Sacred Ceremonial Grounds

There is no evidence that people lived inside these enclosures full time. They were not walled villages. In fact, other than what was deposited beneath any burial mound, the grounds within the enclosures are actually remarkable in their paucity of artifacts. It is as if they were swept clean of the normal rubbish left behind by daily living.

Some archaeologists theorize that these earthworks were sacred places worthy of religious pilgrimages for people from far away. People may have gathered at these places in large numbers during times of spiritual significance.  If so, it may explain where the labor force required to build such large complexes may have come from. It could also help explain how some of the many exotic natural materials came to be buried with the dead here.

One would naturally assume that these enormous public works would have been designed and constructed by a highly organized civilization. However, archaeologists find only one or two houses at Hopewell domestic sites. The houses are large, but never more than three have been found in one location. It appears that Hopewell people did not even live in villages. It is likely that people of the Hopewell Culture were living in single extended family units scattered through the ancient Ohio forest.

“Forest People” painted by Robert Dafford in the Appalachian Forest Museum of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System. Seip Earthworks is in the background of the painting.

Also, although the Hopewell people were among Ohio’s first gardeners, trash middens that have been examined at their domestic sites show a diet still largely based on hunting and gathering food from the wild. Hunter-gatherer cultures cannot by definition live in anything like the high population densities that are achieved by agricultural societies.

If so, what motivated these people to come together to build such large public works and who was designing them so carefully over a period of at least four centuries? The Hopewell Culture has left us many mysteries.