This wonderful carved pipe was found in the Adena mound in Chillicothe. It depicts what archaeologists think to be an Adena man wearing typical clothing and jewelry.
The Adena Mound was located about one and a half miles northwest of Chillicothe, Ohio, in Ross County. Ohio Governor Thomas Worthington chose this location in the Scioto River Valley to build his home, completed in 1807, naming his estate “Adena,” which Worthington’s diary notes comes from a Hebrew name that “was given to places for the delightfulness of their situations.” The Adena culture (800 B.C. to A.D. 100), an archaeological culture referring to a culture of pre-contact American Indian peoples who produced cultural artifacts during this time, is named after the Adena Mound. Adena peoples thrived in southeastern Indiana, southwestern Pennsylvania, and most prominently in the Scioto River and Hocking Valleys in southern Ohio and the Kanawha Valley near Charleston, West Virginia.
In 1901, William C. Mills, then Curator of Archaeology at the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society (now the Ohio History Connection), excavated the Adena Mound. Although today we would regard the methods used by Mills in the excavation of the Adena Mound as crude or even alarming, at the time Mills was conducting the work, they were considered to be state of the art. The Ohio History Connection holds all excavated objects from the Adena Mound, and the human remains are at the Smithsonian.
Based on 20th century archaeological investigations, it appears that Adena burial practices varied, as some individuals were cremated while others were not, and some were buried with important cultural objects, and others were not. The quality and quantity of funerary objects included in a burial is believed to be indicative of that person’s importance to the community or to their family. Some individuals were not buried in mounds at all, which highlights the purposeful selection of those to be buried in mounds. Perhaps these were warriors, beloved community leaders, political leaders, religious leaders, or noted artisans.
The Adena used their burial mounds many times, perhaps over the course of several generations. The Adena Mound was constructed in two phases during different time periods. Surrounded by a circular earthen embankment and ditch, the mound was 26 feet tall with a circumference of 445 feet and a diameter of 90 feet. It was constructed of dark sand probably extracted from a local lake called Lake Ellesmere. It contained 23 human burials. During the second phase of construction, the Adena people enlarged the base of the mound by adding more earth on the north side, extending the base by 50 feet, and interred thirteen more individuals. Individuals buried in both phases of the mound were adorned with similar objects, such as copper bracelets and rings, slate gorgets, spear points, and many bone and shell beads. However, the earlier burials contained many more funerary objects than the later. The most significant artifact excavated from the mound was what we today call the Adena Pipe, a tubular smoking pipe carved from catlinite, or pipestone, in the shape of a man wearing a decorated loincloth, feather bustle, and ear spools.
Where the Adena mound once stood, which is now covered by an active road, was added to the National Register of Historic Places on June 5, 1975. Although the archaeological methods employed by Mills destroyed an important funerary monument, and current protections for burial sites would likely prohibit the excavation of the mound today, Mills’ excavation provided important insights into the cultural practices of the Adena culture and revealed many exceptional cultural objects. Since the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) in 1990, museums and cultural institutions are required by law to consult with Federally-recognized American Indian nations across the United States for the return of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and other culturally significant objects to the native nations or people to whom they belong.
The Adena Mound is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
- Lepper, Bradley T. "The Adena Pipe: icon of ancient Ohio." Timeline Volume 27. Number 1, pages 2-15. 2010.
- Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.
- Mills, William C. "Excavations of the Adena Mound," Ohio Archaeological and Historical Publications, Volume 10, pp. 452-479, 1902.
- Woodward, Susan L., and Jerry N. McDonald. Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Mounds and Earthworks of the Adena, Hopewell, Cole, and Fort Ancient People. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2002.