Essay, Research Paper: Hopewell Culture


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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 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 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. 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 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.
Fagan, 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 (second
edition) 1977 Harper and Row, Publishers, New York. Ceram, C.W. The First
American 1971 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., New York “Recent Fieldwork at
Hopewell Culture National Historic Park”
Home Page for Jackson, Jennifer M. Archaeology:
Woodland 3: Hopewell
Research finds Hopewell Indians were in park
Woodland Period

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