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Hopewell Culture Definition

            “Hopewell culture” is not the name of any tribe of American Indians, although the people whose art and architecture are encompassed by that name certainly were ancestors of contemporary American Indians.  It is a term of convenience archaeologists have adopted to refer to groups who lived in Ohio and surrounding regions during the period from 100 B.C. to A.D. 400 and who made certain kinds of artifacts and built certain kinds of earthworks.  The name is derived from the name of the person who owned the land on which an especially important archaeological site was located.  The original “Hopewell site” is in Ross County just west of Chillicothe.  It was owned by Mordecai Hopewell when archaeologists investigated the site in the late 1800s.  As archaeologists began to recognize broad regional patterns in styles of artifacts and architecture, they defined an archaeological culture and named it after this site.

It is likely that what archaeologists call the Hopewell culture actually encompassed several distinctive tribal groups across Eastern North America;  and many modern tribes of the Eastern Woodlands undoubtedly are descended from people whom archaeologists would call “Hopewell culture.”  Some American Indians object to the use of the name of a European American to designate an ancient American Indian culture, but no widely accepted alternative name currently is available.  The name was not chosen to honor Mordecai Hopewell in particular.  It is standard archaeological practice to name sites after the landowner’s name and to name cultures after a “type site,” that is, a site that is thought to be especially representative of what defines the culture.

 

      The Hopewell site 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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