Adena-Hopewell Cosmology, Community, and Identity at the Robbins Mound
The first people to construct widespread burial mounds and earthworks in the Ohio Valley were participants in the Adena Culture, which began around 500 BC and continued until about 300 AD. Sometime around 50 BC, some Adena communities in southern Ohio—under strong influences coming from the lower Illinois Valley—evolved the more exotic and elaborate Ohio Hopewell Culture, which persisted until 400—500 AD. Thus, in the Ohio Valley, there were two contemporaneous mound building cultures for several centuries: Adena and Ohio Hopewell.
Geographic distribution of the Adena (800 BC–100 AD), Hopewell (200 BC–500 AD), and Fort Ancient (1000–1750 AD) cultures. (CC BY-SA 3.0)
Although there were variations and differences of material culture and burial practices, Adena and Hopewell expressed the same cosmological scheme, valued the same exotic power materials, and gathered to build large mounds and earthworks according to similar patterns of dispersion and coalescence. Also, it is now recognized that Adena and Hopewell groups even engaged in the co-operative construction of large scale ritual landscapes which not only shared common patterns of astronomical alignments, but also employed the same measurement unit. For these reasons and others, some archaeologists have come to simply refer to both cultures as Adena-Hopewell.
Cosmology and Social Structure
Archaeologists have established that the cosmology expressed in Adena-Hopewell earthworks and artifacts correspond to that of the tribes who inhabited the Eastern Woodlands at the time of historic European contact. In this cosmological scheme, the cosmos is divided into three interconnected worlds: the Above World occupying the sky and heavens, the Earth World, and a watery Underworld beneath the Earth World. The Above World is the realm of the stars, the sun and moon, and the mythic Thunderbirds. It is also the location of the Milky Way galaxy, considered by many Native American tribes to be a ‘Path’ or cosmic ‘River’ which the souls of the departed must navigate to reach the entrance to the Land of the Dead. The Earth World is basically the sensible terrestrial world of living humans, plants, and animals, and is envisioned as a flat disk or island floating on a surrounding primordial sea.
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Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer are the authors of Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America (available at Lulu.com). Learn more at their website: ParadigmCollision.com