Hopewell Country and the Junction Earthworks

Posted by | April 9, 2014

MaslowskiPlease welcome guest author Robert F. Maslowski. Dr. Maslowski was educated at Holy Cross College, Massachusetts, and has a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh. He retired as a civilian archeologist with the Army Corps of Engineers and teaches Appalachian Studies at Marshall University South Charleston Campus. He is editor of the journal West Virginia Archeologist.


Last Thursday we drove west to Hopewell country to meet with Nancy Stranahan, Director of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System and Bruce Lombardo, Director of Heartland Earthworks Conservancy. The two of them were instrumental in a recent successful effort to preserve one of the largest and most complicated earthwork complexes built by the Hopewell.

Both Hopewell and Adena are regional cultures made up of many different ethnic groups or tribes. Hopewell DNA supports the theory that they were multi-ethnic. Adena, Appalachia’s first moundbuilding culture, dates from about 500 BC to AD 200. The major mounds and concentrations of mounds are located along the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. The Adena developed an extensive trade network that included copper from the Great Lakes Region and marine shell from the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. These artifacts are commonly found in the Adena burial mounds.

Hopewell, which dates from 200 BC to AD 400 in Ohio, is located on the western edge of Appalachia. The Hopewell expanded on Adena mound building and constructed more elaborate earthworks with their burial mounds. They also expanded on the Adena trade network and besides Lake Superior copper and Gulf and Atlantic marine shell, the network included obsidian and grizzly bear teeth from the Rock Mountains, mica from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, silver from Canada and shark teeth from the east coast. The concentration of Hopewell earthworks is along the Scioto River on the edge of Appalachia at the intersection of several different environmental zones.

In spite of the elaborate trade networks and extensive mound and earthwork building, both the Adena and Hopewell were hunters and gatherers who practiced limited horticulture. They lived in scattered farmsteads and not villages.

Driving to Hopewell country, we decided to take the southern route, crossing the Ohio River at Huntington and crossing again at Greenup Lock and Dam, picking up Route 23 in Kentucky. Route 23 remains a part of eastern Kentucky oral tradition and folklore, “we were taught the three R’s in school, readin, writin and Route 23, the road to Columbus.” Route 23 was also part of the trail system that the Hopewell used to get mica from North Carolina. Elaborate ornaments were carved out of mica with special prismatic blades made of Flint Ridge Flint from east central Ohio. Pieces of mica along with these Flint Ridge blades were found at the Blanton Site near Paintsville Lake, KY, and the Cyrus Dock site on the Big Sandy River in Wayne County, WV. These were most likely trade centers along the Hopewell trade routes to the southeast.

Figure 1. Hopewell Blades made from Flint Ridge Flint.

Figure 1. Hopewell Blades made from Flint Ridge Flint.

The Junction Group is located in Ross County, west of Chillicothe, at the confluence of Paint Creek and North Fork Creek. It is one of the largest and most complicated earthwork complexes built by the Hopewell. It is also one of the most intact examples of a Hopewell earthwork complex. The Junction Group was mapped and described by Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis. They partially excavated one of the mounds in October 1845, and uncovered one badly decayed human skeleton at a depth of three feet, and three well preserved skeletons at a depth of seven feet. Their map and report were published in 1848, in the first volume of the Smithsonian Institution’s ‘‘Contributions to Knowledge’’ series, titled Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.

Figure 2. Squier and Davis map with highlighted features.

Figure 2. Squier and Davis map with highlighted features.

Some of the earthen walls and one of the mounds are still visible after many decades of plowing. In 2005, Dr. Jarrod Burks (Heartland Earthworks Conservancy), Dr. N’omi Greber (Cleveland Museum of Natural History) and Dr. Wesley Bernardini (University of Redlands) completed a geophysical survey of the Junction Group which confirmed that the other structures mapped by Squier and Davis, while not visible today, were buried but still intact. The survey also documented a unique earthwork shape not previously recognized in Ohio, a quatrefoil (a 4-leaf clover shape). Squire and Davis had originally described this earthwork as a square with rounded corners.

Ceremonial Centers like the Junction Group show evidence of mathematical and engineering ability including the use of a standard unit of measurement. These earthworks were often designed using complex astronomical alignments related to the movement of the moon and sun. Hopewell engineers started construction of a mound or earthwork by digging out a foundation to a depth of about two feet below the surface. For earthworks, different types of clay were carried in and deposited it layers.

Figure 3. Burk's magnetic survey superimposed on an aerial photograph.

Figure 3. Burk’s magnetic survey superimposed on an aerial photograph.

The 335 acre farm including the Junction Group was scheduled to be sold at auction on March 18, 2014. The farm was divided into several parcels that would be auctioned off separately. A coalition of several environmental groups, including Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, The Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, The Archaeological Conservancy, Rivers Unlimited and SCOPS, South Central Ohio Preservation Society, was formed to bid on selected properties. The coalition was successful in purchasing the 90 acre tract that included the Junction Earthworks, an 18 acre tract of hillside and an additional 40 acre tract. The coalition also purchased from the property owners 1.2 miles of riverfront along Paint Creek, which was not included in the auction.

What makes this purchase unique is that not only was the archeological site preserved, but the purchase of the adjacent tracts of land will also preserve the environmental context of the Junction Earthwork Group. While many mounds and earthworks have been preserved, they are often located in developed towns or cities without any environmental context.

Figure 4. Criel Mound, South Charleston, West Virginia. Partially excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1880s.

Figure 4. Criel Mound, South Charleston, West Virginia. Partially excavated by the Smithsonian Institution in the 1880s.

Ross County has more than 30 ancient earthworks, several of which are being nominated to UNESCO’s World Heritage list. One of the reasons for this concentration of ceremonial centers and earthworks is the environmental context of Ross County. While the forests of Appalachia have been known as one of the most productive eco-systems in the temperate world, Chillicothe lies at the center of six intersecting geological regions and at the terminus of the Wisconsin Glaciation. At Chillicothe the Scioto River crosses the boundary between the glaciated Central Lowlands and the unglaciated Appalachian Plateau. This Hopewell Heartland has the greatest diversity of micro-environments in the Ohio Valley and most likely made it possible for a hunting and gathering society with limited horticulture to create such elaborate ceremonial centers.

Paint Creek and North Fork Creek have been designated as Exceptional Warm Water Habitats. The section of Paint Creek bordering the Junction Earthworks serves as an aquatic refuge for a number of fish species that disappeared from the Scioto River due to pollution. These streams also provide habitat for several endangered species. The purchase and preservation of the wooded parcels and 1.2 miles of riverbank along Paint Creek will provide good examples of Appalachian forest environments that were utilized by the Hopewell.

Figure 5. Robert Daffort Mural at Appalachian Forest Museum, Bainbridge, Ohio. Photo by C. Philip Gould.

Figure 5. Robert Daffort Mural at Appalachian Forest Museum, Bainbridge, Ohio. Photo by C. Philip Gould.

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