Hopewell Culture

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OHS AL02824.jpg
Effigy of a hawk claw cut from sheet mica, Ohio Hopewell culture, 100 BC-500 AD. Excavated from Hopewell Mound Group, Ross County, Ohio ca. 1922-1925. The Hopewell obtained mica from western North Carolina. Archeologists are not certain how they used mica cut outs. This object is held in the Ohio History Connection Archaeology Collection.

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) -- archaeologists mark this new cultural period as the Hopewell culture. "Hopewell culture," thus, doesn't refer to a specific tribe; instead, the designation refers to an artifactually-observed culture and way of life that seems to have developed simultaneous across the great Midwest -- from Nebraska to Mississippi, Indiana to Minnesota, and from Virginia to the Hopewell culture's epicenter inOhio. In Ohio, Hopewell cultural forms and infleunces were strongest in the Southeastern region of the state, including the Ohio Valley, the Scioto Valley, and the Miami Valley. Typically, tribes identified as being a part of the Hopewell culture tended to reside 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 -- peoples identified with the Hopewell culture instead resided 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. Like previous cultures in the region, Hopewell-influenced communities gained sustenance and supplies through techniques including: hunting and gathering and farming. However, the Hopewell culture was set apart by its strong focus on agricultural settlement. These societies emphasized planting indigenous seeds that were abundant in the fertile regions where villages were settled. Some of the major plants cultivated by Hopewell communities include: sunflower, squash, and maygrass. The switch from a concentration on hunting to that of agriculture represented the official birth of mass farming within the American Indian network.

Archaeologists also define Hopewell communities by their intricate trading system. Routes connected communities 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 used by historians to earmark the period. 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. Hopewell cultural groups created a number of earthworks in varying forms, ranging 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. Archaeologists hypothesize is that there was a cultural collapse within the communities, as the succeeding settlements showed signs of a large-scale societal transition to larger, permanent, more isolated communities. Also, technological developments -- including 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. Earthen mounds became less prominent and the trading routes diminished in this period; but the legacy of the Hopewell cultures can still be seen 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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. 
  7. Charles, Douglas K. and Jane E. Buikstra, editors, Recreating Hopewell.  Gainesville, University Press of Florida, 2006.