Inspirational Archaeology

Robert Wilson Shufeldt, M. D., “Inspirational Archaeology,” Religio-Philosophical Journal, August 29, 1891

Nearly, nay all my life has been devoted to scientific study and original investigation, and often indeed have I thought what a grand thing it would be were we poor scientific plodders but occasionally, at long, long intervals apart, assisted by some invisible independent intelligence, and if not so much as permitted to see ahead in our labors at least be allowed to know of some of the happenings in the world’s great unwritten past.  Even little tiny bits of knowledge of that kind would be of the most inestimable value to science.  I must say, however, that now with life more than half spent, all my yearnings for such directions have ended in the most complete disappointment, and with a sigh, I can but feel the still greater truth of the saying that “there is no royal road to knowledge,” and even the assistance from those behind the veil is denied us.

Good reader, I pray you just think calmly for the moment what the realization of such a state of things would mean to humanity.  Say such an occurrence as has been hinted at above had actually taken place beyond all peradventure of a doubt—where, indeed, would be the limitations of its importance?  Say, for example, that the spirit of a man should come to us who had lived upon this continent when men had barely shaken off the most glaring structural vestiges of the brute, and yet had gained sufficient intelligence, and the power of speech, to communicate clear descriptions of objects that he saw.  That that spirit should intelligently give us a detailed account of his environment at the time it lived in the flesh.  Of the forms that existed; how they lived; and how all in the earth that was, and appeared.  He could not deceive the scientific student in such matters, for even our present knowledge, as meager as it is, would be a constant check upon him!  One single case of this nature proved absolutely, would be of such preeminent import to all mankind, that were I to meet with one, I would feel sure that Col. Bundy would allow me at least half a dozen columns of The Journal to set it forth in its minutest detail.  Or even were I to meet with a case that purported to be of such a nature, but upon its very face was printed as plain as could be the simple find “not true,” then would I be also sure that he would grant the full measure of space to stamp out the fraud, once and for all.  I feel bold as I pen these words, and so do not hesitate to ask him to republish the following account which lately appeared in a paper claiming to be devoted to Spiritualism.  It read thus:


Extraordinary Experiences by Hudson Tuttle.
He is Carried Back to a Former Age.

On a high point of the Lake Ridge, overlooking all the country to the shores of Erie, the plow turned up some crumbling bones, and among those on the crest of the furrow was the lower jaw of a human being; it was of an aged person, for the teeth were worn down by long use.  A little beyond, the central part of the leg-bone appeared, and a flint arrow, with the point imbedded therein.  The bone crumbled to my touch, but the arrow was of material which resists the changes of time.  To what race belonged these remains, which were only faint white streaks in the soil?  Indian, mound-builder, or a yet remoter people?  Evidently the warrior had been killed in battle, but buried on this commanding eminence by his friends.

I carefully preserved the beautifully-formed arrow-head, and the perfection of its workmanship set me to thinking how it could be broken from the obdurate and brittle flint.  Perhaps no handiwork of man has attracted greater interest or called forth more conjecture.

Arrow-making has long been considered among the lost arts.  It has been asserted by high authority that no man living, with all the appliances of modern art, can make a flint arrow-head.  The savages, supplied with more destructive instruments of iron or steel, have lost the capabilities they possessed during the stone age.

He was a chief, unable by age to lead the war-path or the chase, and found honorable employment in the art in which he excelled.Arrow Heads

When the character of the material is studied, a part, at least, of the mystery of arrow-making is cleared away.  Flint occurs in nodules, with a rough, clayey, stained surface, and in the center, crystallization more or less.  The cleavage of the globular mass is from the surface to this center.  It tends to break into irregular prisms, and this cleavage, though somewhat conchoidal, is along nearly straight lines.  The nodule is first broken in two, and then into smaller pieces; each piece having the outside of the nodule for one end, and the center for the other.  The inspection of the illustration, No. 1, will show this clearly.

Even among primitive savages, it is not probable all had the ability for the delicate task.  There would be some more skillful than others, and the arrow-maker would be the first occupation to separate and become distinguished from war and the chase.  Thus we read in the beautiful language of Longfellow: [The words of the poet are omitted in the narrative as originally published, and not being essential to my purpose I do not supply them.—R. W. S.]

It is an exact representation of a fragment of flint found by the writer, and from which he received the evidence of the statements here made.  It was a block from which arrows had been broken, and was in shape to yield others.  I went to my cabinet, and taking this piece, with the arrow before mentioned, I saw long in a musing mood, examining them.  The fragment was just as the arrow-maker left it, after splitting off the last piece.  If he could be recalled, and resume his task where he left it, what a flood of information might be gained!

Slowly my musings merged into an intelligence I had never felt before.  The fragment began to glow with light, and I saw that the process began with breaking a piece from the block.  The form of the arrow depends on the shape of the piece thus obtained.  If an arrow is desired with a heavy center, the piece is broken from an angle, as a, b, in fig. 1.  If a light, lofting arrow is wanted, it is broken from one of the sides, as along the dotted line, d e.  Having obtained the piece and examined it for flaws, the least of which will spoil it, it is held, with the fingers of one hand, edgewise on a soft stone, like sandstone, which prevents its breakings, and yet furnishes a solid support.  This is essential, for when placed on wood, the breakage is entirely different and unreliable.  The work by savages is done with another piece of flint.  The blow is given on the edge, with a slight inclination in the direction the breakage is desired.  Of course this requires experience and tact.  The twist of the arrow is not worked out designedly, but comes as a part of the conchoidal cleavage, and it is nearly impossible to make the arrows without this desirable property.  It is presumable that in choice of pieces, those having this desirable form most perfectly were preferred.

The influence grew stronger, and I said: “Oh, that one of this departed race might come and demonstrate his identity, not by imparting thought, but by doing some task like this, which practice made easy for him, but which civilization has forgotten.”  The answer came slowly and clearly: “It shall be.  Take this fragment as it was left, and you shall see an arrow cleft therefrom.  It has been exposed for centuries, and will not break with the certainty of a stone fresh from the earth.  There are two ways, according as you want a light, a heavy and strong arrow.  I broke the arrows with a piece of flint, which required a constant repairing, but we shall succeed best with a hammer, as your own familiarity with that instrument will assist us.”

I used a light riveting hammer, and under this strange influence struck with the sharp edge along the line c d a few blows, and a flake cleaved off.  A weather crack, or seam, spoiled it for an arrow point.  The next trial gave a flake of perfect texture.

Taking one of these flakes and using a block of sandstone on which to support it, a few rapidly-given blows brought it into the form represented by figure 2.

Two blows on the line a b broken off another perfect piece for an arrow of the other class.  It was flat on one side, and angular on the other.  To break it to a delicate point seemed impossible.  A few well directed blows, and it took the form as in figure 3.  The engravings are made from careful drawings, and every detail represented.

It is safe to say that if the arrow points Nos. 2 and 3 were cast among ancient specimens, it would be impossible to detect them.  There is not a hammer mark on them, and they have the same form and twist.  There was this remarkable circumstance attending the manifestation:

There was no failure.  After the right piece had been selected there was no wrong breakage.  Every blow counted, and these two were made, and no more.  There were no imperfect attempts.  It seemed an absolute certainty to the blows, and the flint took form with every blow.  It broke and cleaved, but always as was desired.  Having completed them, the intelligence again strongly impressed the thought that with better material, more artistic work could be done.  “The twisted point and the saw-toothed edges must have inflicted ghastly wounds,” I said.

“With a strong bow and practiced arm the shaft could be driven through the body of the elk or bison, yet there was something worse than that, which is hateful to me now, when I speak of it or recall it.  We were not content with the arrow; we dipped it in poison when we went to war, and a touch of this point was death.  The little hollows of the flint held the poisonous matter.”

“Where did you get this poison?  From plants?”

“No plant distilled the deadly juice.  We caught the rattlesnake, and taking the fresh lungs of a deer, allowed the maddened reptile to strike its fangs into the mass again and again, until it became saturated.  Then it was placed in an earthen vessel by the fireplace until it melted or dissolved.  Into this we dipped the points of the arrows.  Death was sure, swift and terrible.  The blood melted, the flesh decayed, there was violent thirst, and fever burned up the fountains of life.  We could in our most vindictive hate, ask no more terrible torture for our enemies.  It was a dark, brutal age, and the heart was full of murder.”

The arrow-maker left me astonished and delighted.  An hour afterwards I determined to see what I could do unaided.  The block of flint was in good condition for the trial, as three flakes had been riven off, and the operation appeared of the most simple character.  As the blows were given which broke off the other flakes I had studied the matter with the keenest interest, as an outside spectator.  Carefully I gave the blows, yet after breaking the last fragment of the block, I had not a single flake of the desired form.  Taking some of the best, I attempted to fashion them into arrows, and a few blows, sometimes the first, shattered them.  I used up all my material, and had not obtained even a resemblance to an arrow-head.

I present this experience, which I regard as one of the most wonderful I have ever had, with my own interpretation.  Perhaps the critical may see in it other elements.  It may be argued that taking the fragment and the arrow in my hand, they might have imparted an influence psychometrically, and the manifestation be thus accounted for.  It must, however, be remembered that psychometric influence is never an identified, independent agent, and that the psychometrist can readily distinguish it.

Others may invoke a too vivid imagination, and claim that it made objective its own fancies, giving them personality.

I would ask such to explain how fancy could make possible doing that which normally I was incapable of.  To make two perfect arrows, without a false blow or breakage, I regard as an impossible feat for me normally, and would be even after years of practice.  To my mind, there is only one adequate explanation and that is the presence of an independent intelligence.

H. T.
Now during the course of my life I have had not a little to do with Indians on the plains, and it was always with a certain degree of satisfaction when I succeeded, and it was by no means a rare thing, in pinning one in a real, good unvarnished lie.  I feel sure that Mr. Hudson Tuttle will forgive me if I entirely ignore him in what I am about to say, and permit me to address my remarks to the supposed spirit of the rascally Indian who so cruelly deceived him!
And now, you materialized vagabond of a long extinct race—you “independent intelligence” fraud, are you not aware that we have many very beautiful specimens in our museums like the one described by Mr. Hudson Tuttle in the first paragraph of his above quoted article?—exhumed ancient human bones with flint heads of arrows imbedded in them?  Further, you seem to be ignorant of the fact that the ancient arrow-makers not only used flint, but also obsidian, jasper, quartz, slate, chert, chalcedony, argillite, agate, quartzite, novaculite and hornstone.  These strange names must badly jar your poor untaught ears!  But I have more to tell you; you seem also to be crassly ignorant of the fact that the subject of “flint” arrow head is by no means a “lost art,” and that there is a very voluminous and wide-reaching literature upon the subject at the present time, to say nothing of the veriest masses of material, yes, tons of it in our American museums, illustrating the entire industry from one end to the other.  Why, it almost makes me believe that your account comes very poorly at second hand!  Had you been with me the other day with my friend Professor Thomas Wilson, curator of the Department of Archaeology of the U. S. National Museum, and spent a couple of hours among those grand relics of the past, where he, with the utmost patience and kindness, went over with me hundreds upon hundreds of the arrow-heads (and, indeed, many other ancient implements) in his charge—to say the least, it would have been a good lesson to you.  Three you might have seen the material, the tools, and the surroundings of the old flint workers still existing in England who make the flints for the flint guns still in use in India!  There you would have seen an entire workshop, tools, implements and all of one of your own kind perhaps!  There you could have compared stone, arrow and spear heads by the thousands from all parts of the world, in all stages of their manufacture, and of all ages.
What would have startled you perhaps still more would be the fact that flint arrow heads could be shown you which were manufactured by present-day Indians who still practice what you flatter yourself with as passing off upon us as a “lost art,” and that you have returned to earth to illuminate our minds upon subjects with which we are more familiar than you appear to be yourself.  That is the most pernicious kind of a thing that I know anything about, for no one but a traitor to the true progress of his race will start in circulation erroneous ideas, for erroneous ideas once started through such means are sometimes difficult to eradicate, and they may be very harmful.  Besides, lying is bad practice.  Now, I can tell you with the greatest confidence that in all its essential particulars your account of the manufacture of flint arrowheads is at variance with what we now absolutely know about it.  Your account is so utterly ridiculous that I will not take the time here or the good space of The Journal to expose it in detail.  I feel sure Mr. Hudson Tuttle will thank me for the reprimand I have given you, and the next time you appear to him I would suggest that you advise him to come on to Washington and study the natural collections—then, he can take you to task upon the spot, in his own study, before your mendacious tongue gets away with your imagination!
My good friend, Mr. W[illiam] H[enry] Holmes of the U. S. Bureau of Ethnology, published not long ago an excellent account of the “manufacture of stone arrow-points” and I will in conclusion quote one paragraph from it as a reply to all that you said to Mr. Hudson Tuttle.  Mr. Holmes said: “The flaking of stone, and especially that part of it relating to the making of arrow-points, has very generally been regarded as a great mystery and is often spoken of as a lost art; but the art is still practiced by many of our aboriginal tribes, and it appears that almost any one who desires can by a little systematic practice do the work.  Of course to acquire great skill much practice is necessary, but the methods are for the most part so well known and so simple that the mantle of mystery no longer enshrouds them.”
Mr. Hudson Tuttle’s mind will be most assuredly relieved when he really comes to know the truth of the matter, and it is here given him in the words of one of the most able archaeologists we have among us.
Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C.

Robert Wilson Shufeldt (1850-1934) was an ornithologist.  Despite his disdain for “inspirational archaeology,” and his self-declared practice of sticking to the data, he also ventured out into the sea of meaning on the little raft of his intuition, with disastrous results, on the issue of racial characteristics, as in his The Negro a Menace to American Civilization (Boston: R. G. Badger, 1907), America’s Greatest Problem: The Negro (Philadelphia: F. A. Davis Company, 1915), and his Indian Types of Beauty (n.p., 1891)

One well-publicized collection of psychometric readings was from the pen of William Denton, a teacher of geology and early promoter in the United States of the theory of evolution.  Denton had his wife Elizabeth, as well as his young son, and his sister, Annie Denton Cridge and her husband Alfred, all try taking “readings” from artifacts and natural objects.  They might travel to a comet if the object was part of a meteorite.  They might travel to a far earlier geological age, if the object was a stone.  Or they might travel to another culture, if the object was an artifact.  By the end of the 19th century, spiritualists were “excavating” Atlantis, and traveling to “lost” lands and cultures, such as “Lemuria” and “Mu.”  Some of the 19th century work on comparative religion and mytholgy was done in this or a similarly “inspirational” way.

William and Elizabeth M. F. Denton, The Soul of Things; or, Psychometric Researches and Discoveries (Wellesley, Mass: Denton Publishing Company, 1884): 204-209

Experiment 80

I had long desired to investigate psychometrically some of the human relics discovered in the drift deposits of England, France, and Germany; and after many fruitless inquiries for specimens, in museums and geological collections, chance threw in my way the opportunity I had so long desired.  While in Montreal, in December of last year, I observed at the bottom of McGill Street several heaps of flint shingle, laid there previous to being used for macademizing the street.  This flint shingle surprised me, for I had seen nothing of the kind in America; and, of course, Canada was the last place in America to look for it.  On inquiry, I learned that it had been brought from England as ballast.  Though I was unable to discover from what part of England these particular heaps were brought, it was evident that they came from a cretaceous neighborhood, and I thought, likely, from the southeastern portion of the island.  Among the flints I found two fine specimens of the echinus, and several smaller fossils, nor dreamed of higher game; but just as I was about to give up my search, in the twilight of a cold December evening, I found a fragment of bone, hard frozen into the heap, which, on splintering, proved to be fossilized; and on the next morning, in a neighboring heap, I discovered some twenty or thirty black or dark brown splintered fragments of fossil bone.  Some appeared like portions of the skeletons of bovine quadrupeds, others of deer; one, the bone of a bird; and a few smaller pieces, from the size of the bone cells, I considered as probably portions of the mammoth, or elephas primigenius.  From portions of clay attached to them, they had evidently been buried in a bed of blue clay originally; they adhered strongly to the tongue, and one that I fractured showed a bright metallic lustre.  Probably, said I to myself, these were washed out of a drift bed, or more recent alluvial deposit, by the waves, and thus became mingled with the shingle of the beach, from which the sailors loaded them into the vessel; and, possibly from them I may obtain some knowledge of those human beings who inhabited Great Britain at an early period.  I accordingly took one of these bones, which had apparently been cut with some sharp instrument, to extract the marrow, and gave it to Mrs. Denton for examination.  She knew something of my ideas on the subject, but had no faith in them.

“I see a head; the lower part of the forehead is very prominent, so that the eyes seem deeply set.  The forehead is very low, and round and receding.  The face has an awful look; it is dark, and feathers are stuck round the neck.  (It was merely a glimpse.)

“Now I see the chest and arms.  It seems hardly human; yet it is not savage and wild, for I have no such sensation in connection with it, as I have felt before in connection with early men.  There seems a good deal of fun, frolic, and good-nature here.  The mouth is crescent-shaped, the face short, and the front head slopes on each side, forming quite an angle.  I see an older and larger one, that shows its teeth, which are large.  It is coarser and uglier, and seems very bad-tempered.

“I see one sitting on a log, his long legs hanging down, crossed at the ankles, and his hands between his knees.  He is looking off.  In front of him is a cave.  It is sad to see such a pitiful object in the shape of a human being.  I question whether he can stand perfectly upright; his hip-joints appear to be so formed that he cannot, though he sits comfortably.  Whether this is natural to him, or is a condition produced by disease, I cannot say.  Now I see him perfectly.  I can hardly credit that he is human, yet there is a human expression in the face.  His body is very hairy; it appears as if the natural hair answered the purpose of clothing.  A part of the face is destitute of hair, but it is dark-colored.  That is not a log that he sits on, I see, but a rock.  He must have gone there frequently to sit.  He seems to be in a kind of study; there is evidently some power of thought.

“I have a glimpse of another one, smaller, more slender, and less hairy.  One hand is raised.  (My excitement prevents my seeing.)  Occasionally, I see part of the body of one of those beings that looks comparatively smooth.  I can see the skin, which is lighter-colored.  I do not know whether it belongs to the same period or not.

“It is rather dark in that cave; I can only see a little way.  There is something in the back part of it, but I cannot see what it is.

“In the soft floor, at the bottom of the cave, are curious markings.  It looks as if some one, for pastime or for play, had made a number of shallow holes.  There must be quite a number of these beings around here, for I see others occasionally.  I see one more slender than the first, and another larger, heavier, and yet smoother and more delicate.  I think this is a female.  She is fuller and more rounded, and her limbs are shorter; but her face is far from being that ‘human face divine,’ of which the poets speak, though I only obtain its general appearance.  I see another female, smaller than the first.  They are more erect than those hairy ones I saw, who are males, I suppose; but it is strange there should be such a difference between them.

“I see an animal, in a kind of enclosure, that seems partly tamed.  It is a large, herbivorous animal, and I fancy now that the first man I saw was watching it, till some one else came; two or three of them taking turns.

“There must be a number here, from the influence I feel, more than one family.  All that I have seen hitherto, have been perfectly nude; but I see the back of one now, that seems to have some kind of covering on; I think it is a skin.  The wearer is one of the fairer, erect kind, as most of them are that I see now.  They seem much more human than the others.

“In that cave I see objects that I cannot tell the use of; they seem made of stone.  Some are five or six feet long; but they must be made of wood, with a sharp point of stone at the end; they have a round end where they are handled, and I think now are used as spears for killing animals.  I see smaller ones hanging on the side of the cave.  There seems to be a belt of skin, several feet long, fastened against the wall, and through it different implements are placed.  Some are seven or eight inches long, and others but two or three.  Some are bulky, and look like hammers, while others are slim and sharp.”  (Are they made of flint?)  “They look hard, and some seem to have been chipped, but I am not near enough to distinguish the precise material of which they are composed.

“I feel a great many of these beings about, going in and out, but I cannot see many.  That cave is quite a large place.  There are some implements hanging on the wall that are quite sharp; they seem to be flint.  They use them to cut up their meat with.  (I feel this.)  They did not eat their flesh raw; I have the impression of its being cooked.

“I see green trees; the vegetation seems like that of a warmer country than this.  I see grape vines.  There is much more intelligence among these beings than those I saw with that specimen from Mount Ararat. (Experiment 83.)

“Those dark ones do not seem as savage as I should expect.  There is something mild and submissive about them.  At a distance the face seems flat; the lower part of it is heavy; they have what, I suppose, would be called prognathous jaws.  The frontal region of the head is low, and the lower portion of it is very prominent, forming a rounded ridge across the forehead, immediately above the eye-brows.  the hair bushes up full in front and seems inclined to curl.  I think there is hair on the chin and sides of the face.

“I see something peculiar at the edge of a wood.  Between the rocks and the wood is an open space; and near the wood is something built that seems intended to shed rain.  There are vines growing over it.

“I see an animal now, much larger than the largest ox; with large, long horns, three times as large as any I ever saw, that curve over on each side and almost meet under the head.”


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