Book Review: Recreating Hopewell

The Hopewell are, primarily, a middle woodland phenomena. They are famous mainly due to the elaborate mounds and earthworks which reach their peak in Ohio (see map below). They are also famous for some of their artifacts – such as this bird of prey:
The Hopewell are the subject of a new book, edited by Douglas Charles and Jane Buikstra, called Recreating Hopewell. The book represents state of the art thinking on the Hopewell and are the proceedings of the conference “Perspectives on Middle Woodland at the Millennium” held in 2000.

The book is divided into four sections covering Hopewell in Ohio, Hopewell/Middle Woodland Outside Ohio, New Approaches to Hopewell Material Culture, and commentaries on the preceding three sections. The first section starts with Pacheco and Dancey laying out what is, for all practical purposes, the dominant paradigm in Hopewell studies. For Pacheco and Dancey Hopewell centers were largely vacant ceremonial complexes surrounded by hamlet settlements. As they put it:

In our view, Ohio Hopewell communities are composed of dispersed sedentary households that cluster in the vicinity of sacred precincts containing earthen architecture. While lacking permanent residences, the centers are periodically visited in culturally determined annual cycles by the local community and on occasion by representatives from neighboring communities and regional polities. Ohio Hopewell communities are anchored to their centers by corporate ownership of stable territories or socially bounded regions. Community members are dispersed in sedentary households that utilize small catchments, which include both active and fallow gardens where small starchy and oily seed plants are cultivated.

Several other chapters in this section address the question of settlement systems among the Ohio Hopewell. Others, such as Sunderhaus and Blosser and N’omi Greber look at the symbolic meaning of the mounds and enclosures.
The second section, as mentioned above, looks at Hopewell outside Ohio with particular emphasis on Michigan and Wisconsin. Several contributions are devoted to the poorly understood (in terms of culture history) Goodall Tradition. The third section, the most interesting to me, deals with a wide variety of phenomena including new ways of identifying the source of Hopewell obsidian, the role of shamanism in Hopewell society, and the Hopewell interaction sphere. Particularly interesting in this regard are the contributions by Holt and Fie. Holt’s contribution looks at animal use at mound centers and hamlets in the Illinois Valley. Two interesting results stand out. First, Hopewell sites in the Illinois Valley seemed to be occupied in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. Second, there did not seem to be a difference between mound center and hamlet in terms of types, or parts, of animals utilized:

More feasting may have taken place at Havana centers than at Havana hamlets, based on slightly larger percentages of elk and dogs at mound centers, but there is not evidence at Havana centers of an elite social group that would have been provided with animal products from a large area.

(for more information on Havana you can go to Havana Hopewell).
Fie examined utilitarian ceramics and lithic raw materials in the Hopewell exchange system. Previously, focus had been prestige goods, but Fie demonstrates that more utilitarian objects were part of the trade network and concludes that interaction occurred on multiple scales.
The final section is composed of commentaries by Bruce Smith and Robert Chapman. Chapman looks at Hopewell from the point of view of an archaeologist working on Mesolithic and Neolithic European sites, while Smith sums up the previous sections and provides insights into directions for future work.
Overall, the book is, as mentioned above, state of the art. I would recommend the book to anyone interested in archaeology in general and Hopewell in particular. Additionally, the book would make a great textbook in a seminar on Hopewell. The book contains a good balance of the theoretical and practical issues currently facing archaeologists interested in the Middle Woodland period.
Here is the map of Hopewell sites:

2 Responses

  1. Cool! I worked on Middle Woodland digs in undergrad , dug up their bundle burials and ran the bone lab for the old school… Reading your post and Tara’s, makes me kind of homesick, so way to go! Now, I have to figure out if this makes me feel young again, or old.

  2. Then you will love this book. Fascinating stuff!

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: