Sacred Geography of Prehistoric natives of the Woodland Culture – part 2, The Hopewell

Hopewell: The Golden Age

Hopewell cultural practices brought about a new level of class distinction and social order as evidenced by various degrees of exotic and elaborate grave goods.  Hopewell cultural practices also included a mortuary cult overseen by a strong socio-religious ruling class.  The elaborate and centralized religion allowed control of worship and established a more effective social organization.  With the population under control of the religious ruling class, the construction of large earthworks and intensive agriculture was made possible.  The Ohio Hopewell is considered the golden age because of the high artistry and the great peace and prosperity the people enjoyed.

Religion and Ritual.  Hopewell burial customs frequently included the preparation of the dead in a charnel house where they would dismember and cremate the deceased.  The bones were then placed together in the grave called bundle burials. Grave goods such as mica indicate a belief in an afterlife.  Mirrors have long been associated with magic and some Native American groups believe them to be a gateway to another world.  The image is reversed and many Native Americans describe the other world as the reverse of ordinary life – day on earth, night on the other side.  The presence of mica suggests that the Hopewell believed the mirror-like quality would transport the individual to another, opposite world.

Earthworks:  Hopewell ceremonial sites included several small burials at a site opposed to one large mound as in the early Adena Culture.  Hopewell Culture earthworks also included large circular enclosures and geometric embankments.  Geometric embankments often surround mound sites such as Mounds City and major ceremonial centers such as Newark.  Hopewell ceremonial centers were also constructed on river terraces with nearby hamlets whereas many Adena ceremonial centers lacked nearby settlements.

Part 1, The Adena          ~          Part 3, The Mississippian

References: Geopiety and Landscape Perceptions at Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana by Barbara A Perry


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