Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Location: Cillicothe, Ohio

Webpage: National Park

General Description: From about 200 BC to AD 500, the Ohio River Valley was a central area of the prehistoric Hopewell culture.  The culture is characterized by the construction of earthen enclosures, often built in geometric patterns and mounds of various sizes and shapes.  These enclosures dot the landscape of south central Ohio, some in the valleys and others on hilltops.  Due to agriculture since Ohio was colonized in the 1700s most of the valley enclosures have been leveled and farmed, although evidence of them are today coming to light through aerial photographs and ground penetrating radar.  The best examples are a dozen known hilltop enclosures and a few in the valleys that were either inaccessible or had mounds to large to remove.  The best examples of these make up the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park along with some Ohio State Archeological Sites.  The Historical Park consists of five units: Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks, Hopeton Earthworks, and High Banks Works.  The High Banks Works and Hopeton Earthworks are currently closed to the public for ongoing archeological research.  The Visitor Center is located at the Mound City Group which is believed to be the oldest of the sites in the Park.  The Mound City Group consists of 23 mounds, each of which is a charnel house where remains would be interred following cremation.  After a number of burials the house would either be dismantled or burned and then covered over with dirt creating the mound.  The mounds vary in size and shape within a roughly square earthen enclosure.  This site does not have the geometric shapes found at other sites leading to the hypothesis that it maybe one of the original sites of the Hopewell culture.  The Hopewell Mound Group is a larger site and includes some geometric shapes such as circles and squares within the earthen mound enclosure.  The High Banks Works and Hopeton Earthworks include a large circle and square constructs, however, the Seip Earthworks include two large circles and a square that is more typical of the later Hopewell Culture sites.  The square at this site and other Hopewell sites such as Works East, Frankfort Earthworks, Liberty Works, and Baum Earthworks are all the same size measuring 1080 feet on a side.  The large circle circumscribes the square and the smaller circle has the same diameter and the radius of the large circle.  The relative placement of these large earthen structures varied from site to site but the exact measurements suggest the Hopewell Indians had a standard unit of measurement.  There is also evidence of large wooden stonehenge structures at most of the sites to indicate astronomical knowledge and purpose as well.

Brochure

Impressions:

1) The Visitor Center is relatively small consisting of a short video about the Hopewell Culture and artifacts and a small museum with a number of artifact reproductions that have been found at the sites in the Historical Park.  The artifacts demonstrate the wide trading network with copper from the Great Lakes, seashells from both the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts.

2) The Mound City Group is an amazing site consisting of 23 mounds, of which only about a dozen are still visible, surrounded by an earthen wall averaging about 5 feet high.  There are interpretive signs by the larger mounds that provided information about its use as a burial mound and the artifacts found there.  There is also a nice path that leads to some overlooks of the Scioto River and circles through the woods outside the earthen walls.

3) The most striking feature of the Seip Earthworks is the very large central mound, the third largest burial mound built by the Hopewell Indians.  It is 30 feet tall and measures 240 by 160 feet.  It covers the floor, fire pits, and burials of two very large connected buildings with a small building between them.  The sheer size of the mound saved it from destruction by agriculture and is a small part of this very large site.  NPS maintains a mowed path that follows the earthen walls around the two circles and square that make up the site.  By walking these paths you get a good sense of the sheer size of the site.  Agriculture has reduced these walls to mere remnants with just a few sections of the walls near the old farmhouse still there today.

4) We did not visit the Hopewell Mound Group and the other two sites are currently closed to the public.