Adena Culture: Mound Builders
The Adena Culture was name given to the people who built the first burial mounds in Ohio. The first of these burial mounds to be excavated was on the property of Thomas Worthington's home Adena, in Chillicothe. While this particular mound was made by the Adena Culture, it is not to suggest that this was their first mound. The Adena Culture was wide spread from Indiana to New York and from central Ohio south to Kentucky, but southern Ohio seems to be the center of their culture simply because of the size and number of mounds found here.
The Adena Culture were both hunters and gatherers, but they were also Ohio's first farmers. Archeological evidence suggest that they were growing sunflowers, squash, as well as a few other plants. They also created clay pots used for cooking and storage. But their main distinction was in how they buried elite members of their clan.
These mounds, some of which were quite large (see the Miamisburg Mound located south of Dayton). In the illustration below, we can see through archeological excavations, how these massive mounds were created.
They would begin with the burial of one noted individual, perhaps the leader of the clan. As time passed, and more celebrities died, they added their remains to the mound. Not everyone was buried in this way, but only a select few. It is not clear from current studies how they handled the deaths and burials of the common people. Some recent discoveries along the Scioto River might suggest that they too were buried, but that remains to be seen. Previous excavations in and around the larger mound groups suggest that perhaps most of the deaths were handled by cremating the remains.
It is also possible that the groups of mounds found in central locations such as the Mound City Group in Chillicothe, were central burial locations for multiple clans or groups of people that came there specifically to bury their honored dead. They lived elsewhere in smaller villages, perhaps saving their dead to be buried at special times during the year such as the winter solstice when all the clans would come together to honor those that had died since the last great gathering.
The Adena Culture appears to be the first ancient people in Ohio to create burial mounds for their honored dead. Most of what we know about this culture comes from examining what was buried with the dead. There has been little recovered evidence of what daily life was like in the Adena Culture, but there has been extensive speculation. The Hopewell Culture which followed the Adena Culture, also built ceremonial grave mounds, but they added earthworks to their civilization.
The image at left was found in an Adena Mound in Chillicothe. It is a clay pipe about 8" in length and found next to the left hand of the body. The figure has a hole extending the entire length and exits through the figure's head. While many Adena pipes have been unearthed, this is the only pipe shaped in human form.
Most of the pipes recovered are in the shapes of birds, animals, and reptiles. In the burial earth surround some bodies, there would be 100s of these pipes, all broken in half before being covered over with dirt.
The pipes were carved from a special stone called "pipestone" (catlinite). Recent technology improvements have made it possible to identify where this stone came from. While some mounds have pipes made from nearby pipestone quarries, other pipes found in mounds came from a quarry in Illinois.
The Adena Pipe is on display at the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus.