A Novel Set in the Ancient Hopewell Civilization

Greetings all, I have been a fan of this site for years, but have not been a frequent poster.  I thought readers of this site might be interested in my first novel, The Copper Tale, an adventure set within the moundbuilding civilization often referred to now as the “Hopewell Complex.”  I hope you enjoy it! The e-version is available on Amazon here: http://www.amazon.com/The-Copp… ,

and the paperback is here: https://www.createspace.com/41…  

Ancient America: Ocmulgee

Some time before 900 CE, people begin migrating into what will become present-day Georgia from the area around the Mississippi River near present-day St. Louis. Culturally, archaeologists consider these immigrants to be Mississippian people and they know that this is a migration because the material culture they bring with them (and the material culture they leave behind for archaeologists to study) is completely different from that of earlier peoples. This material culture included a different style of pottery, different burial practices, and, most evident, a totally different architecture.

Mississippian Map

About 900 CE, Mississippian immigrants established the village of Ocmulgee which included a series of large earthen mounds for public ceremonies. Large earthen mounds-actually pyramids built from earth-were characteristic of Mississippian culture. Public ceremonies were carried out on top of these mounds in view of the people who gathered in the plaza below.

Ocmulgee 1940

A temple mound as it appeared in 1940 is shown above.

Ocmulgee Temple Mound

A current view of the Great Temple Mound is shown above.

Ocmulgee Ceramics

Shown above is a pottery vessel with a lid in the shape of a human head which was found at Ocmulgee. In addition, pipes and necklaces from the site are also in the display.

There are a total of seven mounds at Ocmulgee. The tallest mound, known today as the Great Temple Mound, is 55 feet high. Archaeologists using magnetometer scans have found that this mound had a spiraling staircase which was oriented toward the floodplain. This staircase is unique among the many Mississippian culture sites.

The temple mounds at Ocmulgee, as at other Mississippian sites, have a flat top where a rectangular wooden building was constructed. In addition to temple mounds there were also burial mounds.

During the height of occupation at Ocmulgee (950 to 1150), the population was socially stratified. Subsistence was provided by skilled farmers whose crops of corns, beans, and squash provided enough surplus to support a religious and political elite population. The elite leaders supervised the construction of the large, earthen mounds. The dirt for these mounds was carried by hand, transported in woven baskets.

The most distinctive feature of the village is the subterranean earth lodge which is about 42 feet in diameter. On the floor of the council house is a raised earthen platform shaped like a falcon with its head oriented toward the fire pit in the center of the building. Molded seats (47 in all) on the platform provided seating for the leaders.

Ocmulgee Earthlodge

Shown above is the entrance to the reconstructed earth lodge at Ocmulgee National Monument.  

Ocmulgee Fireplace

Shown above is the fireplace in the reconstructed earth lodge.

In the council house (called a “temple” by some of today’s writers) there is a recessed basin at every seat. This basin is used as an individual vomitaria during the Black Drink ceremony in which vomiting is used for purification. The Black Drink is an active and powerful diuretic which was consumed before important meetings as its purgative influences freed the participants’ bodies from all hindrance to thought and thus prepared them for serious and careful discussion. The drink was made from the leaves of the cassina shrub. Consuming the Black Drink provided physiological effects due to massive doses of caffeine.

The town of Ocmulgee was abandoned by the Mississippian people about 1200 CE. As the Mississippian culture in the area declined, a new cultural tradition coalesced a short distance downstream from Ocmulgee. Called the Lamar Phase by archaeologists, and flourishing by 1350 CE, the Lamar Mounds and Village Site has two mounds.

At the present time, the Ocmulgee National Monument occupies a 702-acre site located on the east bank of the Ocmulgee River. In 1934, the National Park service designated Ocmulgee as a site for federal protection. In 1936, the Ocmulgee National Monument was formally established as an historic unit of the National Park Service. In 1996 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 1997, the National Park Service designated the Ocmulgee National Monument as a Traditional Cultural Property. This was the first Traditional Cultural Property designated east of the Mississippi River. At the present time, the Ocmulgee National Monument has a visitor center which includes an archaeological museum. The museum displays artifacts and interprets the pre-contact Native American cultures of the area.

Ocmulgee Desk

Ancient America: Moundville, Alabama

Mississippian is a cultural complex whose hearth appears to be in the American Bottom area near the Mississippi River in Illinois. It is characterized by: tempered clay pottery, square houses, and pyramidal mounds. By a thousand years ago, this complex was moving into Alabama.  

About 1050 CE, Mississippian people were building a village at the Moundville Site in west-central Alabama. The village had a well-planned mound-plaza layout and wall-trench architecture. The Moundville residents produced shell-tempered pottery and had some degree of social rank differentiation.

Moundville site

An artist’s rendition of the site is shown above. This is from the Moundville Archaeological Park website.

Moundville was built on a high terrace and was thus immune to flooding. It would eventually grow to contain 32 earthen mounds, 21 of which were truncated pyramids arranged around a single large quadrilateral plaza. Mound A measures 60 by 107 meters and is 6.7 m high; and Mound B measures 59 by 107 meters and is 17.9 m high.

Moundville Mounds

Mound A is shown in the center of the picture above. It is looking from mound J to mound B.

The mounds were built up in stages, somewhat like a layer cake fashion. There would be episodes of destruction in which the structure on top of the mound would be destroyed and burned. Then there would be purification by the burial of the old surface. The continual rebuilding of the mounds was an expressive act and mounds are an aspect of Mississippian expressive culture.

As farmers, the people of Moundville were raising corn, squash, sunflower, chenopod, maygrass, little barley, and beans. About 40% of their calories came from corn. They were also gathering a wide variety of wild foods, including hickory nuts, acorns, persimmon, and grapes.

Meat was obtained by fishing and hunting. While deer was the main animal which they hunted, they also hunted beaver, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, and turtle. About 25% of their protein came from fish. Upper class people and men tended to eat more meat than other people.

Moundville houses were rectangular wattle-and-daub structures. Two construction techniques were used to build the houses. For some of the houses, the wall posts were individually set in the ground. For other houses, a basin was dug and the walls were set within the basin. In both techniques, flexed poles were used to support the roof.

Moundville was surrounded by numerous very small settlements without mounds, usually called farmsteads. In addition, there were about a dozen single mound sites in the area. These were probably elite residences subordinate to Moundville.

With regard to art, the pottery was often incised with bird effigies. It was not uncommon for a bird to have the head and neck of a heron and the tongue and fanlike tail of a woodpecker. The eagle and the feathered serpent were also common motifs.

moundville pots

Some pottery from the site is shown above.

Moundville Bowl

A bowl from the site is shown above.

About 1200 CE, a palisade was built around the ceremonial center of Moundville and a large number of people moved inside the walls. The population of the center at this time is estimated at 1,000. Moundville was a planned community and grew quickly after the palisade was erected. It eventually sprawled over 370 acres and included 20 mounds.

The Indian people at Moundville were from two different social classes. The elite group made up about five percent of the population and was hereditary. The town was divided into distinct areas for settlement, mounds, and craft production. Craft production continued at Moundville with non-local chert, greenstone, and mica being worked. In addition, craftspeople were working with sheet copper, galena, and various kinds of pigments.

Moundville Engraved Stone

An engraved stone from the site is shown above.

The Indian people at Moundville were practicing head-flattening at this time. Infants were strapped to wooden cradle boards with leather thongs and this resulted in a flattened (elongated) or deformed skull.

About 1250, the population of Moundville began to shrink as the outlying villages increased in size. However, the number of burials within Moundville increased and the town became a necropolis: a large cemetery controlled by the elites who lived on top of the mounds. Moundville residents acted as funeral directors.

By about 1300, the population of the ceremonial center of Moundville declined further. Moundville became an almost vacant ceremonial center occupied primarily by the chiefly elite.

Archaeologists have offered three possible reasons for the depopulation: (1) a conscious decision to empty the center to enhance the sanctity of it, (2) soil depletion and exhaustion of wood resources, and (3) a lessening of the threat of attack with the population dispersing to unfortified towns.

In 1400, two achondropolastic dwarfs-a male who was 50 inches tall and a female who was nearly 47 inches tall-were buried at Moundville. Both had been relatively healthy individuals and were 40-45 years of age at the time of their burial. Both of them showed the flattening to the backs of their skulls, the common result of being strapped to a cradleboard. Both had been functional members of the society and were probably related.

After 1400, many of the mounds at the necropolis of Moundville were abandoned and only a handful of people remained.

Today, Moundville Archaeological Park is a public facility owned by the University of Alabama. It has an onsite museum. Their website describes the museum this way:

Today, the museum combines the latest technology with more than 200 stunning artifacts to describe one of the most significant Native American archaeological sites in the United States. Outside, visitors are greeted by symbols of the Native American culture mounted on enormous wooden heraldic poles. Inside, visitors will find life-size figures displaying the clothing and jewelry of Mississippian cultures, ceremonial feather decorations hand-sewn by Native-American artists, stunning pottery and other artworks placed in display cases that light up when recorded narratives talk about them and three-dimensional, moving depiction of a Native American maker of medicine who appears in a reconstructed earthlodge, taking them on a journey into the afterlife.

website: http://moundville.ua.edu/?page…

Moundville Museum

The Moundville Museum is shown above. The photo is from their website.

Mound and pit

A mound and its barrow pit is shown above. This photo is from the Park’s website.  

Ancient America: Adena

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About 3,000 years ago, the Indian people living in the Ohio River valley in southern Ohio and northern Kentucky began building burial mounds. Archaeologists would later call these people Adena and define this cultural tradition by its burial mounds, its public structures, and the development of long-distance trade. The Adena people often built their mounds in prominent places. Archaeologists feel that their mounds served as important landmarks for nearby dispersed populations.

Adena Mounta 1

Adena sites include large earthworks in which ridges of earth are thrown up in circles, squares, pentagons, and sometimes irregular shapes. These can be as large as 328 feet in diameter. One of the most characteristic Adena earthworks is the sacred circle or sacred enclosure. While most of these enclosures are circular, they were also constructed  in square, rectangular, elliptical, crescentic, panduriform, or hexagonal forms.

The most famous Adena mound is the Serpent Mound located on Brush Creek near Peebles, Ohio. While the distance from the snake’s head to its tail is about 800 feet, the curving snake itself is 1,300 linear feet. The earthwork forming this effigy was more than four feet high and about 20 feet in width. The mouth of the snake is wide open. Within the mouth is an oval-shaped object. The snake’s tail is wound into a triple coil. Some people feel that the object in the snake’s mouth represents the sun, since there is a Native American legend that the sun was once swallowed by a snake.

The Adena mounds contain many graves and the Adena seem to have had an almost obsessive preoccupation with honoring the dead. Adena people intentionally built their burial mounds away from their residences and at the boundaries of neighboring communities. They would return to the same mounds year after year to bury their dead and to pay homage to their ancestors.

Adena Mound 2

The Adena people built circular houses which ranged from 18 to 60 feet in diameter. The posts for the house walls were angled outward so that water did pool at the base of the walls. The roofs were cone-shaped and covered with bark. In many cases, the central portion of the house would be left without a roof forming an open central courtyard.

Adena material culture includes stone and bone tools, copper beads, and distinctive tubular pipes. They also carved stone tablets with intricate zoomorphic designs or curvilinear designs which were buried with the dead. The carvings were done in deep relief. These tablets were usually 4 or 5 inches by 3 or 4 inches and about a half inch think. Traces of pigment have been found on some of these stones: they may have been used to stamp designs upon some flat surface, perhaps bark cloth or deerskin. Some archaeologists have suggested that the designs stamped on skin could have been used as outlines for tattoos.

The Adena people also fashioned bracelets from copper. The bracelets were usually made from a nearly circular rod which was then bent into an elliptical form with its free ends nearly touching. The bracelets were made from a single nugget of native copper. To make the bracelet, the copper nugget was hammered into a thin sheet and then rolled into a cylinder. This cylinder was then bent to form the bracelet. In addition to copper bracelets, the Adena people also made copper rings in a similar fashion.

Adena people used the fine-grained siltstone which is found in the area for making pipes. Siltstone was an excellent material for making pipes since it was easily drilled and carved. It also had a nice sheen when polished. They made both tubular pipes and platform pipes. The platform pipes often have a sculpture, usually an animal, at one end.

While the Adena people hunted a variety of game animals, they also gathered and cultivated a number of plants including sunflower, marsh elder, goosefoot, maygrass, pigweed, squash, and barley.

Adena people had cranial deformation caused by the use of the cradleboard during infancy. On the average, Adena males were 5’6″ tall and the females were 5’2 ½” tall

Archaeologists have documented more than 500 Adena sites in a geographic area from Ohio to the Atlantic coast. About 200 BCE, the Hopewell culture began to replace the Adena culture.  

Ancient America: Misconceptions about Moundbuilders

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As the first Europeans began to move into the Ohio River valley area, they found numerous ancient earthen mounds. Many refused to believe that these had been built by Indians, or even the ancestors of Indians. As a consequence, many stories were created crediting the construction of the mounds to Aztecs, Egyptians, Phoenicians, and even vanished races.

Adena Mounta 1

In 1784, Thomas Jefferson dug out a small, twelve-foot high mound on his property near the Rivanna River in Virginia. He uncovered several layers of burials and concluded that the mound had been the work of the present Indians’ ancestors. For many people, this excavation marks the beginning of scientific archaeology in the Americas.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson published his Notes on the State of Virginia which examined the origins of native people in the area. The book included a description of his excavations of an Indian mound near his home. Jefferson felt that American Indians had arrived at this continent from Asia, that they had arrived speaking only one language, and that, once here, their language had divided into a thousand different languages. He also postulated that Indians had been on the continent for an immense length of time. His views were attacked and he was called “a howling atheist.”

In response to Jefferson’s claims about the mounds, Benjamin Smith Barton published a book in which he claimed that the great mounds in Ohio had been built by Vikings and the Vikings had then journeyed south where they had become Toltecs.

In a 1792 work celebrating the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, Jeremy Belknap wrote of the Mound Builders:

“The form and materials of these works seem to indicate the existence of a race of men in a stage of improvement superior to those natives of whom we or our fathers have had any knowledge; who had different ideas of convenience and utility; who were more patient of labour, and better acquainted with the art of defence.”

In the book Tour into the Territory Northwest of the Alleghany Mountains, published in 1805, the Reverend Thaddeus M. Harris claimed that the mounds and earthworks in Ohio were too great an engineering feat to have been built by Indians. He put forth the idea that they must have been built by a superior race, such as the Toltecs. Archaeologist Robert Silverberg notes:

“No people, civilized or savage, could be considered to be native to the Americas by those who took the Bible literally. The Bible spoke of just one act of creation, which took place in the Garden of Eden. Eden was thought to be in Asia, and Asia must thus have been the homeland of America’s red men, as it was of all human beings.”

The American Antiquarian Society published Caleb Atwater’s systematic investigation of the earthwork mounds in the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys in 1820. He saw these earthworks as evidence of an occupation of a sedentary, law-abiding people who were later replaced by more recent immigrants from Asia who became the present-day American Indians. While he provided accurate descriptions of many sites, he suggested that “Hindoos” had actually built them.

In an 1830 address to Congress, President Andrew Jackson said:

“In the monuments and fortresses of an unknown people, spread over extensive regions of the west, we behold the memorials of a once powerful race, which was exterminated, or had disappeared, to make room for the existing savage tribes.”

If this early civilization was destroyed by the ancestors of the Creek and Cherokee, Jackson reasoned, then they deserve no better fate themselves.

In 1835, American settlers in the Crawfish River area in Wisconsin noticed the ancient flat-topped mounds of an abandoned Mississippian village and assumed that they could not have been built by local Indians. In keeping with current scholarship, they assumed that the mounds were the work of the Aztec or other Mexican Indians and so they named the site Aztalan.

The Smithsonian Institute published Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis which provided a record of the mounds as they appeared in 1847.  It contains finely executed maps and detailed measurements. While Squier and Davis had set out to avoid speculation, they still theorized that the mounds had been built by a civilized, pre-Indian race which had been forced to migrate southward because of incessant attacks by hostile savage hordes.

In 1848, Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis surveyed and mapped Ohio’s Serpent Mound earthworks. This ancient effigy is nearly a quarter mile long which has been described as “a flawlessly modeled serpent, forever slithering northward.”

In 1850, Increase Lapham studied the ruins at Aztalan for the American Antiquarian Society and concluded that the mounds were made by the ancestors of modern Indians. He urged that the site be protected.

The president of the Chicago Academy of Sciences declared in 1873 that the idea that Indians constructed the great mounds of the Mississippi river drainage was “preposterous.”

In 1891 the Bureau of American Ethnography published a scientific report on the many mounds and earthworks in North America which attributed their construction to American Indians. This was an important institutional expression on the question of the identity of the builders of the mounds, and as such it carried much weight.

Adena Mound 2

Ancient America: Hopewell

Our American and Canadian heritage begins long before Columbus supposedly “discovered” the Americas. For thousands of years people have lived in North America and they built cities and towns which were, and still are, architectural wonders. About 2,200 years ago, the Indian people living in the Ohio and Mississippi areas began a new cultural complex which archaeologists would later call Hopewell. One of the outstanding characteristics of the Hopewell culture is the earthen mounds. Typical Hopewell mounds are 12 meters high and about 30 meters across at the base. Earthworks, which sometimes exceed 500 meters in diameter, were constructed in circular, square, rectangular, and octagonal shapes.

Hopewell is sometimes called a civilization without cities. The people settled in small farmsteads and hamlets within hailing distance of one another. Their settlements were spread out along the floodplains and terraces or they were loosely clustered in the upland areas.

The size and complexity of the mounds provide insights into Hopewell planning, engineering skills, and social organization. The mounds and other archeological evidence show that Hopewell people had a highly developed social organization that included class structure and a division of labor, with specialists like metal workers, artists, and traders. In addition, they had leaders of hereditary rank and privileges, a strong religious system, and control over cooperative labor.

The Hopewell mounds appear to have been ceremonial centers, places where people were buried. In addition to mortuary ceremonies, they were probably also used for other ceremonies.  These ceremonies provided an opportunity for the people living in scattered villages to come together.

A second major characteristic of Hopewell was the flowering of artistic creation at this time. The Hopewell people not only made many useful items, but they made artifacts that were beautiful. They decorated their pottery with both dentate-stamping and rocker-stamping. Their pottery often had cross-hatched rim decorations and zoned decorations.

In addition to pots, the Hopewell people also made pottery figurines, usually depicting humans.

Another characteristic Hopewell artifact was their platform smoking pipes. These pipes were sometimes carved with animal and bird effigies.

For personal decoration, the Hopewell people made pottery rings, ear spools from both copper and stone, and copper headpieces. They often used antlers to indicate chiefly or leadership status.

Another interesting Hopewell artifact is the Hopewell Hand: a hand which was carved from mica and buried in a mound in Ohio.  

While it is common to characterize Indian people prior to the arrival of the Europeans as “stone age” people, the Hopewell made many different artifacts from copper. Their copper artifacts included musical instruments such as panpipes, cutting tools such as copper celts, copper needles, and beads made from both copper and from meteoric iron. In addition to working with copper, the Hopewell artists also made some objects from gold and silver.

Like other Indian cultures, the Hopewell were not isolated from the rest of North America. The Hopewell trading network spread west to Yellowstone Park in Wyoming, north to Ontario, Canada, and south to the Gulf of Mexico. Trade goods included copper from the Lake Superior area, mica from the southern Appalachians, obsidian and grizzly bear teeth from Wyoming and Montana, and marine shells from both the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. It is clear from the distribution of these goods that some network, either social or religious, must have existed for this exchange to take place.

As evidence of this wide trading network, Hopewell graves in Illinois, Michigan, and Illinois contain such items as conch shells from the Gulf Coast, shark teeth from the ocean, and pipes with alligator effigies.  

Hopewell influence stretched from Minnesota in the north to Mississippi in the south, from Nebraska in the west to Virginia in the east. This does not mean that Hopewell was an empire, or even a political confederation of tribes. Rather, Hopewell as probably one of the first Pan-Indian religious movements whose artistic style and ideas influenced many other cultures stretching from Mississippi to Minnesota, from Nebraska to Virginia.

Hopewell influenced the mound-building cultures of the southeast. The Mandeville site in Georgia displays clear evidence for participation in the so Hopewell Interaction Sphere (the area of Hopewell influence). Artifacts at the site which are identified as Hopewell include copper panpipes, copper ear spools, mica, platform pipes, ceramic figurines, galena, and “Flint Ridge” blades.

At Mandeville, the Hopewell tradition was reinterpreted by the local culture. Part of this local reinterpretation of the Hopewell tradition apparently consisted of the construction of small platform mounds for ritual practices.

The Mandeville site was abandoned about 300 CE. At this time there was a decrease in Hopewell influence in the region. The abandonment appears to have been part of a larger shift in settlement in the lower Chattahoochee River Valley.

The mounds and other features show that the Hopewellians had a highly developed social organization. This probably included a class structure and a division of labor, with specialists like metal workers, artists, and traders; leaders of hereditary rank and privileges; a strong religious system; and direction over cooperative labor.

While the Hopewell did raise some corn, this was not their most important food source. They raised a number of indigenous crops, such as sunflowers, marsh elder, squash, little barley, erect knotweed, maygrass, and stumpweed. They also got much of their food from gathering wild plants, from hunting and from fishing. For fishing, they made fishhooks from both copper and bone.

Hopewell villages tended to be located in areas which were good for growing native crops. Usually their settlements were dispersed along stream and river valley corridors. Their villages generally did not appear to have any overall community plan.

While there are no clear connections between Hopewell and contemporary Indian tribes, many of the cultural traditions of the Iroquois tribes seem to be linked to Hopewell. The Iroquois, like the Hopewell, use antlers as the metaphor for chiefly office. Similarly, both groups use a weeping-eye motif in their art.