Description is by Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill.
Aug. 24th, 1815.
Dear Sir: I offer you some observations on a curious piece of American antiquity now in New York. It is a human body: found in one of the limestone caverns of Kentucky. It is a perfect desiccation; all the fluids are dried up. The skin, bones, and other firm parts are in a state of entire preservation. I think it enough to have puzzled Bryant and all the archæologists.
This was found in exploring a calcareous cave in the neighborhood of Glasgow for saltpetre.
These recesses, though under ground, are yet dry enough to attract and retain the nitrick acid. It combines with lime and potash; and probably the earthy matter of these excavations contains a good proportion of calcareous carbonate. Amidst them drying and antiseptick ingredients, it may be conceived that putrefaction would be stayed, and the solids preserved from decay. The outer envelope of the body is a deer-skin, probably dried in the usual way, and perhaps softened before its application by rubbing. The next covering is a deer’s skin, whose hair had been cut away by a sharp instrument resembling a batter’s knife. The remnant of the hair and the gashes in the skin nearly resemble a sheared pelt of beaver. The next wrapper is of cloth made of twine doubled and twisted. But the thread does not appear to have been formed by the wheel, nor the web by the loom. The warp and filling seem to have been crossed and knotted by an operation like that of the fabricks of the northwest coast, and of the Sandwich Islands. Such a botanist as the lamented Muhlenbergh could determine the plant which furnished the fibrous material.134
The innermost tegument is a mantle of cloth, like the preceding, but furnished with large brown feathers, arranged and fashioned with great art, so as to be capable of guarding the living wearer from wet and cold. The plumage is distinct and entire, and the whole bears a near similitude to the feathery cloaks now worn by the nations of the northwestern coast of America. A Wilson might tell from what bird they were derived.
The body is in a squatting posture, with the right arm reclining forward, and its hand encircling the right leg. The left arm hangs down, with its hand inclined partly under the seat. The individual, who was a male, did not probably exceed the age of fourteen at his death. There is near the occiput a deep and extensive fracture of the skull, which probably killed him. The skin has sustained little injury; it is of a dusky colour, but the natural hue cannot be decided with exactness, from its present appearance. The scalp, with small exceptions, is covered with sorrel or foxey hair. The teeth are white and sound. The hands and feet, in their shrivelled state, are slender and delicate. All this is worthy the investigation of our acute and perspicacious colleague, Dr. Holmes.
There is nothing bituminous or aromatic in or about the body, like the Egyptian mummies, nor are there bandages around any part. Except the several wrappers, the body is totally naked. There is no sign of a suture or incision about the belly; whence it seems that the viscera were not removed.
It may now be expected that I should offer some opinion as to the antiquity and race of this singular exsiccation.
First, then, I am satisfied that it does not belong to that class of white men of which we are members.
2dly. Nor do I believe that it ought to be referred to the bands of Spanish adventurers, who, between the years 1500 and 1600, rambled up the Mississippi, and along its tributary streams. But on this head I should like to know the opinion of my learned and sagacious friend, Noah Webster.
3dly. I am equally obliged to reject the opinion that it belonged to any of the tribes of aborigines, now or lately inhabiting Kentucky.
4thly. The mantle of the feathered work, and the mantle of twisted threads, so nearly resemble the fabricks of the indigines of Wakash and the Pacifick Islands, that I refer this individual to that era of time, and that generation of men, which preceded the Indians of the Green River, and of the place where these relicks were found. This conclusion is strengthened by the consideration that such manufactures are not prepared by the actual and resident red men of the present day. If the Abbe Clavigero had had this case before him, he would have thought of the people who constructed those ancient forts and mounds, whose exact history no man living can give. But I forbear to enlarge; my intention being merely to manifest my respect to the society for having enrolled me among its members, and to invite the attention of its Antiquarians to further inquiry on a subject of such curiousity.
With respect, I remain yours,
SAMUEL L. MITCHILL.