Oberlin: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow...

Chapter 2

Clues to the Past


Geology of the Area

The land you walk on, the waterways you enjoy, and the plants and animals of Lorain County are all clues to things that have happened in the past.

Geologists are scientists who study the Earth's crust, rocks, and formations. In Ohio they dug down through layers of sandstone and shale, limestone and rock-salt. All of this stone is a clue that millions of years ago an ocean covered Oberlin and the rest of Ohio. Prints of fishes and sea creatures were found in these rocks. These prints are called fossils.

One of the first living things were animals called Trilobites. There were also sharks with long, sharp teeth. Many horseshoe crabs and starfish looked like those of today.

Visit trilobites on the web!

Then, over a long time, earth movements pushed the land high out of the sea. The land was hilly and had many rivers. Many plants and trees grew.

One million years ago, the weather changed. Winters were very cold. The summers were too short to melt the snow and the snow could be a mile thick. As more snow turned into ice, it moved farther south. This movement of ice is called a glacier. The glacier acted like a giant bulldozer. As it moved, it made hills flat. It pushed rocks and boulders along. It dragged soil with it. It scraped out valleys. It pushed dirt into valleys and filled them up. It made large holes. As the glacier melted, water would fill up the holes. The holes became lakes and rivers. That is how the five Great Lakes, including Lake Erie, were made.

Four times the ice sheet moved toward the Ohio River. That is why Oberlin is so flat. Only the southern part of Ohio was never covered by glaciers.

The soil left by the glacier is very rich. It is excellent for growing crops. That is why this area has so many farms.

Visit glaciers on the web!

Early People of Ohio

There were some people in Ohio during the last glacier. These people walked into North America from Asia about 15,000 years ago over a land bridge that no longer exists. They were looking for animals that had moved here. The animals came to find more food.

As the first people came to the Ohio region about 5,000 years ago, they set up their homes where they could find water and food to eat. They hunted the giant animals with spears of rock. They trapped giant beaver and moose. Hunters also killed giant buffalo and musk ox. They followed the woolly mammoth and mastodons. These long-haired elephants could live in Ohio's cold weather.

As the weather changed and became warmer, these animals moved from Ohio. The hunters followed them to other parts of the country. We know about these people from their remains. Scientists who dig up old remains are called archeologists. The archeologists use the artifacts from the past to discover how people in Ohio lived.

Bones of the largest mastodon found are in the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus. The mastodon was nine feet high. The Ohio State Geology Museum has remains of the giant beaver, ground sloth, deer, and elk on display. At Kelley's Island on Lake Erie you can walk over the grooves that were cut by the moving glacier.

The weather of this area became even warmer. There were large forests of chestnut, oak, white wood, hickory, and maple trees. The branches and leaves were so thick that little or no sunshine could get through.

Animals like wolves, bears, wildcats, foxes, raccoons, deer, and many squirrels lived here. The rivers and Lake Erie were full of fish.

Woolly mammoths and mastodons, ground sloths, and the glacial grooves can all be visited on the web!

Woodland Indians

For thousands of years, these first Americans lived in the wilderness. We call these people Prehistoric Indians. The tools or artifacts found help to give clues as to how they lived and hunted. Two tribes of Indians have been reported to pass through this area. The Eries and Iroquois hunted these parts. It has been said that they fought each other for hunting rights. No large tribe of Indians lived here for very long but many artifacts have been found in Lorain County, especially around waterways.

The Indians who passed through this area have been called the Woodland Indians. Their clothing would most likely be made from animal skins such as deer. Fur skins would help to keep them warm in the winter months.

The clothes would be sewn together by sinew, or gut, thread. Designs could be added by weaving grasses, using porcupine quills, and paints from plants such as berries. Beadwork came much later after settlers from Europe brought them. Feathers were the colors of birds of this area.

When different Indian tribes spoke, they often used sign language made with motions of the hand. Or, they would draw pictures. The Indians used different colors such as red, green, yellow, and blue to paint the pictures. Dried grasses and flowers and crushed rocks were mixed with water to form paint. Bones or animal hair were used for brushes.

Indians used symbols to stand for things around them like animals, birds, woods, streams, sun, moon, stars, and their way of life. A broken arrow meant peace, a sun could mean happiness, and lightning could mean swiftness. The symbols were used to decorate pottery, clothing, baskets, their homes, and their faces.

Woodland Indian homes were simple dome-shaped huts called wigwams, They would cut eight to ten thin young trees and form a circle by placing the trunks in the ground. They would tie them together across the top using root fibers or narrow strips of bark. They would cover this frame with overlapping pieces of bark. An opening was left at the top so the smoke could go out from their fire. Animals skins were also used to keep out rain or snow. Animals skins were used to sleep on just like you might use a sleeping bag.

While the men hunted in the forest, the women gathered food from berry bushes and wild herbs and nuts. By the time European settles came to this country, Indians had begun to raise crops of vegetables. They grew corn, beans, squash, and pumpkins. Corn became the most important crop. They made cornmeal for flour, breads, and mush. They even made a kind of ice cream cone by filling bark with snow and pouring maple syrup over it.

The tools used were very simple. Gourds were hollowed out for bowls or ladles. Parts of logs might become bowls. Some stone mortar and pestles have been found in Lorain County. They were used to grind nuts, seeds, and corn. Clay soil was used to make pots.

Hunting tools were made from antlers, bone, and stones like flint, shale-slate, and obsidian. Arrowheads are the most commonly found artifact because so many were made and used.

The easiest way for Indians to travel was on the rivers. The Black River is the closest travel route near Oberlin. The Vermilion River also carried many hunters. The canoe would need to be water tight. Birch bark canoes were the most often used because river birch trees grew thickly near the river beds.

Old trails for Indians can no longer be seen. The forests have been cleared. But, many roads of today are exactly where early footsteps once walked. Along river beds and in freshly plowed fields, you might be lucky enough to find clues to the past.

Visit the Woodland Indians on the web!

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