Major Characteristics | Monumental Architecture | Burial Practices
Exchange Systems | Life Styles | Sociopolitical Organization
Endings &New Beginnings
In the period between about 200 B.C. and A.D. 400 (sometimes refered to as "Middle Woodland") another major mound-building complex, theHopewell, emerged. At its height extended over much of the Midwest, from Mississippi to Minnesota, from Nebraska to Virginia, achieving its greatest elaboration in the Ohio Valley where elaborate mounds dot the landscape and spectacular geometric earthworks often enclose hundreds of acres of land. These sites were obviously the foci of important religious, political, and economic activities, although the exact nature of such activities has yet to be clearly discerned. Outside of Ohio, many contemporary societies in throughout the Eastern Woodlands shared Ohio Hopewell burial customs (and the attendant ritual and religious ideology) and artifact styles.
While there is some disagreement about its exact origins, there can be little doubt that much of the Ohio Hopewell had its origins in the Adena tradition. And like the Adena "culture," Hopewell should not be conceived of as a monolithic culture nor a political power spread across the Eastern Woodlands. Rather it is was a widely shared tradition of characteristic artifact syles and exotic raw materials exchanged through a sophisticated inter-regional network that tied together many local regional societies which often varied markedly in terms of local environmental adaptations and the supporting material culture items and settlement patterns.
Hopewell stands out as a remarkable phenomenon in many ways:
Includes earthworks and burial mounds
The most spectacular burial mounds come from the Ohio Valley. For example, at the typesite of Hopewell, a mound complex near Chillicothe, Ohio, 38 mounds lie within a rectangular enclosure covering 110 acres. Many other mound groups are equally as impressive. At Seip Mound State Memorial, Bainbridge, Ohio, at least thirty is 30 mounds once stood, both within and near a large geometric earthwork. The great central mound is 250 ft. long, 150 ft wide, and 30 ft. high. The average size of Ohio mounds is about 30 feet high and some 100 feet across, with a volume of about one-half million cubic feet, which translates into about 200,000 person-hours of earthmoving using the simplest of equipment including stone-bladed tools and baskets.
One of the most celebrated examples of the Native American earthwork builder's technological and artistic skill is the Great Serpent Mound, a one-quarter-mile-long earthen effigy of a snake, located in south-central Ohio. Long attributed to either Adena or Hopewell peoples, new radiocarbon dates suggest that Serpent Mound was built as many as 2,000 years later than previously thought. Two samples of wood charcoal were obtained from undisturbed parts of Serpent Mound and both yielded a date of ca. A.D.1070, suggesting that the effigy was actually built by people of the Fort Ancient culture (A.D. 900-1600), a Mississippian group that lived in the central Ohio Valley. Additional evidence for the later date includes the remains of a Fort Ancient village 100 yards south of the mound and rattlesnake motifs on Mississippian gorgets (ornaments worn on the chest) made from marine shell.
The dead were buried in many different ways, depending upon social status. The majority of the scientifically studied burials are cremations, only the elites being buried intact. Both burial crypts and charnel houses were used.
Many of the burial mounds contained treasure troves of both "exotic" raw materials as well as beautifully finished artifacts, with most of the objects smeared with red ocher. Among these offerings are:
One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Hopewell tradition was its farflung exchange systems which covered most of the Eastern Woodlands, linking regions as far apart as Florida and the Great Lakes, North Dakota and the eastern slopes of the Appalachian mountains. Most of the "exotic" raw items were obtained by people living in major trading and manufacturing centers (two of the most important nodes in the exchange systems were the Mississippi &Illinois river valleys in Illinois, and the Scioto and Miami valleys in southern Ohio) who would convert them into finished items (artifacts, ornaments, etc.) and export them through local and regional exchange systems. Many of the finished items are of such surpassing excellence and skill in manufacture as to suggest that in many Hopewell centers there was a resident artisan class.
Since much of our knowledge of Hopewell comes from items (mounds, artifacts) associated with burial practices, we know little of Hopewell settlement patterns, subsistence, or daily life.
Generally speaking, settlements tended to concentrate along large river valleys near major waterways, thus facilitating trading. Settlements in Ohio were relatively small and seemingly occupied only for certain period of the year, whereas in Illinois, some Hopewell people lived in much larger, nucleated, sedentary villages. From the few house patterns found it appears that people lived in either:
Like the Adena before them, Hopewell communities were participants in a cultivating ecosystem. But unlike the Adena, at many Hopewell sites there seems to be evidence of a dramatic increase in the cultivation of native plants (sunflower, goosefoot, pigweed, knotweed, maygrass, and marsh elder for their edible and nutritious seeds) as well as gourds and squash and at some sites, introduced strains of maize. For example, at the Apple Creek site (Illinois) vast quantities of pigweed, lambs-quarters, and grape seeds, as well as hazelnut, walnut, and pecan shells were recovered by archaeologists, suggesting that plant species we often consider wild were actually crop plants. At least one authority has suggested that when thinner walled utilitarian pottery came into used after 200 B.C. it alowed new ways of preparing starchy seeds, thus allowing more more concentrated populations. The illustration at the right (from the Library of Congress' holdings) is meant to convey a sense of Hopewellian gardening-farming, based upon recovered archaeological materials.
Although Hopewellian folks were engaged in increased gardening-farming, a large proportion (perhaps the bulk) of their foods were still obtained by gathering wild plants, fishing, and hunting, a not surprising fact considering the incredible richness of the environments in which most Hopewell sites are located. For example, a site on the lower Illinois River was located in an ecotone (a place where several ecozones converge). In an area of about 10 square miles surrounding the site the inhabitants could acquire yearly prodigious amounts of food including:
In some areas deer was the dominant meat, but many other animals were eaten including waterfowl, beaver, ducks, buffalo, elk, rodents, shellfish, and fish.
The impressive Hopewellian system of reciprocal exchange of diverse items (food, raw materials, finish goods) over large areas, coupled with their monumental burial architecture and attendant burial rituals imply a stratified society with a leadership of individuals who were responsible for negotiating and maintaining the necessary contacts and exchanges. Exactly what type of leadership this was is not known. Some have suggested a "Big Man" pattern, others a pattern firmly rooted in kinship principles, with lineage and /or clan heads acting as the conduits for exchange between local and regional groups. This latter hypothesis is based on the interpretation of the many animal effigy smoking pipes recovered from the burial mounds as representing clans or lineages, somewhat similar to clans named after animals by some later Native American groups. According to this hypothesis, then, Hopewell society was divided into a series of rank-ordered lineages with each of the primary burial centers used by one or more of the lineages as the final resting place for its leaders.
Endings and New Beginnings
By 400-500 A.D. Hopewell was waning and their continent-wide exchange of exotic goods was declining, although interaction between communities and regions continued, as did some mound-building (for a few centuries longer) in Wisconsin and adjacent parts of Iowa and Minnesota. Population density remained fairly light, with most settlements small in size and generally dispersed, although in some areas of the Hopewell heartland population levels increased rapidly and people aggregated into large, planned villages. Uplands and small interior valleys became settled or more heavily utilized. People continued to cultivate native crops as well as following a diversified gathering and hunting subsistence pattern. Somewhere between A.D. 500 - 800, Athapaskan peoples introduced the bow and arrow into the Midwest and hunting patterns changed. Then around A.D. 800 new, more productive strains of maize were introduced to many groups and in certain areas this plant changed the face and structure of Native societies (NOTE: maize did not form a staple crop for many Native peoples until a few centuries before the European conquest).
Mound construction was generally simpler than was true for Hopewell times period, but regular aggregations for ritual and other purposes are reflected in hundreds of Late Woodland mound groups found in Ohio, Iowa, and adjacent regions. After 700 A.D. mounds were constructed in the form of panthers, bears, birds, even humans. One bird effigy mound near Madison, Wisconsin, has a wingspan measuring 190 meters while the Man Mound is a human effigy some 65 meters from head to toe. And one panther mound is actually a negative mound, an intaglio dug into the ground. Although some effigy mounds contain burials, grave goods are relatively meager compared to Hopewell.
In the Ohio heartland Hopewell successors turned their earthwork construction skills to the building of earthen fortifications, called by archaeologists the Fort Ancient culture, a contemporary of Mississippian developments, the next widespread development in Eastern Woodlands history.
In other areas there is a similar and fairly straightforward transition from Hopewell into later cultures (eventually, even, into historically known nations). For example, in New York, the Owasco culture (A.D. 1000-1300) is descended from Hopewell and generally acepted as ancestral to Iroquois.
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Last Updated 21 Feb 2000 by CSmith