Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Native American Artifacts housed in the Museum

The “Hopewell Culture” refers to a Native American civilization that was centered in Ohio. It flourished here between 200 B.C. and 500 A.D. They are renowned for having built elaborate, huge, earthen structures. However when these mounds were excavated, many artifacts of great artistry were discovered. I would like to share photos of a few of these artifacts, or in some case, replicas of these artifacts. All of them were uncovered at “Mound City” which is where the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is today. They were on display in the museum portion of the park’s visitor’s center.

Copper Artifacts

A copper representation of a bird of prey




A copper headdress in shape of Grizzly Bear

Copper horns… of what? I can’t think of any animal in North America that has horns like these.

Copper effigy claws – It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that these were worn by shamans when dressed in a bear skin.

Copper horn of a mountain goat; of course, we don’t have any mountain goats in Ohio.

Copper antlers

Copper and silver earspools

This civilization did not develop the technology of smelting ores, so all the above artifacts were created by pounding nuggets of copper until the desired shape was achieved. Artisans also learned how to similarly shape silver and iron (the iron was acquired from iron-rich meteorites). The copper originated from the Lake Superior region.

Effigy Pipes carved out of Pipestone

The effigy refers to the animal or human that was carved into the pipestone. The pipe has been designed so that the animal faces the person who is smoking it. Perhaps a shaman who was trying to commune with an animal spirit felt that gazing into the animal’s face while smoking facilitated this process.

Effigy pipe – wildcat

Effigy pipe – rabbit

Effigy pipe – blue heron; the heron is pecking at a fish it has caught.

Effigy pipe – frog

Effigy pipe – prairie chicken

Effigy pipe – peregrine falcon

It used to be thought that the pipes were crafted in Ohio from local pipestone. However chemical analysis of the stone shows that it was quarried in Illinois.

Miscellany

Shark teeth

If you are unfamiliar with Ohio’s location, in the sidebar I have a map of the mainland of the United States in which I show where Ohio is. As you can see, Ohio is not near the ocean. I believe that the shark teeth that were uncovered in these Ohio earthen mounds were from the Gulf of Mexico.

Necklace made with shell beads

Necklace made with bone beads

The above necklace was made from bone — I assume from animal bone. However while reading the Wikipedia article on the Hopewell Tradition (cited at the bottom of this article), I came across this passage:

… Hopewell artists were expert carvers of human bone. A rare mask from Mound City was created using a human skull as a face plate

Okay… that’s disturbing. By the way, Mound City is the site where the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is.

Pottery with inscribed bird

I’ll close by saying all the above artifacts were found in burial mounds. Surprisingly most were purposefully broken prior to being interred. We don’t know if the breakage was ceremonial, or whether it might have been tactical (to disincentivize grave robbery).

My next post is about Mound City itself.

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© Deborah Platt, Robert Platt and TrekOhio.com 2012 to 2017

2 thoughts on “Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Native American Artifacts housed in the Museum”

  1. SallyK says:

    Re: Mysterious copper antlers. Maybe the Mound Builders had a unicorn mythology. 🙂 Everytime I see these ancient artifacts I so wish these cultures had a left some written language. It’s a fascinating part of Ohio history, partly because it is so mysterious.

    I can highly recommend visiting Serpent Mound for the Summer Solstice. Are you headed there? We went one year and they had a great program on the ancient cultures of the area. The sun does set over the Serpent Head.

    1. Deb Platt says:

      Sally, it’s a shame we don’t know more about their culture. I bet they had at least a mythological animal or two that played a role in their legends. I’ve also wondered if the really long horns had perhaps been curled originally (maybe like a big horn sheep). Copper is pretty maleable. Maybe it just got straightened out.

      I still haven’t been to Serpent Mound, and it didn’t even occur to me try going there during Summer Solstice. I’ll have to look into whether its possible for us to schedule a trip then. At any rate, thanks for recommending it!

      Our big trip for this weekend is to see Ohio’s floating island: Cranberry Bog in Buckeye Lake. They used to have a lottery system to determine who’d get to go out on the lake and have a walk around it. This is the first year where everyone who shows up will be allowed in.

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