, devising a new form of government that, basically, cast off hierarchical, male-dominated, hereditary priestly oppression in favor of a participatory form of civil government in which women played a large, powerful role, economics emphasized sharing, and religion was a matter of individual conscience. The Iroquois became justly famous for their brilliant Constitution, while the unsavory experience with the rigid rule of the Ani’-Kuta’nі apparently turned the Cherokee into liberal freethinkers, stimulating their trademark openness to new ways of seeing, being, and doing.

I suspect, therefore, that a much more encompassing political movement was afoot in the demise of Ohio valley mound culture than western scholars realize and that, if such collapses as that of the Cliff Dwellers of the desert southwest are figured into the mix, it seems to have been continent-wide.

Between the sixth and twelfth centuries, therefore, Native America shunned “spiritual terrorism,” banished superstition and turned away from war? I don’t think so. Usually, the drift of history goes from matriarchy to patriarchy, not the other way around.

More information

Three King-Sized Books on His-Story (blog post, Feb. 4, 2022)

Forgotten Cherokee Migrations (blog post, Feb. 23, 2022, discusses Grave Creek Mound)

Ch. 5, “The Ancient Indian Nations,” in Donald N. Yates and Teresa A. Yates, Cherokee DNA Studies II: More Real People Who Proved the Geneticists Wrongpp. 96-117 (Longmont: Panther’s Lodge Publishers, 2021). Write-up of Phase III of DNA Consultants’ Cherokee DNA Studies, presenting evidence that most pre-Columbian lineages in Eastern North America came across the Atlantic. Includes photographs, genealogies, raw data, index.



  Comments: 1

  1. I left off reviewing this book after an accumulation of red flags and annoyances. In the meantime I came across a sort of take-down of Barbara Alice Mann on a blog called FakeIndians see Normally, I’m a live and let live user and researcher, but I now feel Barbara Mann is really beyond the pale and others ought to be warned about the misinformation and lies she puts out. I won’t read another word. She does an enormous disservice to the reading public. I should have known since she was like two peas in a pod (as she might express it) with fake Cherokee Ward Churchill, who was fired for academic dishonesty from his tenured position here in Colorado and who wrote the foreword to her first book. To say that Barbara Mann is also a fake Indian is to put her case mildly. I read about half of another book by her, Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath, which rides the revelation that a “twinned cosmos” and sequence of numbers 2, 4, 8 “pervades every facet” of Indians’ lives (p. 242), I swear to God! Oops, I mean I swear to the Sky-Chief! What absolute quatsch!

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