For more than two hundred years this has puzzled everyone who has encountered the legacy of the Mound Builders. From statesmen, professors and anthropologists, to early pioneers in the valley and farmers who have mounds dotting their fields, all of them wondered what the people were like who had created the formations. The one thing they were certain of is that whoever had created it all must not have been anything like the Native Americans they were encountering. Indeed those Native Americans could tell them nothing about, as Rev. Gatch put it, the "powerful and ingenious" people that had once occupied the area. It was clear then and remains clear today that these people must have been able to organize into hard working assemblies to build such massive earthworks and mounds, but as Gatch put in in 1832, "the enquiry is, who hath performed all this"?
The Mound Builders can be roughly broken down into three groups. The Adena came first, populating the area from about 1000BC to about 1BC, the Hopewell came next, and thrived until about 500AD. The Ft. Ancient culture came next, and they inhabited the region until about 1500AD, and then they disappeared.
Then, as native populations began to become displaced in the East, Algonquin speaking people like the Shawnee moved into the area. They were here when the first Europeans arrived, but knew nothing of the Mound Builders who had preceded them. And so it remained a mystery.
Well in 1901 that all changed. That year a farmer near Chillicothe, Ohio named Joseph Froehlich contacted the Ohio Historical Society to remove a mound on his land. The mound itself was 26 feet tall and 140 feet in diameter. It was located near the Scioto River, another favorite of the Mound Builders. He wanted it removed because, like many mounds and earthworks, it was located in choice farm land, and the farmer wanted the space.
The mound in the cornfield, pre excavation, 1901
I dont know why this guy called the Ohio Historical Society to do this but thankfully he did. Most people just took care of it themselves and destroyed the site in the process. So the mound was excavated that year by a team led by William C. Mills, curator and later director of the Ohio Historical Society Museum.
Mills and his team discovered that the mound had built in two phases, and while both layers contained artifacts, the oldest layer yielded the most. And among the thirty three burials the team encountered, they discovered an artifact so spectacular, it has been named the State Artifact of Ohio. It is a pipe, made of Ohio Pipestone (what else?) and it is in the form of an Adena man. Or at least we think he is Adena based on the mound, location, etc.
Front and back shots of the Adena Pipe, now in the collection of the Ohio Historical Society.
The pipe depicts a man wearing a patterned loin cloth and large ear spools. He is also wearing a feather bustle and some sort of head dress. It is 8" long, and the mouth piece is on the top of the head and the bowl is between the feet.
Here is a great shot of the pipe in mid-excavation
We know that these ear spools were worn because many made of copper have been found in excavations.
The pattern on the loincloth is similar to patterns found on tablet excavated from a mound in present-day downtown Cincinnati during the 19th century.
You can see the loincloth better here, and the tablet.
Very few human effigies have ever been uncovered, and none that I have ever seen or heard of is as detailed as this.
Now, if you have not read my post on The Turner Works along Round Bottom Road, you might want to do that now because I dont want to re-cap the whole site here. But it was at the Turner site during several excavations performed by Harvard University around the turn of the last century that several terra cotta figurines were found depicting "individuals or types of the same people", as Charles Willoughby put it. They were found in the remains of an altar buried in one of the mounds and Willoughby called them "the most interesting objects from this altar. No doubt, Willoughby.
He went on to say "there is every reason to believe that the artists who fashioned them belonged to the group of people that resided here." So now we have several figurines representing different members of a Hopewell community. But what did they show us about the way these people looked and dressed and ornamented themselves? All of the figurines were broken into fragments, probably in the heat of a fire on the altar. I will show three examples of actual figurines, plus drawings of them restored with Willoughby's notes.
"This Man wears a belt, breech-cloth and large ear ornaments, His fore-knot (hair tied in a knot near the front of his head) is bound with a fillet, which is carried around the back of his head. His foot coverings consist of moccasins with short leggings attached. The upper edge of the legging is scalloped. The moccasin proper has the U-shape inset characteristic of northern Algonquin and neighboring tribes."
"The seated figure represents a warrior with the sides of his head shaved, leaving a ridge of short hair extending across the crown from front to back, a method of arrangement characteristic of the warriors of the Pawnee, Sac and Fox, and various other tribes."
"This is 6 1/2" in height and represents a matron dressed in a short blanket-skirt, and low foot coverings in the general form of the woven shoes from the Kentucky caves. The hair is neatly parted, and gathered in a chignon at the back of the head. The ears are not pierced. The whole skirt is colored a dull red, and traces of paint may be seen on other parts of the figure. The eyeballs show traces of white and the lips are colored red. It seems probable that the whole effigy was originally carefully painted. The skirt is short and reaches nearly to the knees. It is the type worn by the Natchez and other tribes of the South, and is in the form of a long narrow blanket, wrapped around the hips, one corner being tucked in at the waistline at the back to hold it into place, as shown in the back of the drawing."
So now we have some idea of at least three types of Hopewell people who lived in along the Little Miami. It is interesting to see the similarities between their shoes and clothing and other, later tribes of Native people, but more interesting to see the differences; men with ear ornaments and women without, men's hair knotted above the forehead, etc. One of the figurines, a male, has his arms crossed over his abdomen. Some of the investigating team believe these figurines could have represented a mortuary scene, with the man with the crossed arms representing the corpse, and the other figurines having been placed around the corpse figure.
Also I thought I should explain two items of clothing that were mentioned- the breech cloth and the moccasins from the Kentucky caves. Here is an example of each:
There were several photos of people actually wearing a breech-cloth. As a reader, you should be glad I didn't use any of those.
I think we are so fortunate to have these images that give us at least a partial glimpse into the way they looked and dressed. We have no way to know if this would only be ceremonial dress or common, every day wear. It is likely that they had many images of people in perishable form, possibly painted on skins or cloth, but all of that is lost to time. Only the objects made of stone can endure.
Do you know of anything to do with the Mound Builders in this area? I still have a lot I need to cover, but I'm always looking for new places, especially mounds on private land that may have been forgotten. If you have any ideas for me, please leave a comment or shoot me an email!