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Lost Civilizations:
Prehistoric Mound City Group

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The Mound City Group Earthworks of the Hopewell Tradition

In prehistoric times in the broad expanse of land between the Ohio River and the Mississippi River an ancient and powerful culture flourished. This was a culture of builders, artisans, and warriors. This was a society that left a nearly indelible imprint on the land through there massive and enigmatic earthworks.

This civilization thrived in the same historical time period as the Mayans and Aztecs.

This mysterious culture built elaborate dwellings and lived in large, well defended villages and they built even more extensive and elaborate ceremonial complexes. Archeological evidence suggests that they lived under a sophisticated hierarchical social structure of rulers, priests or shamans, soldiers, and citizens.

This civilization also maintained extensive trade routes, trading goods and raw materials with people as far away as the Pacific Northwest and down the Mississippi river system to what is now the Gulf of Mexico.

The earthworks preserved here at the Mound City Group were not the elements of cities. This was a place of high ceremony, including the sacred rituals related to the burial of the dead.

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The academics investigating these sites in the early 1890's knew nothing of who these mysterious people were. Even native Americans living at the time knew little of the ancient ones.

However, since the first scientific studies began on a farm owned by a man named Hopewell, the mysterious culture was simply named the Hopewell.

To many people living in the United States today, the story, or even the existence of the Hopewell culture may seem strange indeed.

After all, we are told so frequently that the Americas are "The New World" and as such has no ancient cultures to speak of, that we begin to believe it. Quite frankly, this is a period of time in North America that is not frequently addressed in the U.S. history books.

The Hopewell Necropolis

The Hopewell Necropolis at Mound City Group National Park

The Mound City Group is a large Hopewell culture ceremonial center dating back to approximately 100 BC to AD 500. It is located in Ross County Ohio, along the Scioto River, which is a primary tributary of the Ohio River.

The Mound City Group consists of 24 burial mounds framed by a large earthen enclosure in the shape of a square with gently rounded corners. The enclosure, referred to as the necropolis, is 2,050 feet across and the walls are about three feet high.

Visiting in the still of the day, sit quietly and it is quite easy to imagine a funerary procession slowly paddling its way down river to this sacred site. You can nearly see shamans and mourners in full regalia, and hear the murmur of voices in prayer, the sounds of drums, chimes and flutes, and you can, if you try, smell the acrid smoke wafting through the air.

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Preparing for the Hopewell Afterlife:

The Hopewell buried their dead with large quantities of beautifully made articles (artifacts). These items often included necklaces of fresh water pearls, objects made of copper, beautiful flint tools, artistically made pottery and intricately carved stone pipes.

Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis of Chillicothe excavated several of the mounds in the 1800s.

They made a number of remarkable discoveries, including a deposit of more than 200 animal effigy pipes. Their collection is now at the British Museum

Hopewell Mortuary Practices:

The Hopewell cremated most of their deceased. Burial of the body appears to have been reserved for only the most important people.

At several sites, the burial goods interred with the bodies suggest that hunters received a high status in the community.

Very much like every other ancient (or modern) culture in the world, the ruling class also received high-status and elaborate burials.


Hopewell is Merely an Archaeological Identifier:

The Hopewell culture is not the name of an American Indian tribe.

No one really knows what these ancient people may have called themselves.

The Hopewell is an "adopted" identifier of archaeological convenience that helps to classify similarities in artifact style, architecture, and other cultural practices that distinguish the Hopewell culture from earlier and later cultures in the region.

Hopewell Culture Artifacts:

Hopewell Pottery

A highly decorated example of Hopewell pottery on exhibit at the Mound City Group.

Raven Effigy Hopewell Pipe

A Raven effigy pipe. This finely carved 2,000 year old stone pipe is a classic example of the sophistication and high-art of the
Hopewell culture.

Hopewell Mica Hand Effigy

A Hopewell Ceremonial Object. This human hand effigy is cut from mica which came from (what is now) the Carolina region through ancient trade routes.

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