Hopewell Culture

Hopewell Culture 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 (1950s through 1960s) 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.

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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 and Chillicothe as well as Marietta. 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 scatterings 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 44×48 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. Womens 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 1950s. 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. Also used at this time were the bow and arrow, a big step in technological innovation at the time.

This is evident in the archaeological record with the finding of smaller projectile points such as the Squibnocket Triangle. As for throwing spears, larger projectile points were used, resembling the Jacks 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 1950s and 1960s 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 “mens 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 …