Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, September 2015
Large, Neanderthal-Like Skeletons Excavated From Iowa Mounds
by: Dr. Greg Little
Jim Vieira, host of the History Channel’s “Search for Lost Giants,” and Hugh Newman who was also featured in the show, are about to issue a book that includes all of the old giant skeleton reports from America. I met with Vieira and Newman a few months ago and their book was progressing. I know they are trying to make it comprehensive. They are including both newspaper and archaeological accounts in their book. I continue to scour and focus on old archaeological reports for excavations of large skeletons by archaeologists while researching American mound sites for inclusion in an updated version of the “Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.” I was a bit surprised by finding two reports of excavated “Neanderthaloid” skeletal remains from American mounds.
One of these was published in “The American Naturalist” in July of 1889 by archaeologist Clement Webster. A synopsis of the report was also included in Frederick Starr’s “Archaeology of Iowa” (1895). Webster held a Master of Science degree and was trained as a mining engineer and he did extensive archaeological work for the Smithsonian. He performed more than a hundred excavations and routinely published his findings.
In 1888 Webster investigated 10 mounds on a terrace by the Little Cedar River about a mile south of the town of Old Chickasaw in Chickasaw County, Iowa. In Mound 3 Webster excavated three seated skeletons. He described their skulls as “markedly Neanderthaloid in type” (Starr, 1895, p. 64; Webster, 1889, p. 652). He also related that these were “persons of great muscular development” and they were “at least six feet in height” (p. 652). In Mound 4, Webster found two skeletons of “great muscular development and lofty stature.” In Mound 9 he found the remains of four more skeletons including an extremely large jawbone. In Mound 10 he found three skeletons with one “very massive and broad” jaw (p. 654).
In the 1887 “Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution,” Webster reported on excavations he and a relative made near Charles City, Iowa, in Floyd County. They excavated several of the 31 mounds located at the site. In Mound 19 a large skeleton was excavated indicating “a person over 6 feet in height” (p. 581).
In Starr’s (1895) book, he describes Webster’s findings when he excavated a different group of three mounds a few miles away from Charles City near the town of Floyd. At the base of the largest mound Webster uncovered five skeletons, oddly with some decayed and hard flesh on them, in a sitting posture facing north. These were of an infant, two adolescents, and an older man and woman. “The man was nearly six feet high.” The female skeleton was large indicating a well-muscled woman. However, Webster wrote that her “skull was markedly neanderthaloid” (p. 79). Webster also published the paper on this excavation in “The American Naturalist” (March, 1889) repeating the “neanderthaloid” description and adding: “The skull of this personage was a wonder to behold, it equaling, if not rivaling in some respects, in inferiority of grade, the famous ‘Neanderthal Skull’” (p. 186-187). In “Manners and Monuments of Prehistoric People” (1892), The Marquis de Nadaillac relates the same details asserting that Webster’s account of recovering a neanderthaloid female skull was also published in the January 1, 1891 issue of Nature. There may be other references to this in old literature.
One other report of a Neanderthaloid skull from Iowa was published in the “Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution” (1879). Samuel Evans excavated a group of mounds (called the Ely Ford Mounds) near Keosauqua in Van Buren County. In Mound 2 he found an entire human skull (without a jawbone) and leg bones. After citing the measurements of the large skull he wrote, “On comparison it will be found that this skull resembles in some particulars the celebrated Neanderthal or cave skull of Prussia” (p. 384). Starr (1895) cites it as “Neanderthaloid” (p. 120).
Webster included a few illustrations of the neanderthaloid skulls in his publications but their usefulness is debatable. He did give various measurements of the skulls and bones, but my conclusion is that it doesn’t really matter what the measurements were. No matter what the calculations are, one side will declare that Webster didn’t measure accurately, while the other side will say he did. Of course, many will simply conclude that he had no way of truly determining that the skeletons were Neanderthals or even Neanderthal-like (neanderthaloid)—and that’s the most likely case. In addition, as I’ve written before, there is not a single accepted case of a Neanderthal skeleton being found in the Americas. Perhaps the greatest synchronicity was that when I searched for information of the skeletal remains Webster had accumulated, I found that in 1990 the Office of the Iowa State Archaeologist, Burials Program, had sent his specimens away to be repatriated. They had been in storage till then. So, we are only a quarter century late.
Personally I’ll say that I neither believe nor disbelieve that Webster and Evans excavated genuine Neanderthals or Neanderthal-like skeletons. I do find it all interesting for lots of reasons. In essence I believe that the Adena Era mounds were erected for the burials of an elite class of rulers. These elite people were of a lineage of extremely tall people with their power and prestige passed down from one generation to the next.