Mason County Memories: A vast eastern empire

A vast eastern empire

By Chris Rizer - Special to the Register

All things must eventually come to an end, and the same held true for the 1,000-year-old Adena. By the year 1 A.D., they found themselves displaced by a new culture rising out of the Midwest, the Hopewell. In Ohio, this displacement was absolute. The Adena seemingly disappeared, likely in warfare. In Southern West Virginia, it was less severe. There, the remaining Adena were peacefully absorbed into the local Hopewell to form the Armstrong Hopewell, named after the site where they were discovered. The Mason/Meigs/Gallia area is almost directly between the two, and likely saw a bit of both.

Now, just because the Adena were absorbed or destroyed does not mean that their legacy faced the same fate. Indeed, the Hopewell continued many of the same traditions, including those of farming (primarily pumpkins, squash, and sunflowers) and mound building. Like the Adena, their burial mounds consisted of cremations for all but the highest-ranking members of the tribe. Unlike the Adena, the Hopewell also built massive platform mounds for civic and ceremonial uses that were usually aligned on either the summer and winter solstices or the lunar cycle. Two of these survive nearby in Marietta, the Capitolium and Quadranaou, though slightly diminished in size over the ages.

However, it is not for their everlasting mounds that the Hopewell were enshrined in the prehistory of our region. If that were it, they’d have simply been considered an evolution of the Adena. No, there was much more to the Hopewell.

There’s something I’ve left out up to this point, and that is that the Hopewell were not one specific people. They were hundreds of tribes, united by a trading system that rivaled those in Europe and shared beliefs that were carried along with goods, whose area covered virtually everything between the Appalachians and the Missouri River from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. Those in our region were the Ohio and Armstrong Hopewell, but there were also the Swift Creek Hopewell in Florida and Georgia and the Laurel Complex Hopewell in Minnesota and Canada, among others.

But, as the story so often goes, this trade system eventually broke down and the Hopewell Culture collapsed. Following this, Hopewell villages became larger, more permanent, and isolated, signs that archeologists interpret as defensive measures possibly brought on by war.

Following the Hopewell’s collapse, other cultures began to move into the region, leading to quite a few distinct cultures occupying our region at more or less the same time.

The first was the Buck Garden Culture, an evolution of the Armstrong Culture that began building their mounds and walls out of rock rather than dirt. Some of these rock burial mounds were once found in Mason County before they were destroyed.

The second is known as the Childers Phase. They showed up in the Kanawha Valley around 400 A.D., around the time that the collapse of the Hopewell trading system began. Very little is known about their origins, though it’s thought that they were Algonquin hunters from the Great Lakes region. Once here, they quickly adapted to their new home and established small villages. They were one of the only groups to do this during this time period.

About three hundred years later (750 A.D.), another group moved into the area. Though this time, more is known about their possible origins than their time here. Based on features of their archeological sites, the Parkline Phase people were likely related to Algonquin peoples from the Northeast Coast. These people mostly lived alone in single families, never settling in one place for any period of time. However, they are important for their introduction of the bow and arrow to the region. Before this, most hunters used spear-throwers called atlatls.

The final group that was in our area is known as the Wood Phase. They arrived at roughly the same time as the Parkline Phase, and likely came from the Southeast as they brought corn with them. They lived primarily in the Ohio Valley in small groups of a few families.

For the next 500 years, this was the situation in our region. There were few permanent villages, but there were quite a few different groups living in the area and living off the land. It was relatively peaceful as far as we know, but we don’t know much. We’ll pick this up again next week.

But before I close, I want to take a few words to observe that tomorrow, at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, marks the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War. As such, it is also Veterans Day, and I’d like to thank Mason County’s veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Information from the WV Encyclopedia and Ohio History Central.

The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, December 18th with a location to be announced soon. Rizer | Courtesy
A vast eastern empire

By Chris Rizer

Special to the Register

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.