Seip Mound State Memorial Park is one of the five noncontiguous sites that make up the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. The other four sites are Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group, High Banks Works, and the Mound City Group (reviewed by us here). Native Americans belonging to the Hopewell tradition constructed this mound sometime between 100 B.C. – A.D. 400.
The mound pictured above was part of a larger earthworks complex. At a number of sites in Ohio, Native Americans of this era constructed earthen walls in the shape of immense, geometric shapes, typically consisting of two circular figures and a square. To give you an idea of the size, the embankment walls were 10,000 feet in length and enclosed 121 acres. When surveyed in 1848, the Seip Earthworks looked like the illustration below.
Local farmers leveled most of the wall to create fields. However two huge, elliptical mounds remained intact until archeologists excavated them in the 1920s. When I say that the mounds were excavated, I mean that archeologists completely dug them up and sifted through the dirt to remove artifacts and skeletal remains. So the mound that you now see when visiting this site is actually a reconstruction of Seip Earthwork’s largest mound. It is described by E.G. Squier (the man who surveyed it in 1848) as being 240 feet long, 160 feet wide, and 30 feet high. Although the outer surface of the reconstructed mound is soil on which grass grows, Squier described the original mound as having a surface consisting of small rocks and pebbles. Squier also said that there were three beautiful mounds made entirely of clay in the vicinity. These have long since disappeared.
All the mounds within the Seip Earthworks were used to inter the remains of individuals, most of whom had been cremated. However at the base of one of the two great mounds in the large circle’s center, there was a log crypt. The remains of the people who had been laid to rest within the crypt appear to have been treated differently from others. The crypt contained the remains of four adults who were lying side by side on their backs. Above their heads at a 90 degree angle with respect to the adults were the remains of two infants. This burial chamber contained thousands of pearls, so many that newspaper accounts of the era referred to the tomb as the “great pearl burial”. Many other fine artifacts were also interred in this chamber.
The individuals in the crypt apparently wore or were draped with a linen burial shroud. At the time of the excavation this linen was said to resemble the weave, texture, and color of pioneer-style, homespun linen. I used to imagine woodland Indians dressing exclusively in leather and animal skins. However early settlers have described the Native Americans of their era as wearing colorful fabrics. The Hopewell Indians lived over a thousand years before these settlers, but apparently even their fabric employed colorful dyes. Scientists are now using techniques developed in forensic laboratories to learn more about the colors and dyes used on these ancient textiles.
It is very surprising that any cloth was preserved underground over a dozen centuries, however both the burial shrouds and an additional sample of linen that was part of a votive offering were preserved because they laid directly beneath copper breast plates.
As I mentioned earlier, the textiles, pearls and other precious items were discovered in a log crypt at the base of the mound. However the logs rotted causing the crypt to collapse and the top of the mound to sink in. The Hopewell Indians built a secondary mound over the original mound apparently to restore the mound’s shape.
Besides the remains of the people within the log crypt, the remains of many other people were interred in and around the Seip Earthworks. According to an article in the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, an analysis of the remains of 87 individuals from one mound revealed that both males and females of all ages were laid to rest at this site, and this cemetery was populated over a relatively brief period of time.
There is evidence that a number of wooden buildings stood at this site. Archeologists have concluded that these were not used as housing because there is no sign of hearths or garbage dumps nearby. So they concluded that these buildings served as workshops where artisans made some of the artifacts found within the tombs. However recently this theory has been discredited because only a small number of the tools found in the area show signs of use wear. Archeologists now believe that the wooden buildings must have been used for rituals whose purpose will remain a mystery.
In addition to the large mound and a small portion of the earthen perimeter wall, the park also includes a large field with a mown path that leads around it. With the help of volunteers the park intends on transforming the field into a prairie in which only native plants grow.
- Seip Earthworks, published by the National Park Service
- Seip Mound and Earthworks, published by the Ohio Historical Society
- Virtual First Ohioans >> Seip Mound, published by the Ohio Historical Society
- The Seip Group, published at ScienceViews.com (this is the source in which I learned about the Native American linen)
- Forensic photography brings color back to ancient textiles, published at Phys.org
- Forensic Photography Brings Color Back To Ancient Textiles, published by the Ohio State University
- Focus On Research: The Seip Mound Houses, published at the Ohio Archaeology Blog
- Hopewell Tradition, published at Wikipedia
Seip Mound is 14 miles southwest of Chillicothe and two miles east of Bainbridge, on U.S. Route 50 in Ross County.
Unless you do the walk around the field, you can view Seip Mound and its surroundings relatively quickly. If you’ve driven a ways to get to this area, why don’t you consider checking out some of the nearby attractions?
- Mound City Group of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, reviewed by us here
- Paint Creek State Park
- Scioto Trail State Park, reviewed by us here
- Adena Mansion and Gardens
More on Native American History