By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Ancient Native Americans of the Hopewell culture built earthworks to measure the movement of the Sun and Moon. One series of mounds is now surrounded by a golf course in Newark, Ohio, which historians would like relocated. Who were the people of this ancient culture?
Approximately 2,000 years ago, the Hopewell culture of ancient Native Americans thrived and expressed a fascination with astronomy, mathematics, and art. Centered around the Scioto River Valley in Ohio, their cultural influence spread across the eastern half of the United States. They built stone figures, smoking pipes, and earthen mounds.
The topography of the golf course at the Moundbuilders Country Club in Newark, Ohio, is built around one a series of mounds. It’s stood for a century, but historians hope it will be declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and that the golf course will be moved. While many of the earthworks of the Hopewell culture were used as burial grounds, it’s believed that those at around the Moundbuilders Country Club were used to measure the Sun and Moon as they moved through the sky.
In his video series Ancient Civilizations of North America, Dr. Edwin Barnhart, Director of the Maya Exploration Center, said the Hopewell expanded upon the culture of the Adena and thrived for 500 years.
Adena, Version 2.0
The Hopewell culture existed following the Adena culture, a pre-Columbian Native American culture that surfaced around 800 BCE. The Adena culture buried its most significant members in great mounds and was known for its artwork and trading.
“Each area had a local expression of the wider mound builder tradition, marked by creating high-quality jewelry and religious objects of art,” Dr. Barnhart said. “The core was the Ohio Hopewell [culture]; to the south, it was the Marksville Hopewell in Louisiana.
“Around Georgia, it was the Swift Creek culture; there was also the Illinois Hopewell, the New York Hopewell, and the Laurel Complex in Canada.”
Dr. Barnhart said that, like the Adena, the Native Americans of the Hopewell culture lived separately from their earthwork complexes. They lived in small, simple villages, in rectangular houses that had daub walls and thatched roofs.
“Amplifying what the Adena started, the Hopewell did significantly more farming,” he said. “The river valleys were choice locations for their crops, but there was still no corn. Villages […] were rarely multi-generational; that was probably because of the crops. They had a need to move to find new fertile land once productivity declined.”
Men on the Mound
Many Hopewell earthwork sites were destroyed by development in the 1800s, but two men—Edwin Davis, a doctor and self-taught archaeologist, and Ephraim Squier, a newspaper editor—worked tirelessly for years in the 1840s to map hundreds of mound sites. They were supported by the newly founded Smithsonian, of Washington, D.C.
“Hopewell sites vary greatly, as do their elements,” Dr. Barnhart said. “Most have conical burial mounds like their Adena ancestors. Many have geometry earthworks that surround enclosed compounds; some are on hilltops above rivers instead of the more common placement in valleys.”
The main site, also called Hopewell, features 30 mounds and a massive enclosure. Mound City, another main site, contained 23 burial mounds surrounded by a giant square that was 2,500 feet per side. Dr. Barnhart noted that six Pyramids of Giza would fit in that enclosure. Then there are the Newark Earthworks.
“Once covering four square miles, Newark had: two gigantic circles, an even bigger ellipse, two large squares, and an octagon,” he said. “All of those massive shapes are connected by a network of wall-lined roads—it’s an interconnected complex of ceremonial spaces.
“Squier and Davis mapped the whole thing, but sadly, now most of it is destroyed by development and gone.”
The future of the Moundbuilders Country Club and the Newark Earthworks will be decided in Ohio’s Supreme Court as relocation fees for the golf course are argued.