1. The Hopeton Earthworks: An Interim Report
By Mark J. Lynott
For anyone with an interest in North American archeology, Ross County,
Ohio, has long been a special place. The combination of a great concentration
of mounds and earthworks, along with a long history of intensive archeological
research, has fascinated archeologists and the general public for more
than a century. Through the efforts of legendary archeologists such
as E.G. Squier and E.H. Davis, Warren King Moorehead, and William C.
Mills, certain sites in Ross County have become very well known.
Recognition resulting from research at these sites has sometimes led
to their being intentionally preserved. Many other potentially significant
sites have been lost to agriculture or development activities without
ever receiving any significant archeological attention. This presentation
will describe research at a site that received very little scientific
archeological attention prior to its acquisition by the National Park
Service in 1990.
Hopeton Earthworks is located on the east side of the Scioto River
in Ross County, Ohio. The site is situated on a Pleistocene terrace
overlooking a wide floodplain area in a bend of the river. The site
is located to the north of the city of Chillicothe and northeast and
across the Scioto River from Mound City Group. This presentation represents
an interim report on archeological investigations by the Midwest Archeological
Center on a small portion of this extensive site. The area that has
been investigated is called the Triangle Tract, and it located along
the southwest edge of the Pleistocene terrace where two parallel earthen
walls extend onto the floodplain.
E.G. Squier and E. H. Davis
The Hopeton Earthworks were first described by E.G. Squier and E.
H. Davis in their monumental survey of mounds and earthworks in the
Mississippi Valley. The site is located only four miles north of their
hometown of Chillicothe. They described the earthwork as a rectangle
with an attached circle. The rectangle was measured at 900 feet by
950 feet, and the diameter of the circle was 1,050 feet. The walls
of the earthworks were not continuous and included twelve breaks or
gateways. Two smaller circles were described on the east side of the
earthwork, adjacent to the rectangle. These measured 250 and 200 feet,
respectively, in diameter. Parallel walls extended southwest from the
northwest corner of the rectangle for 2,400 feet to the edge of the
terrace. The walls were 150 feet apart. In 1848, the walls of the rectangle
were 12 feet high and 50 feet wide at their base. The walls of the
great circle were 5 feet high at that time. No evidence of ditches
were observed around any of the earthworks.
From National Historic Landmark to National Historical Park
Hopeton Earthworks received very little attention during the last
half of the nineteenth and first half of the twentieth centuries. With
the establishment of Mound City Group as a national monument, park
Superintendent Clyde King encouraged action to preserve the Hopeton
Earthworks. In 1958, the National Park Service assigned Regional Archeologist
John L. Cotter to evaluate whether Hopeton would qualify for national
historic landmark status. Hopeton Earthworks was officially listed
as a national historical landmark in July 1964 (Cockrell 1999).
Despite sincere efforts by the National Monument staff and local archeologists,
efforts to preserve Hopeton did not begin to bear fruit until the late
1970s. Following an assessment of the condition and significance of
the site by David Brose (1976), the National Park Service developed
a proposal for acquisition of the site.
On December 28, 1980, the United States Congress authorized the National
Park Service to purchase 150 acres of the Hopeton Earthworks. Unfortunately,
funding for the purchase of the site was not immediately forthcoming,
and none of the site was actually purchased until ten years later.
During that decade, the site and earthworks were annually subjected
The extent of damage to the earthworks from agricultural cultivation
was significant. In a study of aerial photographs of the site, John
Blank (1985) observed that with the introduction of the modern agricultural
practices and high-powered tractors in the late 1950s, the earthworks
were being reduced at a rate of approximately 1.2 inches per year.
At the same time, the earthworks were being widened at a rate of one
foot per year. Aerial photographs of the site show that in 1938, many
of the features recorded by Squier and Davis were still fairly visible.
However, by 1966 all of the minor earthwork features and mounds had
disappeared. In that image, the great circle, rectangle, and parallel
walls can still be seen.
Agriculture is not the only industry that has eroded the integrity
of the Hopeton Earthworks. Commercial gravel quarry operations began
along the western edge of the terrace in 1984, under the name of Chief
Cornstalk Sand and Gravel Company. This operation was greatly expanded
in 1990 following the purchase of the Cornstalk facility and a major
portion of the national historic landmark by Chillicothe Sand and Gravel.
Although gravel company officials were sympathetic about the loss
of archeological resources from quarrying activities, they had a major
investment in this property and began removing topsoil and gravel.
In 1992, Public Law 102-294 renamed the park Hopewell Culture National
Historical Park and authorized the expansion of the park to include
further lands at Hopeton, plus acquisition of the Hopewell, High Bank,
and Seip Earthworks. This legislation provided the National Park Service
with the authority to purchase the remaining lands within the National
Historic Landmark boundaries that had not been impacted by gravel quarry
1994 Test Excavations
The Midwest Archeological Center initiated archeological testing at
Hopeton in 1994. The testing was intended to be the start of a long
term program to evaluate the nature of archeological materials and
deposits associated with the earthworks. These investigations were
designed to contribute to the discussions about the nature of Hopewellian
settlement systems and the role that earthworks played in Hopewell
The 1994 testing program was conducted on a triangular tract of land
at the edge of the terrace southwest of the earthworks. This is the
location where the parallel walls described by Squier and Davis terminated,
and it is an area where surface collectors had noted evidence of habitation
when the site was in cultivation (Brose 1976). Consequently, a Center
team spent two weeks excavating at what is now called the Triangle
The 1994 testing consisted of 10 test units covering a total of 17
m2. Most of the units were 1 m by 2 m, but a single 1-m by 1-m unit
was also excavated to expose a feature. Approximately 8.5 m3 of soil
was excavated and screened. Few temporally or functionally diagnostic
artifacts were recovered. Although artifacts were found across the
entire Triangle Tract area, densities were generally low. The most
likely evidence for significant occupation of this area of the site
came in the form of a subsurface pit. The pit was approximately a meter
in diameter and extended more than 0.5 m below the plow zone. The pit
was filled with fire cracked rock, charred macrobotanical remains,
and some faunal remains.
At the conclusion of this brief field investigation, it was apparent
that evidence for occupation was present in the Triangle Tract, and
further research was needed to determine the age, extent, and nature
of that occupation.
Further work at the Triangle Tract was postponed in 1995 and 1996
and funding for that work was shifted to Ohio State University for
work at the Overly site, which was likely to be destroyed by gravel
quarry operations in the immediate future. When we returned to the
Triangle site in the fall of 1997, our plan was to conduct a fairly
large size geophysical survey. We hoped the geophysical survey could
help us in two ways. First, although no longer visible on the surface,
we hoped that the parallel walls might be detected by geophysical survey
techniques. Second, in our continuing effort to study prehistoric activities
associated with earthworks, we hoped to use geophysical survey to identify
potential subsurface features associated with Hopewell use of the site.
In 1997, we were able to survey 9,600 m2 of the Triangle Tract using
an RM-15 resistance meter, a Geometrics G858 cesium magnetometer, and
a Geoscan FM-36 fluxgate gradiometer. In this study, the cesium magnetometer
and fluxgate gradiometer proved most useful in identifying small anomalies.
Field survey and interpretation of geophysical data has been guided
by Dr. John Weymouth, University of Nebraska.
With geophysical survey data in hand, we returned to the Triangle
Tract in the summer of 1998 with the plan to use this data to guide
further excavations at the site. Our efforts in 1998 were aided by
the archeological staff of Hopewell Culture National Historical Park
under the direction of Dr. Bret Ruby, and by students from the Milton
Hershey School, under the direction of Mr. Randall Farmer.
The RM-15 resistance meter was less useful in locating smaller features,
but it did collect data that may reflect one of the parallel walls.
The resistance data indicates a large linear anomaly that corresponds
in location and orientation to the southernmost of the two parallel
walls mapped by Squier and Davis and visible on aerial photographs
until about 1970. In an effort to better evaluate the nature of this
anomaly, we excavated a 2-x-20-m trench across this area.
The test trench revealed a large pit or possible cross section of
a ditch at this location. The feature is fairly indistinct, but the
presence of small amounts of charcoal suggests it is cultural in origin.
Further research is needed to better interpret this feature and to
determine the nature of the soil resistance anomaly. We still hope
to determine whether any subsurface features were associated with the
parallel walls, and whether they were constructed with soils from the
terrace or if soils from another landform were used to build the walls.
Our geophysical survey coverage of the Triangle Tract included an
area roughly 140 meters north south and 80 meters east-west. The magnetic
survey of this area yielded numerous small anomalies that might be
related to Hopewellian use of this area of the earthworks. To better
understand the nature of these anomalies, we selected five individual
anomalies to examine through excavation of 2-m by 2-m test units. We
also selected two groups of anomalies to examine through excavation
of a 20-m by 20-m block and a 16-m by 14-m block.
Of the 144 possible features that were identified during removal of
the plow zone and subsequent scraping, only about 40 were determined
to be features that can be attributed to cultural activities. The vast
majority of these are small and subtle, and very hard to detect. Most
of the features are pits or post molds. These generally exhibit a low
density of artifacts, and very few temporally diagnostic artifacts.
Overall they are indicative of limited or short-term activities.
click on image to enlarge
|The larger pits are generally circular to oval in plan, with
sloping sides and flat bottoms. They range in size from 0.5 to
1.0 m in diameter, and extend 0.5 to 1.0 m below the plow zone.
Pit fill typically contains fire-cracked rock, macrobotantical
remains, lithic debris, and temporally undiagnostic tools.
|Charred hickory wood from Feature 17 was processed
using AMS and has yielded a date calibrated to two sigma of 1520–1390
BC (Beta- 147183). A sample of charred walnut hulls from Feature
1, another large pit filled with fire cracked rock, was processed
using standard radiometric techniques and yielded a date calibrated
to two sigma of 1620–1440 BC (Beta- 147190). Dates from four
pits and one post mold provide evidence for Late Archaic or Early
Woodland activities at the Triangle Tract.
Features which may be definitely associated with the Hopewellian occupation
of the site are more limited. Feature 104 is a circular basin that
was lined with clay and hardened by heat. Although there were no artifacts
or dateable materials associated with this feature, this type of basin
has been reported in association with Hopewell mound features at several
sites in Ross County.
Feature 64 is also associated with Hopewell activities at the site.
The feature is a large and generally amorphic pit that was identified
through magnetic survey. Although the feature could not be clearly
detected at the base of the plow zone, cord-marked, grittempered pottery
and bladelet fragments were collected from undisturbed sediments below
the plow zone. The outline of an irregular pit became visible at slightly
less than 40 cm below surface.
Excavation of a portion of the pit fill yielded more pottery, bladelet
fragments, and a sheet of mica. Conservation and examination of the
mica by the Gerald R. Ford Conservation Center in Omaha, Nebraska,
indicated that at least one edge of the mica had been cut and shaped.
Unfortunately, the fragmentary sheet lacks any identifiable form. An
AMS date on charred True Hickory wood from the pit fill yielded a date
calibrated to two sigma of 50 BC – AD 130 (Beta-147184). This
date is consistent with the radiocarbon date obtained by Bret Ruby
from the base of the northwest wall of the Hopeton Rectangle (Ruby
Late Woodland occupation of the Triangle Tract is best documented
at Feature 88. This pit was dark and circular in plan, with sloping
sides and a round bottom. Unlike most features at this site, this one
was loaded with fire-cracked rock, charred macrobotanical remains,
faunal remains, lithic debris, chipped stone tools, and grit-tempered
pottery. The pottery is cord-marked with diagonal cord-wrapped-stick
impressions on the lip. The presence of substantial amounts of faunal
remains makes this pit unique among the features examined thus far
at the Triangle Tract. Turtle, raccoon, and elk are present in association
with large quantities of deer. Examination of seven deer antler burrs
from the pit show that four are still attached to the skull and three
have been shed. Assuming that the fill of this pit was from a single
year, the pattern of antler shedding and growth would indicate winter
occupation (Bozell 2000). A sample of charred basswood from the feature
yielded a radiometric date calibrated to two sigma of AD 770– 1160
(Beta-147188). The amount of artifactual material found in this pit
contrasts markedly with the relatively impoverished contents of other
features at this site and seems to reflect a differing site use in
Late Woodland times.
The 1994 and 1998 test excavations in the Triangle Tract yielded valuable
information about the nature of past activities in this area of the
Hopeton Earthworks. Although our investigations were in the immediate
proximity of the parallel walls, obvious evidence of Hopewell activities
is fairly limited. As might have been predicted, the excavation data
indicates that the Triangle Tract landform has been occupied over a
considerable time. Of the eight radiocarbon dates from the Triangle
Tract, five indicate Late Archaic or Early Woodland activities, one
is clearly Hopewell, another one is Late Woodland, and the final one
Evidence of prehistoric occupation at this site is extensive across
the entire Triangle Tract, but none of the areas we have examined are
indicative of anything other than short-term use and occupation. During
the Late Archaic or Early Woodland, the site occupation is characterized
by the presence of circular or oval pits with flat bottoms. The pits
contain fire-cracked rock and lithic debris, but very little food remains
or temporally diagnostic artifacts.
During the Middle Woodland period, there is evidence for ritual activities
in the form of a circular clay basin and a pit with a sheet of cut
mica. Although some of the other, more subtle features at the site
may eventually be attributed to the Middle Woodland period, there is
very minimal evidence in this area for Hopewell occupation. Current
data suggests the Triangle Tract was only occupied for short periods
of time by the Hopewell, possibly for ritual activities in the proximity
of the parallel walls.
Late Woodland use of the site appears limited at this time also. However,
the contents of Feature 88 are so different from the contents of earlier
pits, the nature of activities at the site must have changed. Food
remains, stone tools, lithic debris, and pottery are plentiful in this
Late Woodland feature, but they are very minimal in all the earlier
features at the site. This may simply be a product of the limited sample
of excavated features at the Hopeton, but it more likely reflects a
change in the nature and use of the site.
Our work at the Triangle Tract was initiated in 1994 with the goal
of determining whether there is evidence of Hopewell occupation in
association with the parallel walls. Thus far, we have found only limited
evidence that the Hopewell used the Triangle Tract. While it is possible
that the Hopewell used this area for activities that left no physical
evidence, it seems more likely that use of the area was reserved for
short-term occupations associated with ritual activities. The Triangle
Tract data also suggests we must be cautious in attributing all of
the archeological remains that are in proximity to large earthworks
to the Hopewell.
Clearly, much more work is needed before we can make sense of what
appears to be a fairly complex pattern of prehistoric activities in
association with the Hopeton Earthworks. In the immediate future, efforts
will focus on further analysis of data collected from the Triangle
Tract. In 2001, we plan to conduct geophysical survey and limited testing
in other areas of the site to determine if the patterns observed at
the Triangle Tract are characteristic of the site as a whole.
Blank John E.
1885 An Aerial Photogrammetrical Analysis of the Hopeton National Historic
Landmark, Ross County, Ohio.
Department of Anthropology, Cleveland State University, Cleveland.
Bozell, John R. 2000 Faunal Remains from the Hopeton Triangle Site,
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Ohio.
Manuscript on file, National Park Service, Midwest Archeological Center,
Brose, David S. 1976 An Historical Archaeological Evaluation of the
Hopeton Works, Ross County, Ohio.
Department of Archaeology, Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Cleveland.
Cockrell, Ron 1999 Amidst Ancient Monuments: The Administrative History
of Mound City Group National Monument/Hopewell Culture National Historical
National Park Service, Omaha, Nebraska.
Ruby, Brett 1997 Current Research at Hopewell Culture National Historical
Hopewell Archaeology 2(2):1–6.