Mounds and earthworks along the Scioto River, no doubt the work of many human hands, make us wonder. Who made them? How long have they stood? What role did they play in the lives of their builders?
Beginning in the late 1700s, settlers from the eastern states migrating to the Ohio Valley found hundreds of mounds and earthworks. The Shawnee and other American Indian peoples of the region apparently knew little of the builders. Many tried to solve the mystery of the mounds. Some thought that the moundbuilders must be a "lost race" who vanished before the Indians of historic times arrived.
In the 1840s Ephraim G. Squier, a Chillicothe newspaper editor, and Edwin H. Davis, a Chillicothe physician, systematically mapped the mounds and documented what was found inside them. The Smithsonian Institution published Squier and Davis's findings in the 1848 Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Through later scientific studies, the "lost race" notion was laid to rest. The Hopewell peoplesAmerican Indians who lived between 2,200 and 1,500 years agowere recognized as the architects and builders of the mounds.
The Hopewell were named for Capt. Mordecai Hopewell, who owned the farm where part of an extensive earthwork site was excavated in 1891. The Hopewell settled along riverbanks in present-day Ohio and in other regions between the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico. Excavations of dwelling sites show that they made their living by hunting, gathering, gardening, and trading.
No one lived at the earthworks; artifacts found inside reveal that some of the mounds were built primarily to cover burials. A mound was typically built in stages: A wooden structure containing a clay platform was probably the scene of funeral ceremonies and other gatherings. The dead were either cremated or buried on-site. Objects of copper, stone, shell, and bone were placed near the remains. After many such ceremonies the structure was burned or dismantled, and the entire site was covered with a large mound of earth. Wall-like earthworks sometimes surrounded groups of mounds. Squier and Davis named one site Mound City because of its unusual concentration of mounds, at least 23, encircled by a low earthen wall. During World War I Mound City was covered by part of an army training facility, Camp Sherman, and many of the mounds were destroyed. The Ohio Historical and Archaeological Society conducted excavation and restoration work in 1920-21. In 1923 the Mound City Group was declared a national monument.
The National Park Service conducted additional excavations in the 1960s and '70s. In 1992 Mound City Group became Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, which also includes four other sites in the region: High Bank Works, Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group, and Seip Earthworks. As you walk the grounds of Mound City, remember that although we know of the Hopewell peoples primarily through the way they memorialized their dead, their world was very much alive.
The Hopewell World
Imagine Mound City 2,000 years ago: On a midsummer day, young men spear fish while women and children scoop mussels from the riverbank and pick berries. A toolmaker sharpens new flint bladelets. Nearby a potter mixes grit into clay in order to strengthen it for forming into a bowl. An elderly man secures a deerskin cover over a bent-pole structure that serves as a dwelling. Nettle fibers are drying in the sun; they will be twisted into fiber for fabric. Artisans, using copper and mica newly obtained in trade, fashion ornaments for use in a ceremony at the earthworks under construction on the bluffs overhead.
Archeological excavations at Hopewell habitation sites provide a wealth of information about daily life long ago. Middens and trash sites indicate that Hopewell peoples hunted, fished, and gathered wild foods, supplementing their diet with cultivated plants. Patterns of small holes outline the sites of dwellings constructed of bent poles and covered with skins, mats, or bark. Food processing areas marked by large, deep storage pits, earth ovens, and shallow basins are often found outside these structures. Many habitation sites were probably occupied year-round for several years before being vacated when firewood and other local resources ran out.
Scattered groups probably gathered at the major earthwork centers seasonally and for important occasions: feasting, trading, presenting gifts, marriages, competitions, mourning ceremonies, and of course, mound construction. Tools and ornaments used in and worn for these occasions were often made of materials obtained in trade: copper and silver from near the Great Lakes, obsidian (volcanic glass) from a site in present-day Yellowstone National Park, sharks' teeth and seashells from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and mica from the southern Appalachian Mountains. Artisans fashioned these raw materials into fine objects that have been found under the mounds.
By about 1,500 years ago the Hopewell way of life had ended. Within a few hundred years new societies emerged along the Mississippi River and its tributaries. These groups were more fully agricultural and politically more structured. Only the great mounds and earthworks remained as monuments to the once-flourishing Hopewell world.
The Sites of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
Mound City Group
Location: Three miles north of Chillicothe on State
Hopewell Mound Group
Location: A few miles west of Chillicothe along
Sulphur Lick Road, near the Intersection with Maple Grove Road. It lies
along the north fork of Paint Creek.
Location: On U.S. Route 50, 17 miles west of
Chillicothe, between Bourneville and Bainbridge.
High Bank Works
Hours and Activities The park visitor center, located at Mound City Group, is on State Route 104, two miles north of U.S. 35 and three miles north of Chillicothe. The visitor center is open seven days a week. It is closed on Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. with extended hours in summer. The grounds close at dark.
Mound City has a small picnic area. Food, campgrounds, and lodging are available nearby. Regularly scheduled programs are held throughout the year. For a calendar of events or to receive the park's newsletter, please write to the park or visit our website at www.nps.gov/hocu. Please arrange group tours and school tours in advance of your visit.
For a Safe Visit Watch your children. The Scioto River is swift and deep, so please remain behind the railing. • Poison ivy is plentiful along the trails and in wooded areas. • Watch your footing in grassy areas and do not run. Ground squirrels dig holes that can trip the unwary. • Be alert to changing weather. Thunderstorms are common in spring and summer.
Other Hopewell Sites in Ohio: Mound City is just one of many Hopewell earthwork centers in the Scioto Valley. The Ohio Historical Society maintains a number of these sites. For more information about Ohio Historical Society sites, visit www.ohiohistory.org.
Source: NPS Brochure (2015)
Brochures ◆ Site Bulletins ◆ Trading Cards
A Pilot Study: 2006 Land Cover Baseline Report for Hopewell Culture National Historic Park NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2014/618 (Jennifer L. Haack-Gaynor, February 2014)
Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (E.G. Squier and E.H. Davis, 1848)
Art and Burials in Ancient Ohio: A Tour of the Mound City Necropolis (Eastern National Park & Monument Association, undated)
Bird Community Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio: 2005-2007 Status Report NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR-2008/101 (David G. Peitz, September 2008)
Bird Community Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio: Status Report NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS-2012/232 (David G. Peitz, January 2012)
Bird Community Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio: Status Report NPS Natural Resource Data Series NPS/HTLN/NRDS-2015/998 (David G. Peitz, December 2015)
Geologic Resources Inventory Report, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/NRPC/GRD/NRR-2013/640 (T.L. Thornberry-Ehrlich, March 2013)
Guide to Serpent Mound (Emerson F. Greenman, 1964, The Ohio Historical Society)
Hopewell Archeology: The Newsletter of Hopewell Archeology in the Ohio River Valley
Invasive Exotic Plant Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Year 1 (2008) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRTR—2008/148 (Craig C. Young, Jennifer L. Haack and Melanie S. Weber, December 2008)
Invasive Exotic Plant Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Year 2 (2011) NPS Natural Resource Technical Report NPS/HTLN/NRDS—2012/346 (Craig C. Young, Jordan C. Bell, Chad S. Gross and Ashley D. Dunkle, July 2012)
Invasive Exotic Plant Monitoring (Year 3) for Hopewell Culture National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HTLN/NRR—2016/1117 (Craig C. Young, Jennifer L. Haack-Gaynor and Jordan C. Bell, January 2016)
Mound City: The Archaeology of a Renowned Ohio Hopewell Mound Center Midwest Archeological Center Special Report No. 6 (James A. Brown, rev. ed. 2017)
National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form
Mound City Group National Monument (David Arbogast and Jill M. York, March 7, 1976, July 1, 1982)
Natural Resource Condition Assessment, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HOCU/NRR-2020/2179 (David S. Jones, Roy Cook, John Sovell, Matt Ley, Hannah Shepler, David Weinzimmer and Carolos Linares, October 2020)
People Who Came Before: The Hopewell Culture Curriculum Guide (Rebecca Jones, Anne Gibson, Cathy Nelson and Mecca Caron, 1999)
2012 Breeding Bird Survey Results for Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (David G. Peitz, undated)
2013 Breeding Bird Survey Results for Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (David G. Peitz, undated)
2016 Monitoring Summary for Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (David G. Peitz, undated)
Bird Monitoring at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (March 10, 2017)
Results of the 2014 Birding Efforts at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio (David W. Londe, undated)
Vegetation Classification and Mapping of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio: Project Report NPS Natural Resource Report NPS/HOCU/NRR—2014/793 (David D. Diamond, Lee F. Elliott, Michael D. DeBacker, Kevin M. James, Dyanna L. Pursell, Alicia Struckhoff, April 2014)
Handbooks ◆ Books
Last Updated: 11-Aug-2021