19 June 2014

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park + Jarrod Burks presentation

Hopewell Mound Group, as mapped by
Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis, published in 1848
Today we went to the primary site for the Middle Woodland societies known as the Hopewell Tradition: the Hopewell Cultural National National Historic Park in Chillicothe, Ohio. I'm beginning to appreciate the extent that manmade earthworks—mounds, earthen enclosures, and ditches, some lined to hold water—covered the landscape, particularly in Ross County, of Ohio.

In the Ohio River Valley, the Early Woodland society known as the Adena culture flourished from 1000–200 BCE. This culture evolved into the the Middle Woodland cultural tradition known as Hopewell, who flourished from 200 BCE to 500 CE. The trade network of the Hopewellian Exchange, while originating in Ohio, ultimately spanned from Canada to the Gulf Coast.

This little redwing blackbird is one seriously angry bird.
First we visited the Hopewell Mound Group on a tour led by Dr. Brett Ruby, who has also studied Hopewell sites in Indiana and Tennessee. He said that vegetation management is the park's greatest challenge. Ohio is incredibly lush. Since the earthen enclosures of the Hopewell Mound Group are no longer clearly visible, the park mowed a large swath into the foliage to reveal where the earthworks once stood. From north to south, the enclosures run 2,800 feet.

In 1891, three connected mounds were excavated and many of the Hopewell artifacts in museums today came from these burial mounds. All the other mounds at the site were excavated several times in subsequent years.

Copper repoussé, possibly representing a Carolina parakeet
The Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park maintains a number of close but not adjacent sites. We drove to the immense Siep Mound. Mound City is next to the museum includes 23 mounds, enclosed by earthen embankments with openings at regular intervals. The US Army destroyed most of these mounds in WWI, so they have been rebuilt. A walkway leads down to the nearby Scioto River.

The interpretative center has numerous artifacts and reproductions on display, including mica cut-outs, copper repoussé objects, ear spools, shell bead necklaces, and the characteristic effigy platforms pipes for which Hopewellian artists are so famous.

Muskrat (?) swimming in the Scioto River
Jarrod Burks gave a presentation to a packed house about his success mapping ancient earthworks with remote sensing technologies. These include LiDAR, Light Detection and Ranging, which allows earthworks to be seen through forest canopies, and the magnetometer, which through variations in the magnetic fields can sense underground trenches. Through walking carefully over a site with a magnetometer, either handheld or rolled, Burks can create a map of the underground site, which reveals ditches, earthworks, and post holes.

Remote sensing technologies are extremely exciting developments since they allow archaeologists to glean valuable information about sites, without disturbing burials or sacred sites by excavating them. Tribal archaeologists often couple remote sensing with surface collection, since both are non-intrusive, allowing tribes to know about their ancestors without disrespecting them.

Siep Mound

Mound City—these mounds have all been reconstructed