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Hopewell Culture National Historic Park

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Chillicothe, Ohio

Mound City: A 2,000-year-old ceremonial center

When European Americans began to settle in the Ohio Valley in the late 1700's, they found hundreds of mounds and earthworks, long abandoned and obscured by forest growth. The mystery of the mounds was heightened by the fact that the Shawnee and other tribes of the region claimed to know nothing of when they were built or by whom. Arguments raged over the age and significance of these ancient sites. Popular speculation held that the mounds had been built by a "lost race" of mysterious origin which had died out or moved away before the American Indians of historic times came on the scene. Others believed that the mounds and earthworks had been built by ancestors of known native peoples.

It was not until individuals and institutions began to carefully excavate the mounds and document their findings that the science of archeology took a great leap forward. Ephraim G. Squier, a Chillicothe newspaper editor, and Edwin H. Davis, a Chillicothe physician, were two of the first individuals to systematically investigate these ancient sites. Squier and Davis mapped and excavated dozens of mounds and earthworks in the region, as documented in their 1848 Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. They named one of these sites Mound City because of its unusual concentration of mounds--at least 23 mounds on 13 acres encircled by a low earthen wall. At Mound City, Squier and Davis discovered that the mounds covered the remains of ancient fires, deposits of finely crafted ceremonial artifacts, and cremated human burials. The "lost race" notion was laid to rest decades later after further studies proved that the mounds were built by prehistoric American Indians. We do not know what name these people gave themselves; early archaeologists called them the Hopewellians after Capt. Mordecai Hopewell, who owned the farm on which one of the most extensive sites was excavated in 1891. During World War I, Mound City was covered by part of a training facility, Camp Sherman, and many of the mounds were destroyed. Excavation and restoration work was conducted by the Ohio State Historical Society in 1920-1921; the site was declared a national monument in 1923. Additional excavations were conducted by the National Park Service in the mid-1960's. In 1992, Mound City was included in the newly formed Hopewell Culture National Historic Park, which also includes Hopeton Earthworks, High Bank Works, Seip Earthworks, and the Hopewell Mound Group.(Only Mound City and Seip are currently open to the public.) As you walk the grounds, remember that Mound City primarily represents the burial and ceremonial aspects of the Hopewell era. The people who created these mounds and earthworks did not spend all their time concentrating on death, but led full, active lives.

This resource is based on the following source:

National Park Service.  1995.  Hopewell Culture official map and guide.  
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.
This resource should be cited as:
National Park Service.  1995.  Hopewell Culture official map and guide.  
     National Park Service.  Unpaginated.  Jamestown, ND: Northern 
     Prairie Wildlife Research Center Online.
     (Version 22MAY98).

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