D. S. (David Samuel) Margoliouth.

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ident's message for 1806. C. C. Jones, referring * to plate xl of the
" Brevis Narratio," says that " here we have a spirited representation
of the ceremonies observed by the Florida Indians upon the occasion
of the sepulture of their kings and priests. Located in the vicinity
of the villarje appears a small conical mound, surmounted by the shell
drinking-cup of the deceased, and surrounded by a row of arrows stuck
in the ground. Gathered in a circle about this sepulchral tumulus,
the bereaved members of the tribe, upon bended knees, are bewailing
the death of him in whose honor this grave-mound had been heaped
up." Jones also mentions an instance of a primary burial under a
mound erected in honor of the dead, on the coast a few miles below
Savannah, in which, along with an earthen pot, several arrow-heads,
a stone celt, and bones of a human skeleton, was found in immediate
association a j)ortioti of an old-fashioned sxcord. This tunndus, thus
proved to have been erected since the advent of the Europeans, was
seven feet high and about twenty feet in diameter at the base. Of
the sword, the parts preserved were the oak handle, most of the guard,
and about seven inches of the blade. The rest had perished from rust.
The Mandans, according to Catlin (" North American Indians," vol. i,
p. 90), constructed mounds in commemoration of their dead, and the
same is said of the Arickarees by Professor Lewis II. ^lorgan (twenty-
first report of the New York State Cabinet). The mounds at Lanes-
boro, in the State of Minnesota, are said by the old Winnebago chief
"Winneshiek f to have been erected by the Sioux, in commemoration

* " Antiquities of the Southern Indians."

f This old chief is still living, near Trcmpeleau, Wisconsin, and is said to be about
one hundred vears old.


of a great victory won there over the Winnebagoes many generations
ago. The same old chief, when shown a clay pipe taken from the
Lanesboro mounds, said it was like those made by the Sioux, and,
pointing to an earthen spittoon for illustration, said the Sioux made
many like it. In the " Proceedings of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science," for 1875, Dr. Sternberg, of the United
States Army, critically analyzes the contents of certain mounds near
Pensacola, Florida, and concludes that they were built by different
but contemporaneous tribes of Indians, one being probably the Natchez.
In these mounds were found pottery, red hematite for pigment, flint
weapons, and shell ornaments in the shape of beads and perforated
disks, in conjunction with bhie-glass beads and fragments of iron.
The latter show that these mounds were still used, or in process of
erection, later than the advent of Europeans.

Mr. E. G. Squier, in the second volume of the " Smithsonian Con-
tributions to Knowledge," has described in detail many mounds and
earthworks of western and central New York, remarking that they
extend down the Susquehanna as far as the valley of the Wyoming,
northward into Canada, along the upper tributaries of the Ohio, and
westward along the shores of Lakes Erie and Ontario. These mounds
and earthworks are said generally to be smaller than those in the Ohio
Valley. They were found to contain ornamented pottery, pipes of
clay regularly and often fancifully molded, or bearing the forms of
animals, stone axes and hammers, stone disks and implements which
the author remarks are almost identical in shape and material with
some described by him from the mounds of the Ohio Valley, and spear-
points and bodkins of bone. In connection with these are described
articles of European manufacture, such as cast copper and iron axes,
and kettles of copper, iron, and brass. Although Mr. Squier had pre-
viously expressed the opinion that the earthworks of western New
York were of like nature and origin with those of the Ohio Valley,
when confronted with the fact of articles of European manufacture
commingled with aboriginal, discovered by his own investigations,
he was forced to assign the New York mounds to the Iroquois. It
seems not unreasonable to assume that the New York series of
mounds will be found undistinguishable from those of northern Ohio
and eastern Michigan, which have unquestioningly been regarded as
of the same age as those of the Ohio Valley, as well as synchronous
with those of Wisconsin, which, while possessing all the essential
characters of the Ohio Valley mounds, have been assigned as unhesi-
tatingly to the existing races of Indians by the late J. A. Lapham,
of Milwaukee.

It hence seems demonstrable, as well as admitted by some of the
best American ethnologists, that the existing Indian races formerly
carried on extensively and methodically the practice of mound-build-
ing. The mounds of sepulture are often referred to by historians and


travelers. They were built by slow accretions. Not to mention the
veneration which impelled the untutored savage to cast a handful of
earth on a mound every time that he passed it, in testimony of his
remembrance of the departed, it may be well to refer to what has been
known as the feast of the dead. This is asserted to have been com-
mon to many tribes, although conducted with some variation of details.
Gathering the bones of the dead from their temporary resting-places,
the tribe assembled at a chosen spot, and with solemn ceremonies per-
formed the last rites of sepulture. Sometimes they were placed in
coffins separately, and buried within a pit over which was erected a
mound of earth, and sometimes they were arranged serially, and sim-
ply buried under a mound. More frequently the bones Avere burned,
the cremation being accompanied with lamentation and followed by
feasting. The ashes and the unconsumed fragments were then cov-
ered with earth. For many generations this feast of tJie dead, which
occurred sometimes every eight years, or every ten, or when the accu-
mulated bones made it necessary, was doubtless performed on the
same spot ; and in course of time a mound of considerable dimension
was the result, which, while containing human bones, or fragments of
them, and much evidence of fire in the form of ashes and charcoal,
and reddened stones, yet discloses, on exhumation, no perfect skele-

As further testimony to the erection of mounds by the present Ind-
ians, the statements and opinions of a few who have investigated the
subject, or have dwelt long with them, may be referred to.

Mr. Jones, in his review of the " Antiquities of the Southern Ind-
ians," remarks : *' During the progress of this investigation it will be
perceived that mound-building, which seems to have fallen into disuse
prior to the dawn of the historic period, was entirely abandoned very
shortly after intercourse was established between Europeans and the
red-men." Again, in summing up the evidence, Mr. Jones says, in
conclusion, " In a word, we do not concur in the opinion, so often
expressed, that the mound-builders were a race distinct from and su-
perior in art, government, and religion, to the Southern Indians of the
fifteenth and sixteenth centuries." Bradford, in " American Antiqui-
ties and Researches," affirms that " from very respectable authority it
appears that many tribes still continue to this day to raise a tumidus
over the grave, the magnitude of which is proportioned to the rank
and celebrity of the deceased."

From the foregoing it appears that every known trait of the
mound-builder was possessed also by the Indian at the time of the dis-
covery of America. It hence becomes unnecessary to appeal to any
other agency than the Indian. It is poor philosophy and poor science
that resorts to hypothetical causes when those already known are suffi-
cient to produce the known effects. The Indian is a known adequate
cause. The assignment of the mounds to any other dynasty was born


of that common reverence for the past, and for the unexplainable,
which not only unconsciously augments the actual, hut revolts at the
reduction of these works to the level of the existing red-man.



MODERN investigations have shown us that certain parts of the
brain, situated in the region of the temples, have a predomi-
nant share in the formation of articulate language ; or, to express it in
a short phrase, that the majority of men speak by means of the third
frontal circumvolution of the left cerebral hemisphere. All who have
occupied themselves a little with physiology know also that the nervous
fibers cross each other in the brain, so that the movements of the left
arm are commanded by the right hemisphere, while those of the right
arm depend on the left hemisphere. Rushes of blood, extravasations,
and apoplexies are unfortunately more frequent on the left side than
on the right side of the brain : attacks of the left hemisphere are con-
sequently followed by paralysis of the right limbs, and aphasia, or an
impossibility to speak ; but injuries to the right hemisphere, while they
paralyze the left limbs, generall}' leave language untouched.

Does this center exist for writing as well as for language ? Inas-
much as we are in the habit of writing with the right hand, it is evi-
dent that the movements necessary for the action of writing must be
paralyzed by an afiPection of the left hemisphere. But we may learn
to write with the left hand. The question, we see, becomes general ;
it extends to the general movements in writing, and is concentrated at
last in a single point : are there facts which force us to admit a par-
ticular cerebral center, on which the movements in writing depend ?
In other words, does the manner in which we write depend upon a
physiological necessity — determined by the structure of the brain ?
All peoples write with the right hand. It is of little importance wheth-
er this preponderance of the right is founded on a particular structure,
or whether it is in great part the result of education and habit ; man,
writing with the right hand, writes therefore under the direction of
the left cerebral hemisphere.

If this is a general fact, and I know of no exception to it, we may
ask how it happens that the arrangement of the letters and the lines is
so different among different peoples. The peoples of Eastern Asia, as
a rule, arrange their letters from above down, and the lines from right
to left ; the Shemites and the Europeans put the lines one below an-
other, but the Shemites arrange their letters from right to left, while
the Aryans arrange theirs from left to right. The Shemites have cen-
tripetal writing, the Aryans have centrifugal writing.


The subordination of tliese three so different directions of writing
to a single physiological principle is possible only in case we can show
that there is only one normal direction in writing, and that the devia-
tions from this normal direction are due to powerful causes and influ-
ences, which have prevailed over the direction primarily imposed by
the structure of the brain.

It is necessary, while we are occupied with this question, to distin-
guish between the order of the lines and the letters and the formation
of the letters themselves. The two things are in a certain degree in-
dependent one of the other. The individuality of the writer is mani-
fested in the form, in the proportions of the letters, while the manner
in which the lines and the letters are arranged one after the other dis-
plays no character of individuality.

A complete analysis of all the external influences that can have
acted on the manner of writing is necessary to decide whether there
exists only a single order of letters and lines imposed by nature, or
whether the diversity which we see to-day is produced solely by exter-
nal causes.

But the solution of this question, whatever it may be, will not suf-
fice to furnish a detailed analysis of the cerebral functions that are
put in action by wi'iting. The formation of a letter by the hand that
writes supposes necessarily that, by the movements of the fingers and
the hand on one side and the visual impression of the eyes on the other,
a conception of the figure produced is formed in the brain, which is
retained for n certain time by the memory. The time required for the
formation of the conception and the transmission from the brain of
the will to produce the action is shortened by frequent exercise till
the act comes to appear nearly unconscious. The more frequently a
man writes, the more also will the figurative images produced by writ-
ing be fixed in his brain. But as his impressions and images are trans-
mitted to his brain only by the muscular sensation of the single right
hand — with the cooperation of the eyes, indeed — we have a right to ex-
pect that experiments and observations made on certain cerebral parts
of paralytic patients will cast some light on the manner in which these
figurative and largely unilateral images of the writing are formed and
preserved in the brain.

For the present, we will occupy ourselves with the question, How
did the ancients, how do the moderns, write ? What were and what
are the materials that they employ ? Can we discover any connection
between purely external causes and the manner of arrangement of the
letters and lines ?

So far as we know, representation by images has been the point of
departure for all writing. Three primitive methods of writing were
developed in the Eastern Hemisphere from the initial imagery : that
of the East of Asia, or the Chino-Japanese method ; that of the West
of Asia, or the cuneiform ; and the Egyptian, or hieroglyphic writing.


From the last were developed, step by step, the hieratic writing and
the demotic alphabet, or current hand. The arrangement of the hiero-
glyphics was determined by no rule, but was dependent only on the
form and size of the space in which the inscription was to be written.

It is absolutely indifferent to us whether we know what part the
Egyptian demotic or the cuneiform writing has taken in the formation
of existing alphabets. It is enough to know that we have three en-
tirely independent forms of writing : the Chino- Japanese, which ar-
ranges the letters from the top down, and the lines from right to left,
or centripetally ; the Shemitic, which arranges the letters centripetally
from right to left, and the lines one below the other ; and what we
may call the Aryan, which arranges the lines in the same manner,
while it places the letters centrifugally, from left to right.

The last two styles may have been formed through a mingling of
the demotic and cuneiform methods. Their common point of depart-
ure is in any case to be found in the hieroglyphics, and it is doubtless
to this origin that we should attribute the absolute want of a fixed
rule in the order of the letters and the lines in the most ancient speci-
mens. Mr. J. J. Leslie, in his lectures on the origin and destination of
man, speaks especially of the complete indifference of the ancient writ-
ers in regard to the placing of their letters. Many of the old Greek
inscriptions were written alternately from right to left and from left
to right, turning the direction as one turns a plow in the field, and this
style was called " boustrophedon " [turning like oxen). The Egyp-
tians often wrote in the same manner, and M. Stern says that the hie-
roglyphic inscriptions might, according to the nature of the characters
used, run from the top down, from left to right, or from right to left
— the latte^ direction, as in Shemitic writing, being the most common.

We conclude, generally, from these facts, that the arrangement of
the images Avhich were transformed successively into phonetic signs
and letters had no rule as long as those images, signs, or letters, were
engraved or painted on an immovable material, as stones, .columns, or
architectural monuments. The arrangement was governed by the
character and shape of the material ; it was horizontal on a cornice,
vertical on a post, spiral on a column, according to the convenience
or fancy of the writer. There is no place here for a fixed rule based
on physiological necessity.

It was only when the man ceased to move before an immovable
material, but when, on the other hand, the material (plates, tablets,
paper, etc.) became movable before the man having a fixed position,
that the normal directions as we now observe and distinguish them
were established.

Do physiological reasons exist for the present methods of writing ?
Let us examine, with regard to this point, all the exterior conditions
under which writing is done, beginning with the Chino-Japanese sys-
tem. The people who employ this system do not write ; they paint.


using a brush which is manipulated slowly and makes a thick stroke,
and follow the order of arrangement of their mural pictures. Their
temples are made of wood, and it is the posts that are ornamented,
naturally from the top down. This direction is also most convenient
in all painting, since it corresponds with the natural movements of the
joints of the fingers.

The Shemitic peoples — the Bedouins of the desert, Arabs, Turks,
and Mohammedan negroes — write squatting on the cai'pet, or some-
times standing ; the right hand, holding the pen, hangs free from the
arm over the paper, and the arm is not supported. The left hand, also
free in the air, or supported on the raised left knee, holds the paper
stiflf or laid on a little board. The right hand stays unmoved in the
same place ; only the fingers are put in motion for the shaping of the
letters ; while the left hand continually pushes the paper from left to
right, so that the letters assume an arrangement from right to left, or
in a centripetal direction. Thus the Shemitic people in writing per-
form movements directly opposed to ours. AVe hold the paper still,
and move the hand ; they move the paper, and hold the right hand
almost still, as the Koran ordei's them to do.

An alphabet of two hundred phonetic signs representing syllables
was invented in 1832, by a negro of the Yei tribe, who had learned to
read from a missionary. He taught his people to write with a reed-
jien and ink ; but, while be wrote from left to right, the whole nation
to-day write from right to left. If, as some believe, our centrifugal
system of writing from left to right is founded on physiological con-
siderations, the Veis would not have departed from it after having
been taught in it.

M. Erlenmeyer accounts for the direction of the Shemitic writing
on the supposition of its having been originally centrifugal, by assum-
ing that these people first wrote with the left hand, to which the direc-
tion of their writing would be centrifugal, and afterward changed the
liand without changing the direction of the writing. This is exceed-
ingly improbable, for the Shemitic races consider the left hand impure,
and regard writing as a holy act, which they never could have thought
of performing with an impure instrument. Another explanation must
be sought.

Holy acts, with the Shemitic peoples, are performed looking toward
the east ; therefore, in writing, those people would turn their faces to
the east. The light would then come from the south, and the scribe
would write from the light toward the shadow, from the unrolled part
of his paper toward the roll which he is continually unrolling with his
left hand. If he wished to write from left to right, he would require to .
liave the roll in his right hand, and, in that case, the thicker the roll the
more it would cut off his light and be in his way. The centripetal di-
rection, from right to left, was then for the primitive Shemitic peoples,
and still is for the Orientals, the only natural direction ; it is founded


on the posture which the writer takes, his position with reference to
the light, and the material he uses, and has become dominant by custom,
Pei'sons who are acquainted with the Eastern languages tell me that it
would be as impossible for them to write in one of them from left to
right, as it seems to be to write in a Western language from right to
left ; yet most of these persons learned to write in German or French
before studying Hebrew writing. The direction in which we write,
from left to right, is the most modern of all. It is common to all the
Aryans, but was probably not adopted till after the emigration from
the primitive countries. In the face of the facts we have mentioned,
we need not ask why the Shemites write from right to left ; but we
should rather reverse the proposition, and ask why the Aryans aban-
doned the more ancient Shemitic direction, of which they doubtless
had some knowledge. Whence did they get the centrifugal direction,
from left to right ? Difference in material does not account for the
divergence ; no more does difference in position, for the ancients were
not acquainted with our table and desk. And even now, all French
youth in the higher institutions write on a tablet supported on their
knees, which is held by the left hand while the right han.d holds the
pencil, precisely as the Oriental writes, except that the paper is held
still while the right hand moves — the converse of the Shemitic manip-
ulation — and the direction of the writing is reversed. I have sought
for information respecting the manner in which the ancient Aryans
wrote in the absence of chairs and desks, without finding anything
which could furnish an explanation of our mode of aligning the letters,
so contrary to those of other peoples. The direction has become
hereditary with us, transmitted from generation to generation, and
our furniture, implements, and positions have become conformed to it.
In setting our tables and adjusting o'ur positions, we always seek to
bring the light from the left, while the Shemite looks to the right for
it. In both directions, centripetal and centrifugal, we write from the
light toward the shade. If this is a general characteristic, and if, as
we have sought to show, the primitive position of the winters depended
on certain religious ideas, we may ask if there did not also exist par-
ticular religious reasons for the ancient Aryan method of writing.

My friend M. Charles Mayer, of Stuttgart, has remarked to me
that the Aryans, in emigrating from their primitive home, followed the
course of the sun, from the east toward the west. Their faces turned
toward the setting sun, they had the noonday sun on the left. The
left side, then, was the side of the light, of good luck ; the right
hand, the nidc of shado^/• and bad luck. The same signs had an oppo-
site significance, accordingly as they appeared on one side or the other,
in the inverse sense to that in which the Shemites regarded them.
Have we not here a justification for the hypothesis that the Aryans
turned their faces toward the west when they gave themselves to the
holy operation of writing, and that, having the sun on their left, they


wrote like the Shemites, from the light toward the shadow, and con-
sequently from left to right? If I insist so much on the primitive
sanctity of the action of writing, it must not be forgotten that a close
connection exists, even in our day, between the great religious domains
and the method of writing. Buddhism, with all the Oriental religions
of Asia which have preceded or followed it, writes from the top down ;
Islamism, the real continuation of Shemitism, writes from right to
left ; and Christianity, the emigrant product of Shemitism, which has
left its father to settle among the Aryans, is scattering writing from
left to right over nearly the whole world. Each of the three great
religious groups has, then, a direction of writing peculiar to it.

I am far from meaning to pretend that all the questions are
> )lved, and that the series of proofs I have presented is continuous.
If I publish the results so far obtained, it is to excite intei-est and
awaken discussion. But it seems to me to follow, from what I have
said, that the direction of writing, the order of the letters and the
lines, are in no way the forced consequence of a physiological cause,
of a particular structure of the brain. I believe that I have proved,
on the other hand, that the order of writing was primarily dictated by
exterior causes, w'hich, in many cases, may have wholly disappeared,
but the result of w^hich has been retained by habit and hereditary

Online LibraryD. S. (David Samuel) MargoliouthThe Popular science monthly (Volume 19) → online text (page 78 of 110)