Time, place, and peoples
about 100 B.C. to A.D. 500 a remarkable culture flourished in
southern Ohio. Named Hopewell in honor of its major site, this
culture was built on knowledge and traditions that had grown in
the area over many centuries. It also contained elements of behavior
shared by contemporaneous peoples who lived in scattered sections
of eastern North America from Canada to Florida. These groups were
politically and economically as well as geographically separate.
They did share some cultural values that fostered the use of exotic
materials and social symbols, both of which each group interpreted
within the context of the local social and physical environment.
The quality, quantity, and lavish intensity found in Ohio Hopewell
archaeological remains mark this culture as unique among its contemporaries.
The acquisition of exotic raw materials, and to a lesser extent,
exotic objects is a signature of Ohio Hopewell. Copper, mica, marine
objects, obsidian, tiny bits of gold, somewhat more silver, galena,
and a wide variety of fine flints and stones are among the exotica.
They probably arrived in Ohio through a mix of contacts including
personal travel, formal and informal gifts, direct and indirect
barter, and other personal and group activities. New field and
technical data may aid in determining the type and duration of
these contacts. In any case, it is very clear that, whatever their
form, the non perishable artifacts resulting from these contacts
accumulated in southern Ohio while few objects from Ohio are found
Hopewell peoples built miles of earthen and stone walls, many
in geometric shapes. They also constructed large wooden civic
ceremonial structures which contained evidence of many public and
private activities. These activities revolved about a world view
which apparently emphasized elaborate rituals, rites, and/or ceremonies.
All were undoubtedly intended to keep each society and the world
in proper order. We now only know this perceived order from fragments
which refuse to fit neatly together. The large structures and their
smaller counterparts, were eventually covered with carefully
constructed mounds. Some sites were used for many generations,
thus numbers of mounds accumulated. For example, at least forty
were built at the Hopewell Site. Their size and contents are almost
as varied as their number. Although they are frequently all classed
as burial mounds, many did not cover any tombs. They did cover
small burned work areas, large and small deposits of artifacts,
prepared floors with few features, relatively empty wooden structures,
and enigmatic features.
Within the recognizable Ohio tradition there are local customs
and ways which are reflected in the materials and designs of artifacts,
structures, and enclosures. The use of large sites through generations
adds elements of change through time. The various polities found
in each of the river valleys leading to the central Ohio valley,
contributed to the high artistic, technological and social achievements
found in the mosaic of Ohio Hopewell. Some of these achievements
are illustrated in this slide set.
The best current estimate for the subsistence base which supported
or allowed these achievements included gathering wild flora and
fauna, hunting, and probably gardening. Elements of the Midwest
agricultural complex are present. The few instances of corn found
in undisturbed context come from what appear to be ceremonial deposits.
In addition, based on limited skeletal studies, corn was not a
major food item. The settlement pattern is not well documented,
but probably was based on seasonal movements of at least substantial
segments of the societies. Larger gatherings may have been seasonal
and/or based on a longer, culturally determined cycle.
social organization which supported and initiated the engineering
and artistic florescence has been variously reconstructed by archaeologists
through the decades, partly based on field data, more heavily based
on the mind set of the times and of the particular archaeologist,
including myself. Since the middle of the nineteenth century in
the minds of archaeologists, the leaders of Ohio Hopewell peoples
have been downwardly mobile from "kings" to the present
equivalent of "big men" (or women?) and tribal elders.
my opinion, the Ohio Hopewell peoples lived in ranked societies.
Larger social units were ranked with respect to each other, and
individuals were ranked within these units. The relative rankings
of groups and individuals could and did change through time. Large
social units pooled resources for some social purposes such as
great ceremonies. The composition of these large groups varied
as polities of varying sizes and complexities waxed and waned within
the several river valleys. These polities were all loosely united
by a common culture. Their relationships with each other were tied
closely to the varying prestige of local leaders who combined political,
religious, and some economic functions. The authority of these
leaders rested upon general social custom, persuasion, and their
Abilities were needed and recognized, frequently by special apparel
or access to unusual items. The leaders of the local groups probably
spent much time negotiating new glories for themselves and their
groups in great ceremonies which these leaders personally initiated
or which were part of the generally accepted cycles. Great monuments
were raised for great public causes and celebrations. The raising
of these monuments records intergroup cooperation, quite probably
tinged by the competition of intragroup pride.
Brief comments on Hopewell art
A major element of the Ohio Hopewell art style which appears in
a variety of media is two dimensionality. This can be noted on
both three dimensional (e.g. Slides 41, 90, 97) and essentially
two dimensional artifacts (e.g. Slides 67 72).
Another important style element is symmetry. Simple bilateral
symmetry is common (e.g. Slides 44, 45, 46, 49, 69, 80, 90). The
mirroring of designs is also found in separate pieces apparently
used together (e.g. Slides 72, 75, 99, 100). More complicated symmetries
occur. Some of these can be seen in the unique set of copper cutouts
found in Mound 25, Hopewell Site (Slides 67 69).
In decorations and depictions, zones of plain and filled areas
are commonly juxtaposed. Areas are filled by parallel lines (Slide
41), cross hatching (e.g. Slides 42, 47, 99), or rocker stamping.
A similar type of contrast is seen in images formed using both
positive and negative space (e.g. Slides 67, 98).
motifs include oval to tear drop shaped loops (e.g. Slides 47,
81, 98, 100), "comma" or "9 shapes (e.g. Slides
47, 67, 69), and many circular forms.
The images portrayed in all media can be realistic, abstract,
or conventionalized. Most, if not all, of the animals on which
the various effigies are based could have actually been seen in
southern Ohio during Hopewell times. Some images are modified with
one or two mythic or symbolic elements (e.g. Slides 77, 86, 94).
Some become extremely complex (e.g. Slides 67, 98, 100). The intricacy
of the latter easily lead to many possible interpretations of the
actual images intended.
very distinctive characteristic of Ohio Hopewell artifacts is
a large measure of individuality in form and in execution. Many
well known objects such as the mica effigy hand seen here are unique.
Others not shown include the frequently depicted ear spool (one
of a pair) decorated with a quartered circle design. Variations
on this particular design are found on many objects from other
cultures and times into the historic periods. However, it is quite
clear that the particular symbolic interpretations of this design
are as variable as its depictions both in North America and elsewhere.
Ohio Hopewell versions are known mainly from the Hopewell Site
where they have been found on copper, bone and other shell or bone
like materials. Some variations in executions on copper are shown
in Slides 50, 67, and 68. Two copper swastika designs, which were
part of a unique deposit (Slides 67 69) are probably stylistically
related to quartered circle designs. Apparently in the large specimen
the arms "rotate" clockwise; in the smaller, counter
clockwise. The circular symbol on the small human effigy pipe from
Edwin Harness is also quite likely a related design motif (Slide
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