There are many aspects of the Hopewell people that have set them apart from other Native Americans in different areas of the North American continent. Rather than a single society or people, the Hopewell might best be thought of as a system of interaction among a number of different cultures in the Eastern Woodlands of North America. This system of interaction peaked 200 BC to 400 AD. They were similar to Northern Woodlands and Great Lakes region Indians in that they were very powerful and influential over their area.
Hopewell people lived and farmed along rivers and major waterways. According to Bret J. Ruby, an archeologist working at the Hopewell Culture National Historic Site, while Native American populations had been experimenting with plant cultivation since at least 5000 BC, "Hopewellian peoples were among the first fully committed agriculturalists. Beginning about AD 1, agriculture became the central focus (not just a supplement to hunting and gathering) of many Hopewellian subsistence economies. These earliest farming systems were based on indigenous seed-bearing annuals: sunflower, squash, chenopodium, knotweed, marsh elder, little barley and maygrass were among the most important plants. Maize, if present at all, was only a minor crop and did not become a staple until about AD 800-1000, when it largely replaced the earlier indigenous crops."
One of the major accomplishments they are best known for is their burial mounds. Some see the mounds to have possibly been for military or even religious temple use. The massive size of these structures is evidence that there was a very structured kind of labor among the Hopewells.
In these burial mounds are revealed many aspects of the Hopewell society. They carved animals on the utensils and pottery used for feasts and religious rituals. This reflected the harmony and dependence they had for the natural world. The establishment of trade routes can be seen in the materials they had that came from as far away as the Rocky Mountains, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico. As a result of this they were able to have the best materials as well as very skilled specialized tradesmen. Their work was considered the best of the time. They used copper quite frequently, as well as iron and silver. But while they were skilled metal workers, they never mastered the techniques of smelting ores. Their metals were all derived from either native copper or silver nuggets or iron-rich meteors. After 400 AD most of the most noticeable aspects of the Hopewell culture started to fade away.
Coee, Michael, Snow, Dean, Benson,Elizabeth. Atlas of Ancient America. Facts On File Publications. New York, NY. 1986.
Gwinn, Robert P. The New Encyclopedia Britannica. Vol. 6. Encyclopaedia Britanica Inc. Chicago, IL. 1986.
Mauver, Evan M. The Native American Heritage. The Art Institute of Chicago. Chicago, IL. 1977.
Edited by: Kristian A. Werling
Researched by: Chad E. Anderson
Written by: Brankica Radonjic
September 25, 1996
Revised 12 February 1998
Copyright 1996-1999 by David W. Koeller. All rights reserved.