CCD   HISTORY 201 - History of United States 1

The Adena Mounds

Starting around 1000 B.C. and flourishing until about 1 A.D., a sophisticated culture based on sumpweed, sunflower, squash and amaranth agriculture created chiefdoms centered around monumental architecture including mounds and fortified villages. 

A later group of Mound Builders, the Hopewell, flourished from about 1 A.D. to 700 A.D. and represented a greater refinement over the earlier Adena culture. Other cultures, known as the Mississippians extended the mound building in the southeast to about 1300 A.D.

The Adena mound builders made significant settlements in what is now known as West Virginia. They lived and built cone-shaped, geometrical and effigy mounds over a wide range  including much of present day Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania and New York: from the Atlantic, the Midwest and the Ohio Valley to the Mississippi Valley. 

The Adena people traded extensively. Material found in their mounds includes copper from the western Great Lakes region, mica from the Carolinas and shells from the Gulf of Mexico. 



The Adena built mounds generally ranging in size from 20 to 300 feet in diameter. The labor of many people must have been required - we have no evidence of mechanized or sophisticated means of construction. Presumably the large amounts of earth had to be moved by the basket-load. Perhaps for this reason, the mounds were often used more than once. We find multiple burials at different levels in many mounds. Over a period of time, the mounds were increased in size.

A majority of the people were cremated after death, placed in small log tombs and covered with earth. More important people were often buried in the flesh and laid to rest with a variety of artifacts such as flints, beads, pipes, and mica and copper ornaments. 

These artifacts came from the Chesapeake region:

The largest of these Adena mound sites is the Grave Creek Mound. This site is of the late Adena Period and was built in successive stages over a period of 100 years or more. We do not know why the Adena chose to build this particular mound on such a huge scale compared to other burial mounds in the area.

In 1838, road engineers measured the height of the mound at 69 feet and the diameter at the base as 295 feet. Originally a moat of about 40 feet in width and five feet in depth with one causeway encircled the mound.

Construction of the mound took place in successive stages from about 250-150 B.C., as indicated by the multiple burials at different levels within the structure. The building of the mound and moat must have been a massive undertaking, since the total effort required the movement of over 60,000 tons of earth.

There was a controversy in the 1800's over the discovery of a stone that appears to have an alphabetic inscription. See an article at  The Grave Creek Stone.

Most Adena mounds were conical, but they also built a 1/4 mile long "serpent mound" near modern day Cincinnati.



A typical Adena house was built in a circular form from 15 to 45 feet in diameter. The walls were made of paired posts tilted outward, joined to other wood to form a conical-shaped roof. The roof was covered with bark and the walls may have been bark, wickerwork or some combination.

By about 500 B.C., the Adena culture began to slowly give way to a more sophisticated culture, the Hopewell. Although little remains of their villages, the Adena left great monuments to mark their passing, and one of the greatest of these is the Grave Creek Mound.

Further information about the Adena people can be found at the Grave Creek Mound State Park in Moundsville, West Virginia.