This is the first of an ongoing series by The Boomer Explorer highlighting exciting places of interest and “Road Trip” journeys around Ohio. Living at Bristol Village gives us almost a central point to hop in the car for day trips around Ohio. Our first stop is Hopewell Cultural National Historical Park located in Ross County, Ohio.
Hopewell Culture Park is a National Historic Park, with earthworks and burial mounds from the Hopewell culture, indigenous peoples who flourished from about 200 BC to AD 500. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park contains earthworks in the form of squares, circles, and other shapes.
The park is composed of six separate sites in Ross County, Ohio, including the former Mound City Group National Monument. The park includes archaeological resources of the Hopewell culture. It is administered by the United States Department of the Interior’s National Park Service..
From about 200 BC to 500 AD, the Ohio River Valley was a focal point of the prehistoric Hopewell culture. The term Hopewell describes a broad network of beliefs and practices among different Native American groups over a large portion of eastern North America. The culture is characterized by the construction of enclosures made of earthen walls, often built in geometric patterns, and mounds of various shapes.
The most striking Hopewell sites contain earthworks in the form of squares, circles, and other geometric shapes. Many of these sites were built to a monumental scale, with earthen walls up to 12 feet high outlining geometric figures more than 1000 feet across. Conical and loaf-shaped earthen mounds up to 30 feet high are often found.
Outside, walk among the 23 mounds and their low enclosing wall; each covers the remains of a funerary building. Some held spectacular collections such as effigy smoking pipes or shimmering blankets of mica. This place is unique among surviving Hopewell era sites, and may reflect a period of time when mound building was beginning to be augmented by bigger, grander ideas about geometric form and embracing enclosure. Here the people created a collective cultural monument on a much larger scale, a possible prototype for the more precise and complex geometric figures to come.
Mound City was first granted to a white owner in 1798; and in less than 40 years the busy Ohio and Erie Canal passed nearby. When Squier and Davis surveyed the site in 1846, the forest still preserved most of the mounds. But soon the land was cleared for farming. Plows passed right over the walls, and most of the mounds, year after year. In 1917, the land was bought by the Federal Government for Camp Sherman, a World War I training camp. The army was shaving off all the mounds to build barracks when Henry Shetrone of the Ohio Historical Society stepped in and asked that the central mound be spared. In 1923, the site became a National Monument, and three years later the Ohio Historical Society restored the mounds. Since 1992, Mound City has been the center of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.
The best archaeology information gathered to date indicates that the mounds were part of an elaborate burial construction.
Each mound was built over the site of a wooden structure. The remains of a dead Indian dignitary were cremated inside these wooden houses. Often artifacts such as jewelry were placed in the crypts inside the house. As time went by, these houses were covered with layers of soil and gravel. As new generations came and went, additional dignitaries were buried on top of the older elders.
Many of the mounds located at the Mound City Group had been destroyed by multiple cultures including most recently, Camp Sherman that was built here in the early 1900s.
The Central Mound was the tallest one there – 19 feet when first measured in the 1840s. The building beneath was complex. A sunken room was entered along a ramp. When this room was no longer used, the builders left behind only a shallow basin, its clay lining baked red by many fires. Sometime later, leaving a set of posts in place, they filled the room, and built a new clay fire basin exactly above the old one. Upon a new floor, of puddled clay and sand, they erected a building, and laid out ten cremated burials on log-supported earthen platforms, roofed with bark.
Three elaborate burials in the Central Mound were probably respected leaders or elders. The objects left with them probably meant many things, including a person’s special work in life, their status, and their connections to the community and to powerful forces in nature. The amanita mushroom, known for its poisonous and hallucinogenic qualities, is represented as a copper effigy, and may suggest how a priest could make a dream journey to commune with the spirits of the dead.
Interpretive trails at the Mound City Group unit have been built, although trails may be slightly uneven due to surfaces of grass, gravel, and wood chips. A 1 mile asphalt trail is accessible at the Hopewell Mound Group unit. You can walk around and through the park, seeing the mounds up close, but you cannot climb the mounds.
Be sure to take the short walk to see the Scioto River on the east side of the mounds. This gives you a better perspective on the location of the mounds and its association with this important waterway that connected central Ohio with the rest of the continent in all directions.
The park’s Visitor Center is open 7 days a week from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. The Visitor Center is closed January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25.
The Visitor Center has a number of items for sale, including reproductions of recovered artifacts seen in the museum such as the effigy pipe shown below. The museum is rather small, but does have a small number of artifacts and displays.
This was such an interesting and worthwhile “road trip” only 30 minutes from Bristol Village. All of my friends from afar have asked me what in heaven’s name do I do for fun up in Ohio? “Road Trips” my friend! What a great job, what a great life! I’m on the road again…
So, what do you think? Join the discussion about the trips I am making from Bristol Village. Tell us about your “road trip” adventures!
As always, I am…the Wandering Boomer Explorer.