Home >> Encyclopedia Americana, Volume 27 >> Tropical Forests to Twelfth Century >> Tumulus


mounds, ancient and dead

TUMULUS, an ancient artificial mound, often of large size, raised usually over the tomb of some prominent person. The custom appears to have been universal in the early his toric period. As it required the use only of earth, and of rude stones for a sepulchral chamber, it was the only feasible method by which races in a low state of development could commemorate their dead, the tumulus was con tinued after architecture had made some prog ress. In ancient as in modern times, where large numbers of dead were heaped together, and it was desired to honor them all, the tumu lus was the only monument that could be con veniently provided. The vast grave at Salis bury, N. C., in which thousands of Union dead are interred, is a tumulus as much as any of the great burial mounds of the ancients. Similar constructions are even now being heaped on modern battlefields.

The Bible and Homer give examples of tumuli. They are found in North America, Mexico, Central and South America, in Great Britain and Scandinavia, in Asia and Africa.

They are not in all instances burial mounds. The Bible, in Genesis, xxxi 44-55, relates the erection of a or tumulus, as evidence of an agreement as to boundary between Laban and Jacob. It is probable that some of the mounds were ancient forts. That at Silbury Hill, Wiltshire, England, 170 feet high, may not have been a sepulchre, and some of the Amer ican mounds were sacrificial, and others may have been places of defense. Indeed all three uses— sepulchral, sacrificial and defensive— may have been included in a mound. It is also certain that some tumuli are simply residential ruins, the crumbled remains of adobe dwellings, or, in the desert regions of Asia and Africa, sand heaps rising as the sole memorials of van ished and once populous cities. See MEGA