Saturday, September 8, 2012

At The Margins Of Cryptozoology, Part two.

Back to our mammoth problem.

Two years after Henry Mercer published The Lenape Stone, a real heavyweight academic, William Berryman Scott, not only had read it but was impressed. Scott is in profile on the right, and equally prestigious Henry Osborn "in attendance". Scott was the expert on North American mammals, having written the definitive work at that time.

This is an illustration from Scott's book.

Scott was also an idealist about the Search for the Truth [this is one of his paintings]. I mention this as I believe such idealists are more willing to choose information/data over the establishment cant, when entering into intellectual analyses of most any subject. Thus, two years after The Lenape Stone, W B Scott published a lengthy review of the debate in Scribner's Magazine: "American Elephant Myths".

In his review, Scott basically buys Mercer's view not only of the survival of mammoths/mastodons into relatively recent times, but also of most of the specifics that Mercer cites. He, for instance, simply pictures the Lenape Stone within a paragraph which reads:

" we have a number of unmistakeable portraits of the mammoth engraved on ivory and stone. One of these on ivory, from the Madelaine cave in France, is an exceedingly spirited and accurate drawing.

In America the evidence was long doubtful, but cannot be considered so any longer. Mastodon bones occur in this country in much more recent deposits than they do in Europe, often covered by only a few inches of soil or peat, and in a state of preservation as to make it difficult to believe that they are more than a few centuries old."

Scott continued in his review speaking of the legends and adding much on glyphic data from the high civilizations of Mexico and Central America. But he remains the scientist throughout, casting doubt on the legitimacy of the Iowa pipes, and mentioning that the latest survey of the Elephant Mound of Wisconsin creates questions there as well. I'd like, however, to follow up a little on that.

The page with the Elephant Mound drawing above is from a report by Henry W. Henshaw in the Bureau of American Ethnology Annual Report of 1884, one year prior to Mercer's work. It's from Ivan Sanderson's files.

Henshaw was another famous ethnologist and explorer and his opinion had weight. He viewed the Elephant Mound as being "by far the most important" of the effigy mounds. He disregarded the alternative animals like the peccary, the tapir, and the armadillo as being obviously wrong. He stated that "Mastodon bones have been exhumed from peat beds in this country at a depth which, so far as has been proved by the rate of deposition, implies that the animal may have been alive within five hundred years. The extinction of the mastodon, geologically speaking, was certainly a very recent event, and, as antiquity of upwards of a thousand or more years has been assigned to some of the mounds, it is entirely within the possibilities that this animal was living at the time that these were thrown up..."

Henshaw then goes on to the critique of the mound's effigy however, and wonders aloud why there is no sign of ears or tail. [This is of no consequence to me, for what it's worth, as a thin tail is almost out of the question to represent in a mound and mastodon ears do not typically stick out even in modern representations of them]. The real point of controversy then settles where it should: on the "trunk". Here Henshaw hesitates, wishing that the trunk would be better formed. But he doesn't go all negative at this point either, shifting topic instead to debunking other claimants like the Iowa Elephant Pipes. Henshaw comes across as a fairly honest scholar, but a bit afraid to accept a forbidden thought.

Next up to the plate and swinging a mighty bashing club was Cyrus Thomas, he of the almost comical portrait of a man sucking on a lemon and not about to approve of any tomfoolery. Thomas was another ethnology giant of the era. He published an entire volume of the Bureau's annual reports in 1890, dedicated to an overview survey of American mounds. In it he thoroughly dispenses with the idea of an elephant being pictured here, opting instead for a bear. He even publishes a drawing of the mound without the trunk. How could he, you ask? He had come to the conclusion that the "trunk" was just some sort of "slippage" from the rest of the figure and not a true feature. Well, that was convenient.

Thomas' solution to the forbidden thought was written with confidence despite a quote in his own article from one Colonel Norris who surveyed it. Norris said in one place: "There is a depression some 4 or 5 feet deep between the trunk and breast". What Norris was trying to make us hear was that the builders had made a significant earth-moving hole to ensure that the trunk stood out as part of the effigy. Well, let's ignore that, I guess. It is also reported in Thomas' article that the more muted appearance of the "trunk" area was reported by some later observer who admitted that the farmer had plowed that area over several times. Nope, THAT surely couldn't have affected how that narrow feature stood out, could it? Undeterred by any of that, Thomas safely consigns the Elephant mound to a Bear, and publishes the drawing without trunk.

Well, I'm a bit undeterred by the august Mr. Thomas myself, and wonder just what's going on here. The above is a typically modern simplistic representation of a mastodon as you'd see on evolutionary tree diagrams of the pachyderms. I flipped its direction so as to be headed in the same way our mound creature is going.

Blackening our modern drawing out, we see, of course, that no ears stick out. We also see that it would have been fairly futile to represent the ropy tail. That leaves the trunk/tusk area: well.... are we lumpers or splitters? It's at least an honest debate isn't it? Since the testimony of the earlier surveyors seems to say that the "Trunk" is a genuine protrusion of the effigy, this wouldn't leave us with many alternative animals. And what I call the "Lip" is just as an elephant lover would hope it was. Well again.... it's your choice. And it certainly is not necessary to swallow Cyrus Thomas over W B Scott or Henry Mercer.

In the next and last section of this topic [what a relief, eh?], I'm going to take a fling at the story of the guy who walked the world of the time of the map above [1586]. And look at a smattering of other claimed evidence, and maybe get Ivan to tell me what he thought of it all.

Till then.

1 comment:

  1. "it certainly is not necessary to swallow Cyrus Thomas over W B Scott or Henry Mercer."

    It's just as well because he looks as sour as hell.



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