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Adena Culture

The Adena culture was a conglomerate of many Indian communities that inhabited the Central and Southern regions of Ohio in the first millennium BC. The Adena people lived in villages and survived by hunting, fishing and gathering wild plants. Although the Adena culture survived for many centuries (500-100 BC), much of what we know of them today is drawn from mounds.

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Their location on the Ohio River provided them an accessible passageway to and from New York, Pennsylvania, and southern Illinois. Many Adena artifacts have been found in these regions. Their location had many resources and supplied them with the copper and mica that they traded. The Adena culture is also distinguished by their siltstone smoking pipes. These pipes are fine examples of prehistoric Indian art.

The building of the mounds began around 500 BC. At first the mounds were small and had no special design or shape, but later they increased in size and became more artistically designed. One of the earliest and most important sites of the Adena culture was located in the Sioto River Valley near Chillicothe. Many other sites were located within 150 miles of the Ohio River, from Kentucky and Eastern Indiana to West Virginia and Western Pennsylvania.

Whether or not the mounds were used for religious purposes is not clear, however, some uses are known. Some of the mounds were used as a burial place for important people in their society. On the other hand, the common people were usually cremated after death. The size of the bodies found in the mounds indicate that these people were uncommonly large. The bodies found were both men and women that were commonly over six feet tall with powerful builds. They were all found in elaborately prepared log tombs within the mounds. A number of mounds were used to convey an idea or a myth instead of burial. One of the most famous of these mounds is the "Great Serpent Mound" which was made in the shape of a serpent swallowing an oval object which is speculated to be the sun derived from an Indian myth.

The Great Serpent Mound

Whatever the meaning of these mysterious mounds, the culture that built them left their mark. During and following the Adena culture emerged the Hopewell culture. As the Adena culture slowly died out, the Hopewell took its place and continued the tradition of building mounds. Though the Hopewell get more attention, it is important to realize where they could have received some of their influence, the Adena culture.


Encyclopedia of Indians of the Americas (Volume 1, Scholarly Press Inc.; Michigan, 1974)

2.) McHenry, Robert (ed.), The New Encyclopedia Britannica (Volume 1, Encyclopedia Britannica Inc.; Chicago, 1992)

3.) Shaffer, Lynda Norene, Native Americans Before 1492: The Moundbuilding Centers of the Eastern Woodlands (Armonk, NY; M.E. Sharpe, 1992)

4.) Silverberg, Robern, Mound Builders of Ancient America (Greenwich, Connecticut, Rovert Silverberg, 1968)

Edited by: Harvest J. Pack, 
Researched by: Polyxeni Khalil, 
Written by: Eudora M. Fay, 
September 24, 1996

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