Greater Ancestors

World Museum

Jefferson County 9 footer


The conduct of the the prehistoric races of this continent, in omitting that they did not leave any record that could have established their origin and customs. They managed things much better in Europe. When the cave-dwellers grew tired of their subterranean existence and decided to die, they had some consideration for those who were to come after them. They selected specimens of all the animals of the period, drew portraits of themselves on the handles of their toothbrushes and then laid down to die surrounded by these mute witnesses of their fondness for art and animals. Thus, when a British explorer finds a cave-dweller’s skeleton, with its accompanying cabinet of curiosities, he can at once assert that the cave-dwellers were contemporary with bears and toothbrushes, and has the great satisfaction of knowing that as soon as he can discover the date at which the cave-bear flourished in the British Islands, he will know the date at which the cave-dweller lived.

In North America, on the contrary, the earliest residents were sublimely selfish and cared nothing whatever for the archaeological feelings of subsequent generations. When a mound-builder died, he neither collected any extraneous bones nor took the slightest care of his own. Had he requested his surviving friends to look upon his corpse in the light of an antiquarian cornerstone and to bury in it a box containing the newspapers and coins of the period, there would be some pleasure in digging him up. Or if he had simply directed that his name and destination should be inexpensively stenciled on one of his largest bones, he could have saved us a great deal of unprofitable discussion as to his real character. But he did nothing of the sort, and in consequence, when we now find his skeleton, it is useless even to the coroner and entirely indistinguishable from the ordinary Indian skeleton.

The public will be unpleasantly reminded of this fallacious indifference to the future on the part of prehistoric Americans by the recent discovery of three unusually fine skeletons in Kentucky. A Louisville paper asserts that two men lately undertook to explore a cave which they accidentally discovered not far from that city. The entrance to the cave was small, but the explorers soon found themselves in a magnificent apartment, richly furnished with the most expensive and fashionable stalactites. In a corner of this hall stood a large stone family vault, which the two men promptly pried open. In it were found three skeletons, each nearly nine feet in height. The skeletons appear to have somewhat frightened the young men, for on seeing so extensive a collection of bones, they immediately dropped their torch and subsequently wandered in darkness for thirty-six hours before they found their way back to daylight and soda-water.

Now, it is evident that these gigantic skeletons belonged to men very different from the men of the present day. A skeleton eight feet and ten inches in height would measure fully nine feet when dressed in even a thin suit of flesh. The tallest nine-foot giant is rarely more than six feet four inches high in private life and without his boots. And even giants of this quality are scarce and dear. The three genuine nine-foot men of Kentucky must have belonged to a race that is now entirely extinct, and hence it would be a matter of very great interest if we could learn who and what they were.

These prehistoric Kentuckians must have been possessed of a considerable share of selfishness and lack of curiosity. They could have easily afforded to be buried in a gorgeous family vault and hence could have easily afforded to decorate the vault with a plain and inexpensive doorplate. They could afford to pay the cost of having their heavy bodies carried a long distance into the cave before they were deposited in the vault, and it is reasonably certain that they did not

Obtain possession of so eligible a burial-place, the Louisville Courier-Journal remarks, and you may sleep well in your grave. The ancients were fully alive to the importance of a good sepulchre, and spared no pains to secure it. Even the beggar, who in life had not a rag to his back, and whose only property was a paper collar, a gilt sleeve-button or a cheap jack-knife, was buried with them. When we contrast this selfish parsimony with the generous forethought of the cave-dweller who died with a bear’s skull in one hand, a rhinoceros’ horn in the other, and with his pockets stuffed full of engraved tooth-brush handles, merely in order to please remote posterity, we can only blush for the selfish want of public spirit of the early American giant. Of course, the tale of the two young Kentuckian explorers needs confirmation. They may have made their alleged discovery while in an advanced state of hot whisky, or they may have manufactured their skeletons before finding them, with the view of adding to the attractions of the centennial exhibition. Whole panoramas of eccentric skeletons have been frequently seen in Kentucky and elsewhere, by men who have looked too frequently upon the whisky when it is hot and flavored with sugar and lemon-peel; and the story of the Cardiff giant reminds us that the manufacture of prehistoric men has already been attempted. Still, even if the early American giant proves to be a fact, we have no reason to hope that we shall ever find out what manner of man he was. It is only too evident that he was as inconsiderate as the early American cucumber, which insists upon running all over contiguous vegetable beds, without depositing sufficient cucumbers to atone for its trespass. He died and left no sign, and he deserves our hearty condemnation for his selfish carelessness.

Near Louisville Kentucky.

  1. The herald and mail. [volume], April 07, 1876, Image 1

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