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Earthen Mounds

The Hopewell Culture (c. 2300 B.c.c. A.d. 400)

Probably descended from the Adena tradition, the Hopewell culture originated in southern Illinois. Major Hopewell settlements are also found in Ohio, as well as New York, Ontario, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.

Like Adena mounds, Hopewell mounds are conical, but some are also dome-shaped. They average 20-30 ft (6-9 m) high and are often found in clusters enclosed by artificially constructed ridges that may be circular, square, or octagonal. Mounds often were part of large social and religious complexes built on elevated areas, usually near a river valley. Because of their enormous size, their construction often required hundreds of workers, who laboriously scooped the earth with clamshell hoes and large animal bones and then carried it back to the mound in baskets and skin aprons. Many of these workers may have been women.

Most Hopewell were cremated, with burial usually reserved for higher-ranking members of society. When it came time for the funeral ceremony, the body was clothed in colorful garments covered with pearls, bear-teeth buttons, and other ornaments. Around the body were placed elaborate grave goods: cups made from giant sea snails; platform pipes decorated with birds of prey, beavers, cougars, toads, or bears; geometric or animal shapes carved out of mica (a silicon-containing mineral that divides into thin, partially transparent layers); panpipes; weapons; and many other objects. Wood carvings were deliberately broken, perhaps as a form of ceremonial sacrifice. Members of the deceased's family may also have been ritually sacrificed and buried at his side, to accompany him on his journey to the next world.

The Hopewell also continued the practice of placing bones in mortuaries known as charnel houses, some extending for more than 200 ft (61 m) and containing individual compartments. The houses were then burned, and a mound was constructed over the remains.


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