Ohio: Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Mounds at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
Mounds at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

Courtesy of the National Park Service

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park preserves the earthworks and mounds of the American Indians of the Hopewell Culture, a people who flourished between 2,200 and 1,500 years ago. The term Hopewell describes a broad network of beliefs and ceremonial practices that different groups of American Indians shared in a large portion of eastern North America. The Hopewell peoples had extensive trading routes, designed and crafted distinct pieces of art, and constructed earthworks and mounds for specific ceremonial practices. The park protects five different archeological sites in Ross County, Ohio: the Mound City Group, the Hopewell Mound Group, the Seip Earthworks, the Hopeton Earthworks, and the High Bank Works. 

The remains of their earthworks and mounds provide the most profound evidence of the existence of the Hopewell Culture. The earthworks and mounds are highly concentrated in the Scioto River Valley near the present-day city of Chillicothe, Ohio. The earthworks are in the form of circles, squares, and other geometric shapes. Conical and loaf-shaped earthen mounds are often associated with these earthworks. The embankments of the Hopewell earthworks were 10-12 feet high, sometimes up to 1,000 feet across, and contained up to 40 mounds within earthen walls.

The largest known Hopewell mound is part of the Hopewell Mound Group, which features more than three miles of earthen embankments and 40 mounds. Visitors can use either the Sulphur Lick Road or the Tri-County bike trail, which crosses a mile of the Hopewell Mound Group, in order to view parts of this site. About 15 miles southwest of the Hopewell Mound Group, visitors should also make a stop at the Seip Earthworks and view the Central Mound by following a trail that the Ohio Historical Society maintains.

Hopewell groups were usually scattered, although they probably gathered seasonally and for ceremonial occasions at the earthworks and mounds. The groups likely congregated for feasting, trading, presenting gifts, marriages, competitions, mourning ceremonies, and mound construction. The extensive size of the earthworks and mounds tells us that the Hopewell Culture had to be highly organized to succeed at constructing these ceremonial places.

The Mound City Group includes at least 23 mounds within a 13-acre rectangular earthen enclosure. Visitors may view the mounds by following a self-guided interpretive trail or by taking another trail that circles the outer perimeter of the earthworks. Many of these mounds cover the remains of charnel houses. A charnel house is a wooden structure the Hopewell people used during the cremation ceremony of one of their deceased loved ones. After the ceremony was complete, participants burned the charnel house and constructed a mound over the remains. The Hopewell also placed objects or burial offerings, such as shells, clay pots, arrowheads, and copper figures, in the mounds. During the construction of the mounds and the ceremonial occasions associated with the mounds, the Hopewell people used tools, ornaments, and objects made of materials that they obtained via extensive trading routes. Visit the Mound City Group’s visitor center museum to view many of these artifacts. 

The people designed and crafted elaborate objects from mica, copper, and obsidian to use during the ceremonial occasions associated with the mounds. The extensive variety of materials used to make objects indicates that inhabitants were able to circulate raw materials throughout the Hopewell Culture area as a result of extensive trading routes the Hopewell people established and maintained throughout North America. Through trade, the Hopewell people in this part of Ohio obtained copper and silver from around the Great Lakes, obsidian from what is now Yellowstone National Park in western Wyoming, sharks teeth and seashells from the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and mica from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina and Tennessee. They transformed these raw materials into fine objects such as mica cutouts, copper breastplates, long ceremonial blades, or into artistic creations in the shapes of birds, mammals, reptiles, humans, and many other forms.

Sites related to the Hopewell cultural system are found from Pennsylvania and New York to Iowa and central Kansas, and from Michigan and Wisconsin to Louisiana and Florida. The distinct way of life of the Hopewell Culture ended about 1,500 years ago. Today, Hopewell Culture National Historical Park helps people understand and appreciate this highly organized society, its vast trading routes, and specific religious practices.

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service, is located throughout Ross County, OH. The park visitor center, located at Mound City Group, is on State Route 104, two miles north of U.S. 35 and three miles north of Chillicothe, OH. The park is open daily except Thanksgiving, December 25, and January 1. Hours are from 8:30 to 5:00 pm with extended hours in the summer. The grounds close at dark. The Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group, and Seip Earthworks are open to the public, while the Hopeton Earthworks and High Banks Works are closed except by permit or for special events. For more information, visit the National Park Service Hopewell Culture National Historical Park website or call 740-774-1126. 

Click here for the National Register of Historic Places registration files for the Mound City Group (text and photos.)

Last updated: August 7, 2017