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Tremper Mound and Earthworks

From Ohio History Central

The Tremper Mound and Earthworks are located in Scioto County, Ohio about five miles north of Portsmouth on a plateau overlooking the Scioto River. The Hopewell culture (100 B.C. to 500 A.D.) -- an archaeological periodization pre-contact American Indian people based on shared cultures and technologies -- are thoughts to have built the Tremper Mound and many of the earthworks in the Portsmouth area.

The Tremper Earthworks included an earthen enclosure roughly in the shape of an oval with flattened sides. The oval was 480 feet by 407 feet with an opening in the southwestern part of the enclosure. At the center of the enclosure was a large, irregularly-shaped mound. Some people believed it was an effigy mound built in the shape of an animal, such as a tapir or even an elephant. Neither of these creatures lived in North America at the time the mound was built. It is still not clear if the mound had been built as an effigy.

William C. Mills, of the Ohio Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection), excavated the Tremper Mound in 1915. At the base of the mound, he discovered numerous postmolds that revealed the outline of an ancient wooden structure 200 feet long by 100 feet wide. The pattern of postmolds showed that there had been a main building with several smaller chambers at the eastern end.

The most significant discovery made at Tremper Mound was a collection of more than 500 objects that had been deliberately broken up and left in one of the eastern side chambers. Included in this deposit were 136 smoking pipes, most of which had been made from catlinite or pipestone. Ninety of these were effigy pipes and were carefully sculpted in the shapes of a variety of creatures. Some of the pipes look like hawks, owls, herons, and cranes. Other pipes resemble bears, wolves, dogs, beavers, cougars, otters, and turtles. American Indian spiritual leaders may have used these pipes, and the animals may represent an individual's guardian spirit. All of these pipes apparently were gathered together, smashed to bits, and buried beneath this mound.

Until recently, it was thought the pipestone used to make the Tremper pipes had been quarried from Ohio pipestone outcrops across the Scioto River from Tremper Mound. Scientific tests now have established that most of the pipes are made from Sterling pipestone from northwestern Illinois.

The Tremper Mound and Earthworks site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Many of the Tremper pipes have been restored and are on display at the Ohio Historical Center in Columbus.

Learn more about our effort to inscript several Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks sites (in Ross County, Licking County, and Warren County) to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

See Also


  1. Byers, A. Martin. The Ohio Hopewell Episode: Paradigm Lost and Paradigm Gained. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2004.
  2. Carr, Christopher, and D. Troy Case, eds. Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2005.
  3. Dancey, William S., and Paul J. Pacheco. Ohio Hopewell Community Organization. Kent State University Press, 1997.

  1. Pangea Productions. Searching for the Great Hopewell Road. N.p.: Pangea Productions, 1998.
  2. Warriner, Gray, producer. Legacy of the Mound Builders. Seattle, WA: Camera One for the National Park Service and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, 1994.
  3. 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.