Hopewell Culture

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Human Hand Effigy.jpg
Human Hand Effigy, Hopewell Culture, Hopewell Mound Group, Ross Co., A 283/000294

Around 200 B.C, the beginning of the Middle Woodland period, a new Native American culture developed that spread throughout the Midwest (then known as the Eastern Woodland) identified as Hopewell. There was not a specific tribe that can accredited with the establishment of the Hopewell principles, instead Hopewell is more of a culture and way of life that was experienced throughout multiple areas spanning from places including: Nebraska to Mississippi, Indiana to Minnesota, Virginia to the epicenter area of Ohio. Specifically in Ohio the culture was heavily influential in the Southeastern region that consists of the Ohio Valley, the Scioto Valley, and the Miami Valley. Typically Hopewell tribes resided near major waterways and abundantly resourced rivers to support their agricultural lifestyle and expand the complex trading system they were cultivating.

A Hopewell cultured settlement was generally smaller in size and temporary, instead residing in one area for a certain amount of time before relocating to discover fresher resources and advance trading routes. These miniscule hamlets consisted of only a few rectangular homes with thatched roofs and daub walls. As preceding tribes did before the Hopewell communities gained sustenance and supplies through techniques including: hunting and gathering and farming. One definitive practice that represents the Hopewell culture was the focus on an agricultural system. These societies emphasized planting indigenous seeds that were abundant in the fertile regions where the villages resided in. Some of the major plants they cultivated included: sunflower, squash, and maygrass. The switch from a concentration on hunting to that of agriculture represented the official birth of mass farming within the Native American network.

The Hopewell communities are also defined by their intricate trading system. Routes connected societies all throughout the Eastern region, linking distant areas such as the Great Lakes to Florida so that tribes were able to obtain and utilize exotic goods not found within their settlements. The system was arranged so that those peoples residing at the important locations of the trading channel would receive a variety of resources from all connecting regions, then they either shipped those exotic goods to different areas or developed finished products such as tools to transport using local dispatching systems. Hopewell art was considered some of the finest created during that era because they had access to a variety of resources and were not limited by regional assets. With varying resources to utilize, the Hopewell culture allowed the sustaining of an artisan class that could specialize in developing different arts and tools. Much of the art that was produced depicted a multitude of animals (deer, bear, and birds were the most popular) and in many cases animal effigies were used to depict the guardian spirit of a shaman. The Hopewell culture coincided with the introduction to shapes such as bowls and jars so imprints of figures were also placed on pottery. In the communities residing in Ohio, copper, mica, and obsidian were three dominant exotic goods that the tribes desired.

Architecture is the prominent representation of the Hopewell culture. Earthworks and burial mounds which were used for a multitude of ceremonies such as religious practices and funerals were discovered intact throughout the Midwestern region; these mounds provide insight to this relatively unknown lifestyle. There was a variety of earthworks created that ranged from geometric complexes, hilltop enclosures, and conical mounds which could be found around fertile rivers or stream valleys. Many of them, considered to be used for burial purposes, were filled with a varied amount of exotic goods which demonstrated a possible hierarchical system within the community. The most prominent example of Hopewell burial mounds can be found in Chillicothe, Ohio at the Mound City Group. Ohio is considered to be the epicenter for the most impressive Hopewell earthworks.

Around 400 A.D Hopewell culture began to decline for an unknown reason. The prediction is that there was a cultural collapse within the communities as the succeeding settlements showed signs of a lifestyle switch to larger, permanent, more isolated societies. Also, the introduction of the bow and arrow made for a shift in hunting, gathering, and war which may have forced Hopewell societies to become more secluded for survival. Mounds became less prominent and the trading routes diminished but the legacy of the Hopewell people can still be viewed today.

See Also


  1. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005. 
  2. Byers, A. Martin. The Ohio Hopewell Episode: Paradigm Lost and Paradigm Gained. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2004.
  3. Carr, Christopher, and D. Troy Case, eds. Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2005.
  4. Dancey, William S., and Paul J. Pacheco. Ohio Hopewell Community Organization. Kent State University Press, 1997.

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  1. Earthworks Virtual Explorations of Ancient Newark, Ohio. The Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites. Cincinnati, OH: Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites, 2005.
  2. 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. 
  3. Charles, Douglas K. and Jane E. Buikstra, editors, Recreating Hopewell.  Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2006.