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Twilight of the Gods
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« on: February 20, 2015, 12:29:54 am »

Archaeology: Theory looks at how ancient goods got to Ohio

 Sunday February 15, 2015 8:15 AM

    Comments: 4

Ohio’s Hopewell culture, which spanned the period from around 100 B.C. to A.D. 400, is most famous for two things: enormous earthworks and artistically stunning artifacts made from exotic raw materials.

Those exotic materials include Canadian copper, Gulf Coast sea shells, Wyoming obsidian and North Carolina mica. Figuring out how and why this eye-catching stuff made its way to Ohio is among the most fascinating questions in American archaeology.

Appalachian State University archaeologist Alice Wright and colleague Erika Loveland at Western Michigan University propose answers to these questions based on their work at the Garden Creek site in western North Carolina. The site is near important sources of mica and quartz crystal, both of which were used by the Ohio Hopewell.

Wright and Loveland’s work was published recently in the journal Antiquity.

Garden Creek is a Hopewell site consisting of three mounds, two roughly square earthen enclosures and a habitation site that was probably occupied on a seasonal basis. Excavations in 2011 and 2012 determined that one enclosure was “a flat-bottomed ditch with nearly vertical walls” that had been filled in with three distinctive layers of earth.

Artifacts found in the fill included broken bits of pottery consistent with a Hopewell age, fragments of mica — some of which had cut edges — and chips of crystal quartz. Radiocarbon dates on charcoal from the fill confirmed the Hopewell age of the deposits.

Wright and Loveland wrote that they think the artifacts are the residue of a craft workshop where raw mica sheets were cut into various shapes and quartz crystal was chipped into tools.

There were no complete mica cutouts or quartz tools in the deposits, so the finished products of all this work had been carried away from the site for use elsewhere.

This pattern is exactly what we see at many Ohio Hopewell earthworks, where raw mica and other exotic materials had been brought and shaped into ritually significant forms.

But Garden Creek isn’t in Ohio. It’s at the source of the mica and crystal quartz.

According to Wright and Loveland, “This directly contradicts the prevailing perspectives on the organization of Hopewellian craft production,” in which raw materials were brought to Ohio and transformed into ceremonial paraphernalia.

Wright and Loveland suggest that Garden Creek might have been what the archaeologist Martin Byers would have called a franchise, established by some Hopewellian St. Paul at least in part to provide the great earthen cathedrals up north with prefabricated regalia.

Alternatively, the local converts might have been required to make a pilgrimage to the Ohio Hopewell earthworks as an act of religious devotion. Part of fulfilling that obligation might have involved presenting offerings of craft items made from exotic materials to the centers’ custodians.

Wright and Loveland conclude that their work at Garden Creek demonstrates that “Appalachian Summit people were more intimately involved with Hopewell ceremonialism than has been previously acknowledged.”

For me, the enormous geographic extent of the Hopewell speaks to the power of their magnificent earthen architecture and the now unknowable gospel that inspired it.

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio History Connection.
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Twilight of the Gods
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« Reply #1 on: February 20, 2015, 12:30:25 am »
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Twilight of the Gods
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« Reply #2 on: February 20, 2015, 12:30:39 am »
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