Adena Culture

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OHS AL05217.jpg
Painting from the Ancient Ohio art series depicting an Early Woodland/Adena (800 BC - AD 1) gathering at a ceremonial earthwork in the Hocking River Valley.

800 B.C. to A.D. 1

The "Adena culture" is an archaeological term used to broadly indicate a pre-contact Native American group that lived in southern Ohio and neighboring regions of West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana during the Early Woodland Period. They were the first people in this region to settle down in small villages, cultivate crops, use pottery vessels, acquire exotic raw materials, such as copper and marine shell, to make ornaments and jewelry, and bury their honored dead in conical burial mounds.

This transition from a purely hunting and gathering way of life to a more settled farming way of life sometimes is referred to as the "Neolithic Revolution," but in Ohio, the process was more evolutionary than revolutionary. The Late Archaic ancestors of the Adena already had begun to gather intensively many of the plants that would become the staple crops in the Early Woodland Period and they occasionally made pottery and used copper and shell to make ornaments.

The Adena grew a variety of plants in their gardens, including squash, sunflower, sumpweed, goosefoot, knotweed, and maygrass. This set of native plants often is referred to as the Eastern Agricultural Complex. The Ohio and Mississippi Valleys were one of only seven regions in the world where people turned local plants into the basis for a food-producing economy. The consequences of this change in how people made a living would be far-reaching.

The Adena lived in small villages near their gardens, but they likely moved frequently as they continued to follow a hunting and gathering way of life, which they supplemented with the harvest from their gardens. Adena pottery consisted of large, thick-walled vessels that likely were used to cook the ground-up seeds of the Eastern Agricultural Complex into a gruel- something like oatmeal.

The Adena cemented their ties to particular regions by burying their dead in prominent mounds that may have served as territorial markers. Sometimes the mounds would be accompanied by small, circular earthen enclosures that surrounded ritual spaces. The Miamisburg Mound, in Montgomery County, is the largest example of an Adena burial mound in Ohio.

By 100 B.C., some of the Adena groups had begun to build larger earthworks and expand their efforts to acquire exotic raw materials. These groups became the Hopewell culture, but many people continued to follow the old ways and in some regions, such as southwestern Ohio, the Adena culture persisted well into the 1st century A.D.

It is important to emphasize that the Adena culture is not the name of a Native American tribe. We do not know what these people might have called themselves, or how they affiliated. "Adena Culture" is a term of archaeological convenience that encompasses similarities in artifact style, architecture, and other cultural practices that distinguish the Adena culture from earlier and later cultures in the region. The name comes from the name of the estate of Governor Thomas Worthington in Chillicothe. A large mound on this property was called the Adena Mound. Since this mound site exemplified all the significant features of the culture, it became the "type site" and the name of the site was applied to the entire culture. 

See Also


  1. Woodward, Susan L., and Jerry N. McDonald. Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Mounds and Earthworks of the Adena, Hopewell, Cole, and Fort Ancient People. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 
  2. Abrams, Elliot M. and Ann Corinne Freter. Emergence Of Moundbuilders: Archaeology Of Tribal Societies In Southeastern Ohio. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 2005.
  3. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.