Introduction, Ancient monuments of the Mississippi Valley, by Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis

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  • Meltzer's thorough introduction to this volume provides the background and intellectual context for the publication of Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis's Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Vast numbers of abandoned mounds and earthworks still dotted the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys at this time, yet little was understood about the people who built them. This work comprised the first volume of Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge, which had been conceived by the Smithsonian's first Secretary, Joseph Henry. Henry, a physicist, deliberately chose to publish a work in a field other than physical science to show that the Smithsonian would not serve his own interests but that of science-at-large. He chose a topic that would have a major impact and persuaded the Smithsonian's Board of Regents to devote a substantial amount of money to the work.
  • It was important to Henry that this work be unquestioningly scientific and unbiased and that it be subject to peer review, in part to set a precedent for future Smithsonian publications. So as not to reveal that, in essence, he had agreed to publish the work before it was reviewed, Henry worked with reviewers from the American Ethnological Society to change the dates on some of their correspondence with him. As the work progressed, Squier and Davis became embroiled in such a heated dispute over credit for the work that they discontinued contact for the rest of their lives. Meltzer devotes a large section of the introduction to the work itself. Despite their espousal of a separate race of "moundbuilders," Squier and Davis produced a work that remains useful for the massive scope of detailed description it provides of a physical landscape that has now disappeared.


  • Squier, E. G (Ephraim George) 1821-1888
  • Davis, E. H (Edwin Hamilton) 1811-1888
  • Henry, Joseph 1797-1878
  • Smithsonian Contributions to Knowledge (Publication)


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Meltzer wrote the introduction to and edited this reissued version of a landmark work in the history of American archaeology published in 1848. It contains 48 lithographed maps and plates and 207 wood engravings. The introduction includes explanatory footnotes and an extensive bibliography. Much of the correspondence cited appears in volume 7 of The Papers of Joseph Henry (Marc Rothenberg, et al, eds., 1996).

Contained within

Ancient monuments of the Mississippi Valley (Book)

Contact information

Institutional History Division, Smithsonian Institution Archives, 600 Maryland Avenue, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024-2520,




  • Archaeology
  • Mounds

Physical description

Number of pages: 95; Page numbers: 1-95

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