OHIO’S BARNESVILLE TRACK ROCKS STUDIED BY ROCK ART EXPERT

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Sketch of the Barnesville Track Rocks made by Charles Whittlesey (1872).

The Barnesville Track Rocks are a panel of rock art located in Belmont County, Ohio. They are owned and protected by the Archaeological Conservancy.

According to the National Register nomination, the petroglyphs  were carved by the Adena culture, but James Swauger, author of the definitive book Petroglyphs of Ohio, argued persuasively that all of Ohio’s rock art was carved “later rather than earlier during the eight hundred and fifty years of the Late Prehistoric Period, say during the five hundred and fifty years from A.D. 1200 to about A.D. 1750.”

In recent years, there have been reports of depictions of mammoths, mastodons or elephants at Barnesville. This would be surprising for two reasons. First, these creatures would have been unknown to the American Indians of the Late Prehistoric Period so, if authentic, they must date to an earlier period — perhaps the Paleoindian Period when people lived alongside both mastodons and mammoths.

Another reason they are surprising is that these elephant carvings were not noticed by Charles Whittlesey and James Salisbury, who investigated the site in 1869. Nor were they recorded by James Swauger who studied the site during the 1970s. It’s possible these rather faint petroglyphs simply escaped the notice of these scholars, but it’s also possible they were added by someone since then.

It’s tremendously exciting to think that they could have been carved by Paleoindians, but a recent study reported in the Winter 2013-14 issue of the Archaeological Conservancy’s magazine American Archaeology indicates the elephant carvings have “a probable age of about one hundred years.” That means they fall into “the period of the other modern graffiti” at the site.

So, Ohio does not yet have a confirmed example of Ice Age art, but this doesn’t diminish the significance of the Barnesville Track Rocks, which are one of the most elaborate and well preserved petroglyph panels in the state.

Brad Lepper

WHO BUILT SERPENT MOUND?

CERHAS-Serpent

CERHAS rendering of Serpent Mound

Sometimes it seems like everything about Serpent Mound is shrouded in mystery — or at least controversy.

Just about everyone agrees that the mound does, indeed, represent a gigantic serpent, but beyond that the answers to even basic questions, such as who built it, still are being debated.

At the Midwest Archaeological Conference held last month in Columbus, Bill Romain presented a paper entitled “Serpent Mound Project Results 2013.” His co-authors included William Monaghan (Indiana University), Jarrod Burks (Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc.), Michael Zaleha (Wittenburg University), Karen Leone (Gray and Pape, Inc.), Tim Schilling (Midwest Archaeological Center), Al Tonetti (ASC Group), Matthew Purtill (Gray and Pape, Inc.) and Edward Herrmann (Indiana University).

The results presented by Bill were not limited to a discussion of the Serpent’s age, but since that’s the only aspect of his team’s work that I disagree with that’s the focus of my November column in the Columbus Dispatch and this blog post.

Bill has been arguing for years that the Serpent was built by the Hopewell culture. I have argued that it makes much more sense as a Fort Ancient culture effigy mound.

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View of the initial 1991 excavation into a previously disturbed portion of Serpent Mound interpreted as one of Putnam’s trenches. From left to right, DeeAnne Wymer, Terry Cameron, Brad Lepper, Robert Fletcher.

In 1991, I worked with a team of amateur and professional archaeologists that recovered bits of charcoal from the Serpent. The charcoal produced two radiocarbon dates both around A.D. 1120. This roughly corresponds to the age of the vast majority of other effigy mounds in eastern North America, including Ohio’s other effigy mound — Licking County’s so-called Alligator. Also, the art of this period throughout eastern North America is rich in serpent symbolism. So, even without the radiocarbon dates, Serpent Mound fits rather comfortably into the context of what was happening throughout eastern North America at about this same time.

I think it’s fair to say that, over the last two decades, this interpretation has become accepted by most North American archaeologists — but all scientific knowledge is provisional and subject to rejection or revision in the light of new data or better arguments.

In his presentation, Bill stated five principal reasons for thinking the Serpent was built by the Adena culture, circa 600 B.C. to A.D. 100:

1. As part of his team’s 2011 investigation, they recovered several bits of charcoal from soil cores, which produced radiocarbon ages that average around 300 B.C.

2. Serpent iconography is present in Adena and Hopewell art.

3. His team recovered no Fort Ancient artifacts in their soil cores.

4. He expressed the opinion that the radiocarbon dates obtained for the Serpent in 1991 do not relate to the original construction of the mound, because they came from near the surface and were either in a disturbed context or relate to a re-furbishing of the mound in Fort Ancient times.

5. The design of the mound appears to incorporate “Adena and Hopewell metrics.”

I’m not convinced by Bill’s arguments and here’s why:

1. The charcoal was not found in a secure context. The fragments Romain’s team recovered from soil cores may be from the Adena occupation that Putnam discovered at the site. The Fort Ancient builders of Serpent Mound may have dug into the buried remains of Adena cooking fires while excavating for the earth used to build the mound and then accidentally incorporated some of that charcoal into the mound.

2. Serpent imagery is virtually absent in Adena art. The only example Romain mentioned in his presentation was the vaguely serpentine pattern on the loin cloth of the man on the Adena Pipe. There are serpents in Hopewell art, but just about every other animal that lived in Ohio also is represented. Serpents appear to have been regarded by the Hopewell as, at best, just one among many potential spirit guardians.

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Sandstone palette engraved with two intertwined serpent monsters from a Mississippian mound in the state of Mississippi. Ohio Historical Society collections.

In contrast, serpents are a hugely important component of Mississippian symbolism. Especially important examples include rattlesnake palettes, rattlesnake engravings on shell gorgets, and the amazing Birger figurine.

Of course the Fort Ancient is not, strictly speaking, a Mississippian culture, but these people did live in a Mississippian world and to a greater or lesser extent they were active participants in that world and would have shared much of its cosmology.

3. It is unusual to recover artifacts in soil cores generally and anyway, Putnam didn’t report finding any artifacts at all in his excavation of the Serpent. Romain did not say whether his team recovered any Adena or Hopewell artifacts in their cores, but if he had I think he would have mentioned it.

4. The soil samples we recovered in 1991 and from which we obtained the charcoal that gave us the Fort Ancient dates were by no means from near the surface. Moreover, in our excavation profile we observed no evidence of any re-furbishing of the mound other than Putnam’s restorations in the 1880s. There was a distinct boundary between the intact mound deposits and the material added by Putnam, so we’re reasonably sure our samples came from deep within the original mound.

Photograph of the 1991 excavation into Serpent Mound compared to our stratigraphic profile. The darker layer at the top (including both strata I & II) is earth added by Putnam when he restored the mound. The light colored layer (including both strata III & IV) is the remnant of the original mound. The profile shows the locations of the two soil samples, 4A and 5A, from which we recovered charcoal. Both samples produced dates of around AD 1120. Modified from Figures 9 and 10 in Fletcher et al. 1996.

Photograph of the 1991 excavation into Serpent Mound compared to our stratigraphic profile. The darker layer at the top (including both strata I & II) is earth added by Putnam when he restored the mound. The light colored layer (including both strata III & IV) is the remnant of the original mound. The profile shows the locations of the two soil samples, 4A and 5A, from which we recovered charcoal. Both samples produced dates of around AD 1120. Modified from Figures 9 and 10 in Fletcher et al. 1996.

5. The alleged use of “Adena and Hopewell metrics” by the builders of Serpent Mound is an interesting, but controversial claim. Even if true, it would only demonstrate that the mound was built during or after the Adena and Hopewell eras. The modern foot appears to have been adopted in Europe in the early 12th century A.D. and structures incorporating this “Norman metric” are still being designed and built today.

So, who built Serpent Mound? We still don’t know for sure. Given our inability so far to recover and date charcoal clearly related to the construction of the mound, future investigations may attempt to resolve the controversy by using new dating techniques, such as Optically Stimulated Luminescence, to provide a definitive answer. Until that happens, I think the existing data point to the Fort Ancient culture as the most likely builders of the Great Serpent. If it’s an Adena mound it’s a wildly precocious anomaly, whereas if it’s a Fort Ancient mound, it is still an anomaly, but it’s not unprecedented — it fits within a broad, regional tradition of effigy mound building that includes Alligator Mound and the Kern stone serpent effigies located in the Little Miami Valley.

Timeline showing the overlap of radiocarbon dates for Serpent Mound, Alligator Mound and the hundreds of effigy mounds in the upper Midwest. The specific cultural connections between the Ohio mounds and those of Wisconsin and Iowa are not strong, but the people in Ohio could not have been entirely unaware of the revolution in mound-building taking place in the upper Mississippi valley. Graphic from Lepper 2001.

Timeline showing the overlap of radiocarbon dates for Serpent Mound, Alligator Mound and the hundreds of effigy mounds in the upper Midwest. The specific cultural connections between the Ohio mounds and those of Wisconsin and Iowa are not strong, but the people in Ohio could not have been entirely unaware of the revolution in mound-building taking place in the upper Mississippi valley. Graphic from Lepper 2001.

I look forward to reading the final report of the investigations by Romain’s team, which undoubtedly will include more data and a fuller presentation of their interpretations. Even if I end up still disagreeing with their assessment of the age of the Serpent, I am sure I will learn a lot that I didn’t know before about this amazing mound.

For further reading

Burks, Jarrod
2012 Ohio’s Great Serpent Mound surveyed. ISAP News 32, pp. 6-7.

Fletcher, Robert, Terry Cameron, Bradley T. Lepper, Dee Anne Wymer, and William Pickard
1996 Serpent Mound: a Fort Ancient icon? Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 21:105-143.

Lepper, Bradley T.
1998 Great Serpent. Timeline 15(5):30-45.

2001 Ohio’s Alligator. Timeline 18(2):18-25.

Lepper, Bradley T. and Tod A. Frolking
2003 Alligator Mound: geoarchaeological and iconographical interpretations of a Late Prehistoric effigy mound in central Ohio, USA. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13(2):147-167.

Romain, William F.
2000 The Serpent Mound. In Mysteries of the Hopewell: astronomers, geometers, and magicians of the eastern Woodlands, pp. 233-253. University of Akron Press.

Weintraub, Daniel and Kevin R. Schwarz
2013 Long shadows over the valley: findings from ASC Group’s excavations at Serpent Mound State Memorial. Current Research in Ohio Archaeology 2013.

Brad Lepper

RECENT ARCHAEOLOGICAL INVESTIGATIONS AT SERPENT MOUND

oac 1Daniel Weintraub and Kevin R. Schwartz present a summary of the results of the recent archaeological investigations undertaken at Serpent Mound by ASC Group Inc.

Their paper, “Long Shadows Over the Valley: Findings from ASC Group’s Excavations at Serpent Mound State Memorial” is available on the Ohio Archaeological Council’s website.

Kevin Schwartz and the ASC Group team uncovered traces left by the Adena culture, the Fort Ancient culture as well as artifacts from the historic era.

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The ASC Group, Inc. team conducting excavations at Serpent Mound. The large, conical Adena burial mound is in the background.

They conclude that “continued  excavations of the area surrounding Serpent Mound will yield additional discoveries with the potential to influence future interpretations about the mound and the inhabitants of the plateau.”

 

SOCIAL COMPLEXITY AND THE BOW IN ANCIENT OHIO

bow and arrowThe bow and arrow is so powerfully linked to popular stereotypes of American Indians that most people tend to refer to any flint point they come across as an arrowhead. Actually, the vast majority of flint points found across the Americas were spearpoints (or knives). The bow and arrow was a late invention and it didn’t show up in Ohio until A.D. 300 at the earliest. So the only stone points around for more than 90% of prehistory were spearpoints, not arrowheads.

The bow and arrow appears to have rapidly replaced the spear and atlatl (or spearthrower) across much of North America, so the new weapon system must have offered some clear advantages. Just exactly what those advantages were is a matter of some debate.Blitz 1

Regardless of precisely why the bow was preferred, a new theory proposes that its introduction changed just about everything for those ancient cultures who adopted it and, eventually, for those that didn’t. I review this new idea, known as Social Coercion Theory, in my August column in the Columbus Dispatch, but you can read all the gory details in the May/June 2013 issue of the journal Evolutionary Anthropology, which is largely devoted to evaluating the theory.

One of the articles in the issue considers what happened in eastern North America in the light of Social Coercion Theory. The authors, John Blitz and Erik Porth, conclude that the evidence fits the predictions of the theory: “In the Eastern Woodlands, the bow was a catalyst for the important social transformations of the Late Woodland period and a prerequisite for accelerating social complexity.”

Blitz and Porth describe the transition from spearpoints to early arrowheads, which were smaller than the spearpoints, but otherwise not much different, followed by the introduction of a more refined and specialized arrowhead that may have been introduced into the region from elsewhere. In the attached figure, I use flint points from the collections of the Ohio Historical Society to illustrate this sequence.

spearpoint and arrowheads

The Robbins spearpoint (A 82/000003.002) is typical of the late Adena culture, which dates from about 500 B.C. to A.D. 200. The specimen in the figure is 46 mm wide.

The Hopewell point (A 07/000031.002) is a smaller spearpoint typical of the Hopewell culture in Ohio from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 400. The specimen in the figure is 36 mm wide.

Blitz and Porth would regard the Chesser Notched point (A 1956/000019.003) as an early arrowhead. It dates to the Late Woodland period or between around A.D. 300 and 700. The design is clearly derived from the larger Hopewell spearpoints, but it is significantly smaller. This specimen is 23 mm wide.

The Madison point (A 1013/000015.002) is an example of a Late Woodland to Late Prehistoric arrowpoint. It dates to between A.D. 800 and 1450. According to Blitz and Porth, these refined triangular points have “no obvious indigenous prototypes or transitional forms” in the Ohio region. They speculate that they are derived from earlier triangular points from sites farther west. This specimen is 16 mm wide.

The Fort Ancient point (A 1929/000081.007) dates to between A.D. 1100 – 1450. It is 15 mm wide. According to Blitz and Porth, this point would be representative of a “new diversity of arrowpoint forms” that also seem to originate in the west – perhaps on the Great Plains. The serrations and barbs would have made the point difficult to extract from a wound suggesting it was intended mainly to be used against people. Certainly, there is increasing evidence for violent conflict during this period.

Blitz and Porth also see a link between the adoption of the bow and the increasing importance of maize as a staple food. John shared the following thoughts with me in an e-mail:

“Adoption of the bow gave families greater economic independence by changing hunting strategies so that fewer people were needed to hunt efficiently. This change allowed families to settle permanently in locations that had only been used as temporary foraging areas previously. However, over time, as the landscape filled and populations grew in Late Woodland times, people had to get more resources from smaller territories, or face conflict with their neighbors, made more deadly by the widespread use of the bow (and perhaps more powerful bows). So they began to intensify corn production to fill the need. Erik and I argue that this is why corn was merely a supplementary food for several centuries until rapidly expanded in the Late Woodland period in the Midwest.”

Ultimately, perhaps inevitably, the upward (or downward depending on your point of view) spiral of agricultural intensification and militarization – initiated by the adoption of the bow — resulted in the rise of centralized authority during the Mississippian period. And although there were no Mississippian temple mound centers in Ohio, Rob Cook’s research at SunWatchVillage in Dayton suggests it might only have been a matter of time before that level of socio-cultural complexity developed here, too. Of course we’ll never know what might have been, because the arrival of Europeans with their infamous guns, germs and steel violently derailed American Indian cultural history in the OhioValley.

The Social Coercion Theory is a compelling explanation for the rise of social complexity generally and it seems to work for the Eastern Woodlands. If you’re interested in the topic I recommend to your attention all the articles in the latest issue of Evolutionary Anthropology.

Brad Lepper

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IMPRESSIONS OF THE PAST AT DAYTON’S BOONSHOFT MUSEUM OF DISCOVERY

The Dayton Society of Natural History presents a new exhibit at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery showcasing ancient (and some not so ancient) ceramics. “Impressions of the Past: exploring the cultural properties of pottery” includes examples of Native American ceramic vessels from all over North and South America. It also features a focus on the pottery of Ohio’s SunWatch Village and a case of historic-era European-American ceramics.

The exhibit explores “the dual nature of pottery as both a functional tool and a symbolic representation of people and culture.”

Interspersed with the pottery are pieces from the Dayton Society of Natural History’s other collections, including beautiful samples of the minerals used to make the pigments used on the pots and taxidermy specimens of the animals that are featured as decorations on several of the pottery vessels.

The exhibit is a wonderful introduction to the importance of cermics in the lives of people across the Americas and through time.

Brad Lepper

THE ORIGINS OF AGRICULTURE IN EASTERN NORTH AMERICA

The Wilderness Center, a non-profit Nature Center and Land Trust, produces the Wild Ideas podcast. I am featured in the latest program discussing the origins of plant domestication in the Ohio Valley.

We frequently are taught that the reason ancient people decided to become farmers was to take advantage of the obvious benefits of being able to grow your own food rather than having to rely on what nature provided. You might be surprised, therefore, to learn that the benefits may not have been quite so obvious to hunters and gatherers.

In fact, the biologist Jared Diamond has written that humanity’s collective decision to shift from hunting and gathering to farming may have been the “worst mistake in the history of the human race.”

Check out the podcast to find out why.

Brad Lepper

ELSA RICAUD ON THE ANCIENT EARTHWORKS OF OHIO AND ST LOUIS

During the summer of 2012, Elsa Ricaudinitiated a study of the mounds and earthworks of eastern North America as part of a research project supported by a Richard Morris Hunt Fellowship sponsored by the American Architectural Foundation, the French Heritage Society and the group Lafarge.

According to the American Architectural Society website, “her interest lies in the preservation and maintenance of North American earthen architecture… She plans to survey pre-Columbian earthen heritage sites in the Mississippi, Missouri, and Ohio River valleys as well as pueblo and earthen heritage sites in the Four Corners region.”
As part of her project, she created a blog and has graciously allowed us to publish the following entry, which includes her observations on the on the Fort Ancient Earthworks and the Newark Earthworks.
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WEEK 6 : The Earthworks of Ohio and St-Louis (MO)
I left the Finger Lakes for Ohio, where several pre-Columbian cultures are referred to as the “mound builders,” because of the very large earthen mounds they built. The “Adena Culture” lived between about 1000 BC and AD 100, the Hopewell Culture between 100 BC and AD 400 and the “Mississippian Culture” between AD 800 and 1500.
Several of the Ohio Hopewell earthworks are on the World Heritage Tentative List. These geometric structures occupy a very large area of land. They were made for ceremonial and burial purposes attracting thousands of Natives Americans and were linked with astronomical observations and beliefs. One of the best sites to experience the extraordinary scale is the Newark Earthworks (Hopewell culture) where I had the pleasure to visit with Richard Shiels (Ohio State University) and Bradley Lepper (archaeologist – Ohio Historical Society).
I also visited the Fort Ancient site (also Hopewell Culture) with its huge earthen enclosure network. Here I walked the site with John Hancock (architect – University of Cincinnati). (Although the Fort Ancient Culture is named for the site, it is actually a Mississippian era culture.)
These pre-Columbian populations settled on fertile lands along tributaries of the Ohio River and also used the clayey soil to raise up their sacred shrines. Their burial mounds are usually conical and made of several layers of soil, clay and sand, alternating with  mortal remains, like the Mound City site (Hopewell Culture). Some of them also utilized sod. Some others are reinforced with stones, like the Serpent Mound (Fort Ancient Culture), a very long mound depicting a sacred snake, that I visited with Dave Kuehner (formerly the site manager).
Excavations at Fort Ancient revealed that the natives mastered several techniques to allow the waterproof quality of the ditches that might have held water, thanks to clay coatings. They also knew how to improve the coherence of the mounds, mixing together different kinds of soils and dried clay and also may have practiced some collective ceremonies that consisted of covering the ground of sacred spaces with clays of different colors, an action that we can consider as a metaphor of some present Indian Creation myths describing that humanity was made from the clay of a sacred hill. The Creek and the Shawnee tribes, considered as possible descendants of these pre-Columbian cultures, still believe in this myth and I saw, during my trip to New Mexico, that this social and religious aspect of collective clay coating, is also well established among the Puebloan tribes.
The dwellings around these ceremonial places were first dispersed (Hopewell Culture) and began to form villages under the Mississipian Culture. Excavations revealed that building techniques were quite similar from one culture to another and were based on a wooden frame with wattle-and-daub walls. I visited two sites showing this kind of house. The East St-Louis town, where I met Joe Galloy (archaeologist – Illinois State archaeological survey), is now under excavation because of highway contruction and is now considered as one of the main examples of Mississipian Culture towns. The second one, SunWatch Village, that I visited with Andrew Sawyer (archaeologist – site manager), is a reconstruction of a village of about the same period. Both of them show the archaeologists’ interesting deductions about building techniques, from very scarce clues like holes left by posts into the ground, or grassprints left into dried clay.
The recognition of these earthen sites as part of the national heritage is now accepted, but their conservation is still an important concern. The great Monks Mound platform at Cahokia (Mississipian Culture), that I visited with Joe Galloy (Research Coordinator), Mark Esarey (Site Manager) and William Iseminger (Assistant Site Manager), is considered as the largest earthen structure in the USA. Recurrent slumpings of its eastern side necessitated some technical enquiries to identify the best restoration process. Such excavations are often prone to tensions between scientists and Native Americans who still engage in prayer at these sites. But these relations are now more and more improved thanks to the use of nondestructive techniques such as ground penetrating radar or LiDAR.
Earthen mounds also have to be protected against erosion and invasive vegetation, so some are regularly burned and covered by a special grass developped by agronomists.
These earthen mounds can also be a source of inspiration for contemporary artists. The landscape design of the Cincinnati campus, that I visited with John Hancock  (architect – University of Cincinnati), was realized by the architect George Hargreaves, after he visited the Ohio earthen mounds. Thanks to a landscape vocabulary based on months, organic shaped embankments and holes, he managed to homogenize the heterogeneous architecture of the campus, and the result is relevant.
Elsa Ricaud, Richard Morris Hunt Fellow 2012

PERSISTENT PLACES

Archaeological landscapes have been compared to palimpsests — parchment pages from which the text has been scraped away to allow new layers of text to be added. With careful study, however, those old layers often can be recovered.
Some pages of Ohio’s landscape can appear to be blank — perhaps because not much happened there (I am reminded of the brass plaque my Dad attached to our house that read “On this site in 1897, nothing happened”) or possibly because geological processes have scoured away the traces of past human activity.
There are, however, certain places that, because of some special quality, have been written upon again and again throughout the millennia. The archaeologist Sarah Schlanger has written that the special qualities that draw people back again and again to, what she describes as, “persistent places” can be the result of either a feature of the natural landscape, such as the reliable presence of fresh water, or cultural modifications to a landscape that leave a lasting imprint and are, for whatever reasons, attractive to later generations.
Matthew Purtill’s new book, A Persistent Place:a landscape approach to the prehistoric archaeology of the Greenlee Tract in southern Ohio, presents the rich prehistory of an 85 acre swath of Adams County situated between the Ohio River and the steep-sided bluffs to the north. I summarize a bit of this prehistory in my September column in the Columbus Dispatch.
Purtill is an archaeologist who works for Gray and Pape, Inc., a Cincinnati-based Cultural Resource Management (CRM) firm. CRM archaeology refers to archaeological investigations conducted when projects that, at some level, include the involvement of the federal government potentially threaten archaeological sites that might prove to be nationally significant.
In the case of the Greenlee Tract, the property owner, Dayton Power and Light proposed to expand its fly-ash disposal fields beginning in the early 1990s. Archaeological investigations were undertaken presumably because the planned construction would take place along the Ohio River, a navigable waterway, and so U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permits were required.
Kevin Pape, the President of Gray and Pape, Inc., wrote in the Foreward to Purtill’s book that since around 1993, Gray and Pape has been working together with Dayton Power and Light “to balance the requirements of on-going power generation with the company’s commitment to stewardship of archaeological resources on station property.” The result, according to Pape, was “an opportunity seldom available to archaeologists working in the context of cultural resource management: singular focus on a suite of archaeological resources set in a location occupied across the span of 12,000 years.”
Purtill’s book represents the fruit of this partnership and everyone involved deserves to be congratulated. Most CRM archaeology reports are seldom seen by anyone outside a small circle of CRM professionals, but this book is accessible to a wide audience and deserves to be read by anyone interested in Ohio’s ancient history.
Curiously, Purtill concludes that “no single unifying quality or characteristic completely accounts for why groups persistently utilized this property. Instead, throughout its industrious prehistory, multiple factors account for why the Greenlee Tract was a destination for various groups.”
All of us should be grateful for the fortuitous confluence of factors that not only produced this persistent place, but also placed it in the hands of responsible corporate stewards and dedicated archaeologists who recovered these pages of unwritten history and who now share them in the pages of this splendid book.
I hope it serves as an example for other CRM firms and their clients — and not just in Ohio!

 

Brad Lepper

TRADE DURING THE LATE PREHISTORIC PERIOD

I am used to thinking of Ohio’s Hopewellculture (circa 100 B.C. – A.D. 400) as the time when a far flung interaction sphere brought enormous quantities of exotic raw materials and artifacts into Ohio. It’s becoming increasingly clear, however, that virtually all ancient American Indian societies valued rare and beautiful things and did their best to acquire them.

In my book Ohio Archaeology: an illustrated chronicle of Ohio’s ancient American Indian cultures, I wrote that there was “little evidence for trade during the Late Prehistoric period” (circa A.D. 1000 – 1650). I argued that increasing intergroup conflict largely had eliminated the need for these kinds of social symbols and created an environment in which long distance travel and trade would have been too risky to undertake — at least on a regular basis.

I was wrong.
Ohio’s Madisonville site, a major Late Prehistoric village and cemetery now encompassed by suburban Cincinnati, was an important center of interregional trade. In my July column in the Columbus Dispatch I point out that a number of artifacts that originated in Europe found their way to Madisonville long before any Europeans had set foot here. Those artifacts certainly are the most spectacular evidence of trade during this period, but they are far from the whole story.

Also found at Madisonville are grooved stone mauls and bone rasps from the upper Mississippi valley, pipes from southern Wisconsin, a ceramic head-effigy pot from Missouri, and engraved shell gorgets from eastern Tennessee.

Clearly, trade was an important activity during the Late Prehistoric period and the rare commodities obtained through these extensive networks must have been important status symbols. The evidence for warfare during this period also is clear, however, so this interaction may have taken place in the periods between intermittent eruptions of violence — possibly in the context of neighboring groups negotiating alliances with one another.

This is very different from what was happening in the Hopewellera for which there is virtually no evidence of intergroup violence of any kind and the flow of exotic materials into Ohiowas orders of magnitude beyond anything seen either before or after. Trade almost surely was a part of what was going on, but the sheer volume of hyper-exotic material accumulating at Ohio earthwork centers and the lack of almost anything from Ohio showing up at the other ends of the interaction sphere suggest to me that the monumental Hopewellian earthworks were pilgrimage centers.

Madisonville, on the other hand, was something much more down-to-earth and familiar. It was a large village and a center of trade and commerce for many generations of Late Prehistoric folks.

In fact, I would argue that what we see at Madisonvilleis exactly what more or less ordinary trade should look like in the archaeological record. The accumulation of prodigious amounts of precious materials at Hopewellearthworks may not represent the offerings of pilgrims, but it’s something more than trade.

For more information about the Madisonville site, I recommend Penelope Ballard Drucker’s marvelous book The View From Madisonville: prehistoric western Fort Ancient interaction patterns.

If you want to read more about my ideas on Hopewellpilgrimage, the best place to start is my chapter in Recreating Hopewell, edited by Doug Charles and Jane Buikstra: “The

Great Hopewell Road

 

and the role of the pilgrimage in the Hopewell Interaction sphere.”

You also can check out the following related blog posts:
The Newark Earthworks: a place of pilgrimage

The Fort Ancient Earthworks — place of pilgrimage

Ancient American pilgrimage: communitas or costly signaling?

Special thanks to Bob Genheimer, George Rieveschl Curator of Archaeology at the Cincinnati Museum Center, for taking the time from a busy field season to take the picture of the Clarkdale Bell.

Brad Lepper