The Hopewell Studied since the discovery of the conspicuous mounds in Ross County Ohio, the Hopewell have been an archaeological enigma to many. The tradition is so named for the owner 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 the continent from the Rocky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico, and north to the mid-Atlantic coastline (some say Hopewellian influence reached Nova Scotia).
Earlier scholars of the Hopewell (1950’s through 1960’s) were well aware of the influence of the “Interaction Sphere”, yet concluded that the Hopewell, in terms of lifestyle were a cult and had no influence on daily life. Later studies suggest otherwise, as more and more information surfaces along with new insightful interpretations. It is widely accepted that the Hopewell are the “next generation” of the Adena. That is to say that the Adena gave rise to the Hopewell, who had, as speculated migrated into the Ohio River Valley from Illinois. The Hopewell have been described as a more elaborate and flamboyant version of the Adena. Whether the Hopewell overpowered the Adena or simply mingled with and mixed into the culture, is not certain, yet there has been no evidence of warfare to support the former.
The result was a cultural explosion encompassing a vast majority of North America east of the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic coast. The Hopewell flourished in the Middle Woodland from 200 B.C. to AD 500. The environment was nearly what it is today. Temperate with lakes, streams, wetlands and flood-plains, the people took advantage of the seasonal weather 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 it was implemented in small amounts, catching on later in the time period. The vegetation was a prairie/forest mix of deciduous trees, walnut, oak, various grasses and shrub. The fauna of the region included many species of waterfowl, turkey and other species in great abundance that are found today (perhaps in more 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 flora and fauna as food, clothing, container, ceremonial and ornamental objects.
As for changes through time in the environment, it is theorized (by some) that it did in fact shift to a wetter one, perhaps driving the people to higher ground or otherwise drier climates.
Core settlement, as noted was along the Ohio River and its estuaries on flood-plains, as well as on or near wetlands. Major areas of population density include Newark, Chillicothe as well as Marietta and Renner. These areas provided a lush environment of flora and fauna species that were widely exploited over the centuries by the inhabitants. Living quarters, although scarcely studied, consist of scattering’s of small villages with larger settlements located near and around major mound complexes. Some of these smaller villages seem to have been occupied seasonally while settlement was more than likely permanent in the larger loci surrounding the mounds. Some dwellings have been found to consist of saplings stuck into the ground in a circle, brought together in the center and covered with elm bark or mats of woven grasses. Post molds from various areas in Ohio and Illinois indicate oval patterns as well as rectangular long-houses with rounded corners. Larger houses ranged from 18 to 25 feet long and one was as large as 44x48 feet, suggesting a large gathering place, perhaps for trading, council meetings or ceremonial practices.
The dress of the people reflected their beliefs, trading practices and even wealth. Ornaments were worn head to foot. Women’s hair were pinned back with dowels of wood or bone in a bun or knot and a long sort of ponytail. When nursing, women wore their hair braided and tied up in a shorter ponytail that was held together by a mesh or net-like bag.
Typical male hairstyle was a sort of mohawk on top with their hair pulled back into a bun in the back. As for male dress, a warrior wore a loincloth of dyed material with patterns on it (resembling a diaper; for lack of better description). He carried a long spear, an atl-atl, wearing various necklaces of bone, shell and stone beads including bear claws, shark tooth and other exotic items. The closest that these ancient north Americans came to an iron age is revealed in their use of copper as breast plates and helmets 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 into various ornaments for headdresses in the form of animals, birds of prey talons, geometric figures, human hand, and bear claw. Mica would be integrated into clothing and on garments that would sparkle and reflect light, somewhat like sequins. Not much more is known about dress, due to the fact that textiles deteriorate rapidly in the archaeological record.
Very little is known of social and political customs; ideas being drawn from ethnographic analogy (of Iroquois, the possible descendants) as well as being pieced together from archaeological contexts. More than likely the people operated under matrilineal kinship. They lived in long-houses dominated by the oldest female member of the family and when a couple was married, the husband would move into the wives’ house and become a part of their social unit. These new husbands had very little if any say in household matters. The children “belonged” to or were affiliated with their 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 the 1950’s. It documents that a number of skeletons found in some mound structures had a rare physical trait. This trait was a bony growth in the ear that was genetically transmitted. Peoples found to harbor this growth were found in association with vast riches of pearls, beads, precious metals, large amounts of mica and the like, quite possibly the “inbred” mark of royalty within a tribe or tribes.
The subsistence base of the Hopewell consisted of hunting, gathering and to a lesser extent cultivation of local plant species, depending upon where they lived. Hunting was done primarily with spears and projectile points, with the Indians making use of an instrument called and atl-atl. One would attach a spear to the atl-atl and hurl it at the target, the implement providing not only a more powerful throw, but giving the spear a more finely tuned trajectory.
As for throwing spears, larger projectile points were used, resembling the Jack’s Reef Corner Notched, broad knife blades and corner notched projectile points being preferred as well as being typical of the Hopewell. Associated stone tools were found that manufactured and maintained these weapons such as shaft straighteners. These were rocks that were about palm-sized and had a carved groove running down the center with which one would work a stick or small sapling through over and over to smooth away notches and small stems.
One would hunt by stalking, say a deer. The hunter would move very slowly through the undergrowth wearing a decoy, perhaps antlers and/or head or skin of the animal. Once in range he would hurl the spear attached to an atl-atl to kill the animal. Other hunting methods were implemented such as the dead fall. The Indians would set a log up in a tree and when an animal pulled on a piece of bait it would trigger the log to fall and kill the animal. Snaring was also practiced using saplings, the animal being caught and possibly starving to death. Among the animals hunted were bison, deer, turkey, beaver, muskrat, duck, raccoon and elk. Freshwater fishes such as bass and catfish were caught using hooks made from seashells, and freshwater clams and mussels were harvested.
As for plants, many, such as gourds (for their seeds and used as containers), sumpweed, goosefoot, sunflower, knotweed, little barley and maygrass were cultivated. Pigweed, lambsquarter and grapes were also collected. Tobacco was widely grown, evidenced by pollen core samples and the presence of pipes in the archaeological record. Elk scapula and flint hoes were used to cultivate gardens. A recent study has revealed that Middle Woodland environments had a vast quantity of exploitable food sources. For example, in one year an area of ten 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% were walnuts. This site was not occupied from spring to mid-spring and middle to late fall, at the exact time of waterfowl migration, indicating that they left the area 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 were dried and stored as well as maize which was kept in bark barrels. Cornbread, succotash and hominy (a boiled cornmeal porridge) were baked/cooked. Maple trees were tapped to make syrup and sugar. \
Publications of the 1950’s and 1960’s claim that there was a strict division of labor. Men would hunt, fish, make weapons, canoes, bark barrels, snowshoes, paddles (oars), cleared land and participated 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 sexist assumptions, as women could practice many of the “men’s work” as well as the fact that men would also be involved in many activities slated towards women such as caring for the children, pottery-making and weaving. Objective approaches to interpretation of past activities should always be taken, for we do not have all of the facts about these and other ancient peoples and never may.
Now we come to trade, which along with burial practices has put the Hopewell on the archaeological “map” so to speak. Trade, on a continental scale had made their presence known, spreading and absorbing ideas from the Rocky Mountains to the East Coast, this has been named the “Hopewell Interaction Sphere.” There were artisans (possibly a separate class) who had individual specialties in different raw materials. These raw materials included copper (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. Normally they were tempered with gritty sand or pulverized limestone and paddled with a cord paddle or a wrapped stick. There were squat jars used in burials that were smaller and thicker rimmed and diagonally hatched or crosshatched (1-2% of most finds), and conical or spherically expanding flat-based pots with a flared mouth, used for cooking and storage, generally a utilitarian ware. Rocker stamping done with seashells was a popular design along with geometric patterns. Designs below the neck were, as mentioned, geometric patterns, broad shallow grooves that were made with a dull pointed tool (antler or stone tool). Flamingo, spoonbill and duck were common motifs (possibly noting their importance as a subsistence base) and the design was emphasized by texturing the figure or the background using a rocker-stamp technique with shells in a zigzag fashion. Other than bird motifs, concentric circles, wavelike patterns and geometric designs are incised on the pottery.
Vase-like shapes, rounded off square vessels and trapezoidal forms have been found. The pottery was traded throughout the interaction sphere, with particular designs being favored in various regions. Uses include storage of foods, cooking vessels, and mortuary objects (broken ritually, perhaps to release the “spirit” of the vessel).
Other clay objects found are highly stylized and detailed figurines in human form.
They give us an idea of typical dress, custom and hairstyle (mentioned above). 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 wore leather bib-like shirts and a type of loincloth (also mentioned above). Figurines discovered depict a woman standing with an object broken in half in her two hands, a woman carrying an infant on her back, a woman sitting with her hand on her lap and one of a woman nursing an infant. A male figurine depicts him sitting and holding a staff with two hands as if meditating. All of the peoples eyes are closed, evoking reflection and/or deep thought. They are highly lifelike and great attention to detail is paid as one can discern jewelry, headdress or hairstyle, clothing and ornament. The purpose of the figurines could be decoration or trade good evoking cultural values and norms.
Pipestone, imported from Missouri was used for a variety of objects such as mortar and pestle, beads and small bowls. However, its main use was for animal (sometimes human yet that was primarily an Adena feature) effigy platform pipes (sometimes made of clay). They consisted of a flat rectangular base with a hole through the middle and a very lifelike depiction of various animals on top. Effigies included 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 the top and tobacco or other herbs were smoked. Although I have not come across any speculation of why particular animals were chosen, I feel as though they are representative of particular clans or lineage’s, perhaps even moieties.
Copper was the metal of choice for the Hopewell. It was imported from the Lake Superior region (along with silver). Copper was fashioned into rings, necklaces and bracelets, earspools, beads, panpipes, ax-heads, breast plates, masks and projectile points. Helmets were also made and decorated with antler and other objects. It was fashioned by cold-working and heating, pounding it into sheets to be cut and shaped into various forms. These objects have been found in Tennessee, New York, Iowa and Missouri.
Mica, as described above was used for various ornaments quite possibly even mirrors, was mined in the southern Appalachians. Obsidian, a glassy volcanic mineral obtained from Yellowstone, was professionally worked was made into large ceremonial bifaces as well as knives and other blades. Animal-related objects include turtle shells used for containers and such, sharks teeth, barracuda jaw, conch shells (used as containers and gorgets), and Busycon (giant sea snail, shell used for cups) were from the Gulf of Mexico along with alligator teeth and skulls. Local freshwater pearls from mussels were used as beads for necklaces, anklets and armlets or were sewn onto clothing. Bear and wolf teeth from the Rocky Mountains were used as 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. Many of these objects were found in the main Hopewell concentration areas of Illinois and Ohio. Galena, a type of lead ore was used to make face-paint. Recorded findings at a site name 22 different types of exotic materials, 16 of them being minerals, yet only two native to Ohio. Value in terms of manufacture and symbolic meaning went hand in hand, as these objects displayed high prestige among the people. Several trading centers include Illinois, Scioto (Ohio), Missouri/Kansas, as well as other areas about the region.
One researcher states that 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 Hopewell were less likely to be war-like, being more interested in trade. Reciprocity plays a role in exchange with the theory of the “Big Man.” These individuals were pillars of the community, possessing great wealth and prestige. They would acquire 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 to work harder to pay back the favor. This, along with burial customs is the overall 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 in the lives of distant trade partners, yet affecting them through ritual ceremonialism (in some areas as evidenced by presence’s of mounds) and trade-good manufacture. This dispersal reached Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin, Iowa, Missouri, New York, the Northeast and eastern Rocky Mountain states and into the deep south.
The best-known aspects of the Hopewell are their ceremonial and burial practices centering on earthworks and burial mounds. Earthworks included animal effigy mounds (coinciding with animal platform pipes. Correlation?), geometric shapes, and a particular recent find, the Great Hopewell Road. Found in Ohio, it runs from Newark to Chillicothe, in a straight line through swamps and streams, thought to be a spiritual or pilgrimage route, rather than one of trading.
Burial mounds were usually enclosed by a raised embankment, symbolizing a sacred place. Earthworks were found in conjunction with burial mounds, near burial mounds or even distances away, some taking up hundreds of acres. The great “Serpent Mound” is a good example, yet is thought of as Adena. As for mortuary customs, three quarters of the bodies had been cremated, full fleshed burial was probably a privilege of higher ranked individuals, they were buried in full flexed position. Structures called Charnel Houses 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. Clay was then lain down and then an inch of sand that was compacted. A large wooden structure (some with no roofs, possibly to expose flesh to the elements for removal) was built, sometimes with smaller rooms inside to accommodate others or extra grave goods and furniture. Cremations were done in clay lined pits dug into the floor after the bodies had been stripped of flesh and left there or placed inside the log cabin structure. They were then surrounded by high-quality grave goods mentioned above, artisans or craftsmen being interred with large amounts of their medium of specialty or trade including pearls, mica and obsidian. One mound was found with 12,000 pearls, 35,000 pearl beads, 20,000 shell beads, nuggets of copper, meteoric iron, silver, sheets of hammered gold and copper, and iron beads. These houses were left standing or were burnt down and then covered with a mound taking up to and including one million basket-fulls of earth. This was done periodically, layering burial on top of burial, perhaps indicating lineage, that it was that clan’s mound. Some of the skeletons had copper noses affixed to their skulls (nasal cavities). The mounds were probably reserved for those in high status positions, sizes ranging from ten to fifty feet high and larger.
The number of these earthworks in Ohio alone reaches 10,000, however, many have been lost in this and other areas due to plowing and erosion. 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 is unlikely, 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 to the technology of the bow and arrow. Support for this theory lies in the disappearance of atl-atl weights around the same time as the collapse. This, in conjunction with colder climatic conditions could have driven the animals north or west, as weather would have a detrimental effect on plant-life, drastically cutting the subsistence base for these foods. Along with this, food production of maize and other hardier plants would have been more important than trading exotic goods. Another theory suggests that they eventually dispersed for unknown reasons, moving perhaps south, integrating with the Mississippian culture or to the northeast, lending to the ancestral Iroquois theory. Whatever the case may be, the Hopewell have left their indelible mark on Ancient Native North American Culture in a way Archaeologists and Historians have never encountered