Studiedsince the discovery of the conspicuous mounds in Ross County Ohio, the Hopewellhave been an archaeological enigma to many. The tradition is so named for theowner of the farm, Captain Hopewell, where over thirty mounds were discovered. Earlier studies focused more on the exotic grave goods such as precious metals,freshwater pearls, many of these objects had come from all corners of thecontinent from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, and north to themid-Atlantic coastline (some say Hopewellian influence reached Nova Scotia). Earlier scholars of the Hopewell (1950’s through 1960’s) were well aware ofthe influence of the “Interaction Sphere”, yet concluded that the Hopewell,in terms of lifestyle were a cult and had no influence on daily life.
Laterstudies suggest otherwise, as more and more information surfaces along with newinsightful interpretations. It is widely accepted that the Hopewell are the”next generation” of the Adena. That is to say that the Adena gave rise tothe Hopewell, who had, as speculated migrated into the Ohio River Valley fromIllinois. The Hopewell have been described as a more elaborate and flamboyantversion of the Adena. Whether the Hopewell overpowered the Adena or simplymingled with and mixed into the culture, is not certain, yet there has been noevidence of warfare to support the former. The result was a cultural explosionencompassing a vast majority of North America east of the Rocky Mountains to theAtlantic coast.
The Hopewell flourished in the Middle Woodland from 200 B. C. toAD 500. The environment was nearly what it is today. Temperate with lakes,streams, wetlands and flood-plains, the people took advantage of the seasonalweather in the Ohio River Valley via foraging as well as hunting and gathering. The cultivation of domestic strains of beans and maize was well on its way as itwas implemented in small amounts, catching on later in the time period.
Thevegetation was a prairie/forest mix of deciduous trees, walnut, oak, variousgrasses and shrub. The fauna of the region included many species of waterfowl,turkey and other species in great abundance that are found today (perhaps inmore abundance than found today). Larger fauna included buffalo, bison, deer,and elk and smaller animals such as rodents, raccoons, beaver and the like. Aquatic life included freshwater mussels and clams, many fishes (bass, catfish,etc. ) and turtles.
As we will see, the people made abundant use of these floraand fauna as food, clothing, container, ceremonial and ornamental objects. Asfor changes through time in the environment, it is theorized (by some) that itdid in fact shift to a wetter one, perhaps driving the people to higher groundor otherwise drier climates. Core settlement, as noted was along the Ohio Riverand its estuaries on flood-plains, as well as on or near wetlands. Major areasof population density include Newark and Chillicothe as well as Marietta. Theseareas provided a lush environment of flora and fauna species that were widelyexploited over the centuries by the inhabitants.
Living quarters, althoughscarcely studied, consist of scattering’s of small villages with largersettlements located near and around major mound complexes. Some of these smallervillages seem to have been occupied seasonally while settlement was more thanlikely permanent in the larger loci surrounding the mounds. Some dwellings havebeen found to consist of saplings stuck into the ground in a circle, broughttogether in the center and covered with elm bark or mats of woven grasses. Postmolds from various areas in Ohio and Illinois indicate oval patterns as well asrectangular long-houses with rounded corners.
Larger houses ranged from 18 to 25feet long and one was as large as 44×48 feet, suggesting a large gatheringplace, perhaps for trading, council meetings or ceremonial practices. The dressof the people reflected their beliefs, trading practices and even wealth. Ornaments were worn head to foot. Women’s hair were pinned back with dowels ofwood or bone in a bun or knot and a long sort of ponytail.
When nursing, womenwore their hair braided and tied up in a shorter ponytail that was held togetherby a mesh or net-like bag. Typical male hairstyle was a sort of mohawk on topwith their hair pulled back into a bun in the back. As for male dress, a warriorwore a loincloth of dyed material with patterns on it (resembling a diaper; forlack of better description). He carried a long spear, an atl-atl, wearingvarious necklaces of bone, shell and stone beads including bear claws, sharktooth and other exotic items.
The closest that these ancient north Americanscame to an iron age is revealed in their use of copper as breast plates andhelmets in warfare. Members of both sexes wore earspools (yo-yo shaped earrings)of copper as well as bracelets and necklaces. Mica was cut and shaped intovarious ornaments for headdresses in the form of animals, birds of prey talons,geometric figures, human hand, and bear claw. Mica would be integrated intoclothing and on garments that would sparkle and reflect light, somewhat likesequins.
Not much more is known about dress, due to the fact that textilesdeteriorate rapidly in the archaeological record. Very little is known of socialand political customs; ideas being drawn from ethnographic analogy (of Iroquois,the possible descendants) as well as being pieced together from archaeologicalcontexts. More than likely the people operated under matrilineal kinship. Theylived in long-houses dominated by the oldest female member of the family andwhen a couple was married, the husband would move into the wives’ house andbecome a part of their social unit. These new husbands had very little if anysay in household matters.
The children “belonged” to or were affiliated withtheir mothers family, the males owing allegiance to that unit. There were,however male chiefs who represented households and villages in tribal affairs. Evidence for hereditary monarchy is briefly described from a report in the1950’s. It documents that a number of skeletons found in some mound structureshad a rare physical trait.
This trait was a bony growth in the ear that wasgenetically transmitted. Peoples found to harbor this growth were found inassociation with vast riches of pearls, beads, precious metals, large amounts ofmica and the like, quite possibly the “inbred” mark of royalty within atribe or tribes. The subsistence base of the Hopewell consisted of hunting,gathering and to a lesser extent cultivation of local plant species, dependingupon where they lived. Hunting was done primarily with spears and projectilepoints, with the Indians making use of an instrument called and atl-atl. Onewould attach a spear to the atl-atl and hurl it at the target, the implementproviding not only a more powerful throw, but giving the spear a more finelytuned trajectory. Also used at this time were the bow and arrow, a big step intechnological innovation at the time.
This is evident in the archaeologicalrecord with the finding of smaller projectile points such as the SquibnocketTriangle. As for throwing spears, larger projectile points were used, resemblingthe Jack’s Reef Corner Notched, broad knife blades and corner notchedprojectile points being preferred as well as being typical of the Hopewell. Associated stone tools were found that manufactured and maintained these weaponssuch as shaft straighteners. These were rocks that were about palm-sized and hada carved groove running down the center with which one would work a stick orsmall sapling through over and over to smooth away notches and small stems. Onewould hunt by stalking, say a deer. The hunter would move very slowly throughthe undergrowth wearing a decoy, perhaps antlers and/or head or skin of theanimal.
Once in range he would hurl the spear attached to an atl-atl to kill theanimal. Other hunting methods were implemented such as the dead fall. TheIndians would set a log up in a tree and when an animal pulled on a piece ofbait it would trigger the log to fall and kill the animal. Snaring was alsopracticed using saplings, the animal being caught and possibly starving todeath.
Among the animals hunted were bison, deer, turkey, beaver, muskrat, duck,raccoon and elk. Freshwater fishes such as bass and catfish were caught usinghooks made from seashells, and freshwater clams and mussels were harvested. Asfor plants, many, such as gourds (for their seeds and used as containers),sumpweed, goosefoot, sunflower, knotweed, little barley and maygrass werecultivated. Pigweed, lambsquarter and grapes were also collected. Tobacco waswidely grown, evidenced by pollen core samples and the presence of pipes in thearchaeological record. Elk scapula and flint hoes were used to cultivategardens.
A recent study has revealed that Middle Woodland environments had avast quantity of exploitable food sources. For example, in one year an area often square miles could produce 182k-426k bushels of acorns, 100-840 deer,10k-20k squirrels, 200 turkeys and many species of duck. At a site in Scoville,92% of meat was from deer, 4% from turkey, 72% of nuts were hickory and 27% werewalnuts. This site was not occupied from spring to mid-spring and middle to latefall, at the exact time of waterfowl migration, indicating that they left thearea to hunt them. Surplus venison, bison, elk and other meats were smoked,dried and stored in pits lined with leather or bark. Fruits and vegetables weredried and stored as well as maize which was kept in bark barrels.
Cornbread,succotash and hominy (a boiled cornmeal porridge) were baked/cooked. Maple treeswere tapped to make syrup and sugar. Publications of the 1950’s and 1960’sclaim that there was a strict division of labor. Men would hunt, fish, makeweapons, canoes, bark barrels, snowshoes, paddles (oars), cleared land andparticipated in the harvest.
It states that women would do the gardening,cooking, caring for children, gathered wild plants, made pottery, wove cloth,tailored clothing and trapped smaller animals. These seem to be sexistassumptions, as women could practice many of the “men’s work” as well asthe fact that men would also be involved in many activities slated towards womensuch as caring for the children, pottery-making and weaving. Objectiveapproaches to interpretation of past activities should always be taken, for wedo not have all of the facts about these and other ancient peoples and nevermay. Now we come to trade, which along with burial practices has put theHopewell on the archaeological “map” so to speak.
Trade, on a continentalscale had made their presence known, spreading and absorbing ideas from theRocky Mountains to the East Coast, this has been named the “HopewellInteraction Sphere. ” There were artisans (possibly a separate class) who hadindividual specialties in different raw materials. These raw materials includedcopper (seemingly the choice metal of the people over gold and silver), stone,bone, and flint-knappers, specialists in mica and highly skilled ceramists. Ceramics underwent a change through time and were traded extensively. Normallythey were tempered with gritty sand or pulverized limestone and paddled with acord paddle or a wrapped stick.
There were squat jars used in burials that weresmaller and thicker rimmed and diagonally hatched or crosshatched (1-2% of mostfinds), and conical or spherically expanding flat-based pots with a flaredmouth, used for cooking and storage, generally a utilitarian ware. Rockerstamping done with seashells was a popular design along with geometric patterns. Designs below the neck were, as mentioned, geometric patterns, broad shallowgrooves that were made with a dull pointed tool (antler or stone tool). Flamingo, spoonbill and duck were common motifs (possibly noting theirimportance as a subsistence base) and the design was emphasized by texturing thefigure or the background using a rocker-stamp technique with shells in a zigzagfashion.
Other than bird motifs, concentric circles, wavelike patterns andgeometric designs are incised on the pottery. Vase-like shapes, rounded offsquare vessels and trapezoidal forms have been found. The pottery was tradedthroughout the interaction sphere, with particular designs being favored invarious regions. Uses include storage of foods, cooking vessels, and mortuaryobjects (broken ritually, perhaps to release the “spirit” of the vessel).
Other clay objects found are highly stylized and detailed figurines in humanform. They give us an idea of typical dress, custom and hairstyle (mentionedabove). Women wore short sleeved robes tied at the waist with a wide sash,animal skin boots as well as wrist and arm bands with patterns on them. Men woreleather bib-like shirts and a type of loincloth (also mentioned above). Figurines discovered depict a woman standing with an object broken in half inher two hands, a woman carrying an infant on her back, a woman sitting with herhand on her lap and one of a woman nursing an infant. A male figurine depictshim sitting and holding a staff with two hands as if meditating.
All of thepeoples eyes are closed, evoking reflection and/or deep thought. They are highlylifelike and great attention to detail is paid as one can discern jewelry,headdress or hairstyle, clothing and ornament. The purpose of the figurinescould be decoration or trade good evoking cultural values and norms. Pipestone,imported from Missouri was used for a variety of objects such as mortar andpestle, beads and small bowls. However, its main use was for animal (sometimeshuman yet that was primarily an Adena feature) effigy platform pipes (sometimesmade of clay). They consisted of a flat rectangular base with a hole through themiddle and a very lifelike depiction of various animals on top.
Effigiesincluded that of birds of prey, beaver, frog (or toad), a cougar or wildcat,bear and heron. Some are just plain old bowls. A large hole was borne into thetop and tobacco or other herbs were smoked. Although I have not come across anyspeculation of why particular animals were chosen, I feel as though they arerepresentative of particular clans or lineage’s, perhaps even moieties.
Copperwas the metal of choice for the Hopewell. It was imported from the Lake Superiorregion (along with silver). Copper was fashioned into rings, necklaces andbracelets, earspools, beads, panpipes, ax-heads, breast plates, masks andprojectile points. Helmets were also made and decorated with antler and otherobjects.
It was fashioned by cold-working and heating, pounding it into sheetsto be cut and shaped into various forms. These objects have been found inTennessee, New York, Iowa and Missouri. Mica, as described above was used forvarious ornaments quite possibly even mirrors, was mined in the southernAppalachians. Obsidian, a glassy volcanic mineral obtained from Yellowstone, wasprofessionally worked was made into large ceremonial bifaces as well as knivesand other blades. Animal-related objects include turtle shells used forcontainers and such, sharks teeth, barracuda jaw, conch shells (used ascontainers and gorgets), and Busycon (giant sea snail, shell used for cups) werefrom the Gulf of Mexico along with alligator teeth and skulls. Local freshwaterpearls from mussels were used as beads for necklaces, anklets and armlets orwere sewn onto clothing.
Bear and wolf teeth from the Rocky Mountains were usedas pendants or beads, as well as mandibles from these animals. In one burial,the mandible of a wolf was found inserted into a gap in a skeletons teeth. Manyof these objects were found in the main Hopewell concentration areas of Illinoisand Ohio. Galena, a type of lead ore was used to make face-paint. Recordedfindings at a site name 22 different types of exotic materials, 16 of them beingminerals, yet only two native to Ohio. Value in terms of manufacture andsymbolic meaning went hand in hand, as these objects displayed high prestigeamong the people.
Several trading centers include Illinois, Scioto (Ohio),Missouri/Kansas, as well as other areas about the region. One researcher statesthat it was a big festival when the traders arrived home, there were games,dancing, food and music for two or three days, also stating that the Hopewellwere less likely to be war-like, being more interested in trade. Reciprocityplays a role in exchange with the theory of the “Big Man. ” These individualswere pillars of the community, possessing great wealth and prestige. They wouldacquire large amounts of goods and then lend them to others in times of need. The lend-ees would then be obligated to the “Big Man,” perhaps having towork harder to pay back the favor.
This, along with burial customs is theoverall effect of the Hopewell interaction sphere facilitating the so-called”Big Idea. ” It was a philosophy, a way of life be it not all encompassing inthe lives of distant trade partners, yet affecting them through ritualceremonialism (in some areas as evidenced by presence’s of mounds) andtrade-good manufacture. This dispersal reached Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin,Iowa, Missouri, New York, the Northeast and eastern Rocky Mountain states andinto the deep south. The best-known aspects of the Hopewell are their ceremonialand burial practices centering on earthworks and burial mounds. Earthworksincluded animal effigy mounds (coinciding with animal platform pipes. Correlation?), geometric shapes, and a particular recent find, the GreatHopewell Road.
Found in Ohio, it runs from Newark to Chillicothe, in a straightline through swamps and streams, thought to be a spiritual or pilgrimage route,rather than one of trading. Burial mounds were usually enclosed by a raisedembankment, symbolizing a sacred place. Earthworks were found in conjunctionwith burial mounds, near burial mounds or even distances away, some taking uphundreds of acres. The great “Serpent Mound” is a good example, yet isthought of as Adena.
As for mortuary customs, three quarters of the bodies hadbeen cremated, full fleshed burial was probably a privilege of higher rankedindividuals, they were buried in full flexed position. Structures called CharnelHouses were erected where the dead were de-fleshed and then taken for cremation. First, brush was cleared from the burial area, including trees and topsoil. Claywas then lain down and then an inch of sand that was compacted.
A large woodenstructure (some with no roofs, possibly to expose flesh to the elements forremoval) was built, sometimes with smaller rooms inside to accommodate others orextra grave goods and furniture. Cremations were done in clay lined pits duginto the floor after the bodies had been stripped of flesh and left there orplaced inside the log cabin structure. They were then surrounded by high-qualitygrave goods mentioned above, artisans or craftsmen being interred with largeamounts of their medium of specialty or trade including pearls, mica andobsidian. One mound was found with 12,000 pearls, 35,000 pearl beads, 20,000shell beads, nuggets of copper, meteoric iron, silver, sheets of hammered goldand copper, and iron beads. These houses were left standing or were burnt downand then covered with a mound taking up to and including one million basket-fullsof earth. This was done periodically, layering burial on top of burial, perhapsindicating lineage, that it was that clan’s mound.
Some of the skeletons hadcopper noses affixed to their skulls (nasal cavities). The mounds were probablyreserved for those in high status positions, sizes ranging from ten to fiftyfeet high and larger. The number of these earthworks in Ohio alone reaches10,000, however, many have been lost in this and other areas due to plowing anderosion. The Hopewell decline is as much a mystery as its origins and practices. The Hopewell exchange systems seem to have deteriorated around AD 500;Moundbuilding ceased, art forms were no longer produced.
War and mass murder isunlikely, for there is no evidence for fighting (none even during the era). Perhaps it was the decimation of big-game herds of buffalo, deer and elk due tothe technology of the bow and arrow. Support for this theory lies in thedisappearance of atl-atl weights around the same time as the collapse. This, inconjunction with colder climatic conditions could have driven the animals northor west, as weather would have a detrimental effect on plant-life, drasticallycutting the subsistence base for these foods. Along with this, food productionof maize and other hardier plants would have been more important than tradingexotic goods.
Another theory suggests that they eventually dispersed for unknownreasons, moving perhaps south, integrating with the Mississippian culture or tothe northeast, lending to the ancestral Iroquois theory. Whatever the case maybe, the Hopewell have left their indelible mark on Ancient Native North AmericanCulture in a way Archaeologists and Historians have never encountered. BibliographyFagan, Brian M. Ancient North America 1995 (revised) Thames and Hudson Ltd. ,London. Jennings, Jesse D.
Prehistory of North America 1968 McGraw-Hill Inc. ,New York. Spencer, Robert F. / Jesse D. Jennings The Native Americans (secondedition) 1977 Harper and Row, Publishers, New York.
Ceram, C. W. The FirstAmerican 1971 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. , New York “Recent Fieldwork atHopewell Culture National Historic Park” www.
nps. gov/hocu/recent%20fieldwork. htmHome Page for Jackson, Jennifer M. www.ucsu.colorado.edu/~jacksoj/ Archaeology:Woodland 3: Hopewell www.uiowa.edu/~anthro/webcourse/naarch/hopewell.htmResearch finds Hopewell Indians were in park www.wcinet.com/th/News/010398/Front/90294.htmWoodland Period www.uiowa.edu/~osa/cultural/wood.htm