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The Hopewell Culture

  The "Hopewell culture" is an archaeological culture defined on the basis of certain kinds of artifacts, architecture, and cultural practices that occurred in southern and central Ohio (and other regions of eastern North America) from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 400.  The people, whose sites are attributed to this culture, were farmers, fishers, hunters, and gatherers of wild plant foods.  They lived in small villages scattered along the major tributaries of the Ohio River – especially the Great and Little Miami, the Scioto and Muskingum rivers. They cleared patches of forest in which to plant their gardens of maygrass, knotweed, goosefoot, sumpweed, sunflower, and squash.  When the soil became less productive they abandoned the garden and cleared a neighboring section of forest to plant their crops.  The abandoned plots were soon overgrown with berry bushes.  The Hopewell picked the berries and hunted the deer that also were attracted by the luscious fruits.  Dee Anne Wymer, an archaeologist who specializes in studying the plant foods used by the Hopewell people, thinks they were "sophisticated farmers and managers of their environment."

            The Hopewell culture is best known for their gigantic earthen mounds and enclosures and for the magnificent works of art they crafted from materials gleaned from the ends of their world:  copper from the upper Great Lakes, mica from the Carolinas, shells from the Gulf of Mexico, and obsidian -- a black volcanic glass -- from the Rocky Mountains.  These exotic materials may have come to Ohio as valued commodities in a network of trade, but we have little evidence for what the Hopewell culture traders might have given in exchange.  Knives and bladelets made from Ohio's beautiful Flint Ridge flint are found scattered throughout eastern North America, but not in the quantities that would suggest a fair trade for the bushels of mica and copper found at Ohio Hopewell sites.

            The Hopewell culture built many monumental ceremonial centers.  There were, for example, major earthwork complexes at Marietta, Portsmouth, and near Cincinnati;  and nowhere was there a greater abundance and diversity of mounds and enclosures than along the Scioto River and Paint Creek valleys near Chillicothe.  But the Newark Earthworks represent the grandest architectural achievement of the Hopewell.
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            The Hopewell culture website is now owned by the National Park Service and is administered by Hopewell Culture National Historical Park [http://www.nps.gov/hocu/].









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