The Adena-Hopewell Legacy of Southern Ontario Part 1: Archaeology, Haplogroup X, and an Algonquian Heritage
By Jason Jarrell
The Adena-Hopewell burial mounds and earthworks of the Ohio River Valley are perhaps the most famous prehistoric sites of the Eastern Woodlands of North America. Yet “Adena-Hopewell” was not confined to the Ohio Valley—in reality, this was a major cultural tradition that covered most of the territory east of the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean, and stretching from Ontario to Southern Florida. And while archaeologists have attempted for decades to explain this vast expansion with a “down the line” approach—the idea that ideologies and technological developments spread mainly by trade and not by the movements and activities of actual people—more recently the experts have had to acknowledge that indeed, there were specific peoples involved in the transmission of Adena-Hopewell culture, even if their ethnographic heritage may vary from one region to another (Pluckhahn et al. 2020).
Since the mid-20th century it has been well established that Adena-Hopewell in the Ohio Valley developed from an older burial cult with two major ”forms” or variations, usually referred to as Red Ocher and Glacial Kame, which spans a period of roughly 1500—500 BC. From this time the earliest Adena mounds were raised—mostly in the Upper Ohio Valley and Southern Ohio. Around 200 BC, Adena entered a more elaborate “Late” phase, and then the Ohio version of “Hopewell” first appeared sometime around 50 BC, probably in the vicinity of Chillicothe. Late Adena and Ohio Hopewell overlapped and co-operatively interacted in the Ohio Valley from this point forward—hence the use of the term Adena-Hopewell—demonstrating their common heritage.
What is less commonly understood is that the ancient progression of Red Ocher-Glacial Kame to Adena-Hopewell actually occurred over the entire Northeast and Midwest, from the Great Lakes to the Tennessee River Valley and throughout much of the North and Mid Atlantic regions. In other words, the cultural stream of which Adena-Hopewell is a part is not unique to the Ohio Valley, and it naturally follows that the answers to many of the questions regarding this ancient phenomenon will never be found by narrowly focusing upon what amounts to one of many regions blanketed by its influence. Bearing this in mind, we now turn to the millennia-spanning manifestation of this cultural stream in Southern Ontario.
In Southern Ontario the Red Ocher and Glacial Kame burial complexes are usually considered two components of the Meadowood Culture, which spans 1500 to 800 BC. Meadowood sites feature the same diagnostic burial styles and artifacts that are found in Red Ocher-Glacial Kame burials in Ohio. For example, at the Sartori Site on Leamington Ridge, Essex County, several red ocher covered burials—including at least one ocher-encased cremation—were found in a sand and gravel knoll. Artifacts recovered include 1 Sandal-Sole shell gorget, 1 bar type shell gorget, marine shell beads, 1 copper axe, 1 chert bi-face, 1 worked shell object, 1 polished bone awl, 1 cigar shaped tubular limestone pipe, and other objects (Donaldson and Wortner 1995).
At the much larger Hind Site on the Thames River, the remains of 30-40 individuals were recovered from pits in a sandy knoll, many associated with red ocher, and several of the burials are suggestive of prestige or status, including a 13-year old adolescent buried with a modified black bear skull, cigar-shaped stone pipe, and a strand of 108 copper beads, among other artifacts (Donaldson and Wortner 1995). A cremated adult male was found in the same tomb as the adolescent, with red ocher, two birdstones, one three-holed circular marine shell gorget, one two holed rectangular slate gorget, and pyrite deposits. The burials and accompanying artifacts from Hind could just as easily be found in Late Archaic and even Early Adena burials in the Ohio Valley, and likely represent the same shamanic ideology.
Hind has been dated back as far as 1370 BC (Ellis et al. 2009), and is considered one of a number of Late Archaic sites in Southern Ontario, Northwestern Ohio, and Southeastern Michigan which were interconnected in a regional sphere of cultural transmission and interaction (Stothers and Abel 2008). In other words, we are dealing with a major node in the greater cultural expansion across a wide region that eventually evolved into Adena-Hopewell. In fact, under the name of “Meadowood”, the Red Ocher-Glacial Kame complex of Ontario was connected with contemporaneous manifestations in Indiana, Pennsylvania, New York State, and along the Atlantic Coast. The New York State archaeologist William Ritchie (1965) identified the burial ritualism of Meadowood with the same cultural continuum that gave rise to the later local manifestations of Adena and Hopewell, and interpreted the selection of natural knolls and hills for burial sites to reflect the same principles behind the construction of artificial mounds for the dead. These conclusions parallel those of the Adena expert Don Dragoo (1963), who considered Adena-Hopewell to have developed in the Ohio Valley out of an expansion of the Red Ocher-Glacial Kame culture from the Great Lakes region.
In parallel to the cultural sequence of the Ohio Valley, the Red Ocher-Glacial Kame complex in Ontario evolved into the local form of Adena in the latter first millennium BC. In Southern Ontario, New York State, and some areas of the Atlantic Coast, Adena is known as the Middlesex Culture. Middlesex sites yield such diagnostic artifacts as bi-faces made of cherts from Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, stemmed Adena and Kramer points, leaf shaped blades, pop-eyed birdstones, and Adena amulets and gorgets. Middlesex chronology spans 400-100 BC (Ferris and Spence 1995). Beneath the See Mound on the Western end of Tidd’s island in Eastern Ontario, 12-15 Middlesex burials were found radiating outward from a large ash pile at the center of the mound floor, and several of the burials featured stone slabs over the heads and other parts of the bodies (Kenyon 1986). Similar burial arrangements were found at the Criel Mound at Charleston, West Virginia and the Kiefer and Wilmington Mounds in Ohio (Webb and Snow 1945:81).
Diagnostic Adena burials have also been found in the Ottawa Valley. One of the tombs at the Morrison’s Island 2 site in Pembroke consisted of a pit 3 feet in depth, containing bundled human remains wrapped in birch bark with 200 copper beads, 2 Burlington chert bifaces, 1 Robbins point made of the same material, and another Robbins point made of Mercer flint, all heavily encrusted with red ocher and limonite. Robbins style spear points are a diagnostic feature of the Late Adena phase in the Ohio Valley, which commences at around 200 BC, which corresponds to recently obtained radiocarbon dates from the Morrison’s Island Adena burial at 2000 +/- 40 BP and 2210 +/- 40 BP (Pilon and Young 2009:198-199).
The Lake Forest Middle Woodland Period: Regional Hopewell Cultures
In Southern Ontario, the Middle Woodland Period—which in the Ohio Valley is synonymous with the emergence of Late Adena and Hopewell—begins around 300 BC. At this time technological evolution, burial ritualism, and the circulation of exotica parallel developments which archaeologists attribute to participation in the “Hopewell Interaction Sphere”. Diagnostic Hopewellian artifacts from sites in Southern Ontario include Snyders points, platform pipes, worked mica objects, copper and/or silver sheeted panpipes, copper ear spools, characteristic stone gorgets and pendants, and beads made of copper, silver, and marine shell (Ferris and Spence 1995:99). The development of Ontario Hopewell represents the same cultural chain that unfolded in Ohio and elsewhere: “early in the Middle Woodland period some Ontario groups were peripherally involved in a Middlesex-Adena network through which a variety of exotica circulated…That network was replaced by, or more probably evolved into, the Hopewellian interaction sphere” (Ferris and Spence 1995:101-102). Archaeologists have defined several different Hopewellian cultures in Ontario, including the Point Peninsula, Laurel, and Saugeen cultures. It is important to note however, that these cultures may be considered to represent variations of a single regional manifestation, sometimes referred to as the Lake Forest Middle Woodland.
The Point Peninsula-Hopewell Culture spans south-central Ontario, Southern Quebec, Western New York State, and the Atlantic seaboard. The Point Peninsula people constructed burial mounds and earthworks, many of which are concentrated in the Rice Lake and Trent River vicinities of Ontario, which obviously embody the same cultural heritage as their more famous counterparts in Southern Ohio.
The Serpent Mounds site is located on the Northern shore of Rice Lake in Peterborough County, Ontario. There are nine burial mounds at this site, one of which—Mound E—is considered to be a serpent effigy. The serpent measures 194 feet in length, 25 feet in width at the base, and reaches a maximum height of 5-6 feet. Excavations of the Mound E serpent have revealed primary burials in sub-mound pits and on the surface of the mound floor, and secondary burials distributed in the body or fill of the mound—in total the serpent originally held the remains of over 60 individuals (Dillane 2010). Artifacts recovered from these burials include copper, shell, and silver beads, mandibles of timber wolf, bird, and bear, beak of loon, a limestone animal effigy, a massive double-bitted adze, one painted and one fragmentary turtle carapace, and other items.
Besides being a serpent, the Rice Lake effigy resembles the well-known Serpent Mound of Ohio in several other interesting ways. For example, Mound F at Serpent Mounds is considered by some to represent an “egg” before the head of the Mound E Serpent, and has been found to contain at least 6 burials, one of which was an isolated “trophy skull” as found in many Adena and Hopewell mounds in the Ohio Valley. David Boyle (1897) excavated several of these burials in the late 1800s, and also reported the discovery of a layer of black earth mingled with ash and mussel shells, 4 feet from the surface at the center of the egg. Beneath this layer, Boyle found a circular formation of stones 3 feet in diameter at mound base, which showed evidence of being subjected to heat. In their own survey of the Ohio serpent, Squier and Davis (1848:97) mentioned a stone structure, which once stood within the oval or “egg” situated before the serpent’s open mouth that was very similar to the circular stone structure found by Boyle beneath the egg (Mound F) at the Rice Lake site:
“The ground within the oval is slightly elevated: a small circular elevation of large stones much burned once existed in its centre; but they have been thrown down and scattered by some ignorant visitor, under the prevailing impression probably that gold was hidden beneath them.”
Furthermore, although archaeologists have long denied that the Serpent Mound in Ohio ever contained burials, recent research by Jeffrey Wilson (2016) has turned up evidence that in fact, the effigy did once contain burials. Regarding the Ontario Serpent Mounds site, Spence and Harper (1968:55) state, “Mound burial might be a Hopewellian trait, though the serpent shape is possibly related to the Serpent Mound of Ohio, seemingly Adena.” Indeed, radiocarbon dates from the Ontario Serpent span 128-302 AD, overlapping the Late Adena and Hopewell cultures in the Ohio Valley (Johnston 1968:70-72).
The Cameron’s Point site consisted of three Point Peninsula mounds and a shell midden located at the Eastern end of Rice Lake. One of the burials at the base of Mound C, consisted of the remains of a seven-year-old child with two necklaces of copper, silver and shell beads wrapped around the neck, one of which included a shell disk bead pendant. Lying upon the pedant were five shell beads and a silver panpipe cover (Spence and Harper 1968). The skull of another 6-7 year old child in Mound C rested upon a Hopewell-type platform pipe. The decidedly Hopewellian assemblages with these burials are mirrored by discoveries at the Levesconte Mound on the Northern bank of the Trent River in Northumberland County, which contained the disarticulated remains of at least 61 individuals buried with bundles of artifacts including shell beads and pendants, mica, copper awls, and copper and silver panpipe sheaths (Kenyon 1986). The remains of a 40-50 year old woman were associated with four panpipe covers—three of copper and one of silver—while the remaining panpipe covers were found with the remains of children. Radiocarbon dates obtained from bone samples at Levesconte Mound are 120 +/- 50 AD. and 230 +/- 50 AD (Doughtery 2003:16).
Saugeen Culture—Adena-Hopewell Transition
The idea that there was a Saugeen Culture in Southwestern Ontario was based on discoveries at the Donaldson site along the Saugeen River in Bruce County. This important site is multi-component, with features dating back as far as 770 BC—as such; we will focus here on the Middle Woodland Period components. Initially, archaeologists interpreted the differences between the Woodland period pottery at Donaldson and other Point Peninsula sites to indicate that a completely different culture was represented—hence the Saugeen Culture. However, a recent review of discoveries from the Donaldson site by Benjamin Mortimer (2012) indicates that the site is actually transitional between the regional Early and Middle Woodland cultures. In the language of Ohio Valley archaeology, this would mean that the site is a bridge in the evolution from Adena to Hopewell.
There were two major periods of excavation at Donaldson, in 1960 and 1971, both of which revealed separate cemeteries. The burials unearthed in 1971 consisted of three burial pits containing the remains of 10-11 individuals buried as inhumations, partial cremations, and defleshed and dismembered skeletons (Finlayson 1977). Copper artifacts recovered include 2 panpipe covers, 1 awl, 1 bar, 1 bangle, 1 bead, 1 patch for a stone Hopewell-type earspool, and 1 fragment of scrap copper. As noted by Finlayson (1977:513), the Donaldson burials yielded “a number of artifacts diagnostic of Hopewellian cultures to the south.” The Hopewell aspect at Donaldson is especially apparent in the assemblage from a Middle Woodland period burial dated to between 100 B.C. and 200 A.D., in which human remains were found associated with a copper panpipe cover, worked mica sheets, a stone earspool, and other objects (Mortimer 2012:39).
The Laurel Culture
Around 200 B.C., a manifestation of Hopewell known as the Laurel Culture or the Rainy River Aspect emerged in Northwestern Ontario and Northern Minnesota in the U.S., and eventually spread into Eastern Manitoba, Southern Quebec, and areas of Northern Michigan. While people of the Laurel Culture engaged in interactions with other Hopewellian groups in Ohio, Illinois, and Southern Minnesota, Laurel itself is considered “a unique and independent entity” (Mather 2015:195) with strong ties to Point Peninsula and Saugeen Hopewell of Southern Ontario. Laurel is known for its incredible time range—spanning roughly 200 BC to sometime between 1100 and 1200 AD—making this the longest lasting manifestation of Hopewell Culture known.
Radiocarbon ranges for Laurel in different regions include 150 B.C.—1190 A.D. in Northwestern Ontario, 30 A.D.—1030 A.D. in Manitoba, 30 A.D.—560 A.D. in Michigan, and 150 B.C.—650 A.D. in Minnesota (Arzigian 2012; Dawson 1981). This chronology indicates that Ontario and Minnesota manifestations of the Laurel culture—like Havana Hopewell in the Illinois River Valley—is older than Ohio Hopewell, which began in the first century BC. Like the Illinois Valley Havana, it is possible that Laurel was one of the initial regional points of emanation of “Hopewellian” influences through the trans-regional exchange networks that had existed since Late Archaic times.
The Laurel material culture includes copper objects (such as beads, flakers, bracelets, and awls); antler harpoons, stemmed and notched projectile points, grinding stones, and potteries with similarities to Point Peninsula and Saugeen styles (Boyd et al. 2014). One of the most important sites of the Laurel Culture is the Grand Mound, which is one of a group of 5 mounds located on the Minnesota side of the Rainy River at the mouth of Big Fork River in Koochiching County. Grand Mound is 25 feet high, 100 feet in width, and 140 feet long, and features an extension or tail 200 feet in length. Long considered to be a type of effigy, recent research by David Mather (2015) suggests that Grand Mound represents the Muskrat character from a regional variation of the Earth Diver Myth:
“In the world-creation (or re-creation) stories from many parts of the world, the Earth Diver plays a heroic role in the aftermath of a global flood. In these stories, some mud must be retrieved from deep under the water so that dry land can be magically created. Always a diminutive creature such as an insect or diving duck, the Earth Diver succeeds when stronger animals have failed and hope is fading. Oral traditions of a muskrat as the Earth Diver are known from Algonquian-speaking groups including the Ojibwe and Cree, as well as Siouan speakers including the Dakota” (Mather 2015:196).
Indeed, Muskrat bones have been found in ritualized contexts in Hopewell mounds in Southern Minnesota and western Illinois, and it is widely accepted that some form of the Earth Diver Myth was central to the cosmology of Adena-Hopewell in nearly all of its manifestations. The area where the Grand Mound was constructed only emerged from beneath the water around 2500 years ago thanks to changing hydrology, and the site then remained a floodplain with occasional submergence. According to Mather (2015:200—203), the ancients may have created a Muskrat effigy at this specific place because the environment itself reflected the events of the Earth Diver Myth.
It is interesting that Mather mentions the traditions of the Ojibwa and Cree in connection with Grand Mound, since there is a growing mountain of evidence that it was the ancestors of the Algonquian speaking peoples of this region who were behind the cultures we have briefly discussed in this article. In a recent study of the mtDNA of the burial population of the Donaldson Site, Grant Karcich (2014) found that haplogroup X occurs at a 25% frequency, which aligns with the frequency of haplogroup X among the modern Algonquian speaking populations in the Great Lakes region. As explained by Karcich et al. (2006):
“The Donaldson haplogroup results are consistent with modern Algonquian populations and are indicative of an Algonquian population in the northeast during the Middle Woodland period. In the northeast, where Donaldson occurs there are two modern native linguistic groups, the Algonquians and the Iroquoians. Algonquian populations contain haplogroups with high A and C, low B and D, and X up to 25 percent. Iroquoian populations have either high A or C and no haplogroup X.”
DNA studies have demonstrated that Algonquian-speaking peoples are the primary carriers of haplogroup X in Eastern North America (Malhi et al. 2001). A review of the mtDNA of 185 full-blooded Native Americans by Malhi et al. (2001:42) found that “haplogroup X is both especially common and ubiquitous in Algonkian populations”. Native American haplogroup X is better known as “X2a”. X2a is a distinctly North American haplogroup, and is considered rare in comparison to the other four founder haplogroups (A, B, C, and D). To date, the earliest discovery of the X2a lineage in the United States is from the remains of Kennewick Man, discovered on the Columbia River in Benton County, Washington and dated to 8,690-8,400 BP (Bolnick and Raff 2015). Kennewick Man not only demonstrates the antiquity of X2a in North America, but also clearly points to a Western Pacific origin. There is strong linguistic and archaeological evidence that the original proto-Algonquians migrated from the Pacific Northwest many thousands of years ago, passing through the Columbia Plateau and eventually settling in to their ancient homeland in the Northeast. The history of haplogroup X corroborates this probability:
“A central X haplotype is shared by Native Americans in the Northwest and Northeast, suggesting that this haplotype might be the founding X haplotype in eastern North America…haplogroup X is present in a more linguistically diverse population in the Northwest, whereas in the Northeast this haplogroup is mainly limited to Algonquian speakers. This is consistent with the hypothesis that haplogroup X was first introduced to the eastern part of North America by Algonquians emigrating from Northwestern North America…” (Malhi et al. 2002:916)
Pointing out that “craniometric data is highly correlated with mitochondrial DNA data”, Karcich (2014:7-8) makes several critical observations relevant to the Northeastern Adena-Hopewell cultures:
“Middle Woodland populations of Serpent Mounds and Donaldson cluster together and are also found in close association with historic Chippewa and Cheyenne, two Algonquian speaking groups. The historic Huron and North West New York populations form a separate cluster of their own. This analysis supports an in-situ development of Algonquians in the Great Lakes region dating back into the Middle Woodland period” (Karcich 2014:7).
Another significant mtDNA study Dewar et al. (2010:2245) found that five individuals from the Great Western Park archaeological site on the Detroit River dating to 1043-1385 AD “showed genetic links with the Hind site, an Archaic site in southern Ontario.” One of the Great Western Park individuals exhibited an extremely rare haplogroup A transition at np 16234, which Dewar et al. (2010:2250) emphasize has only been documented for two known individuals, “a Cheyenne individual…and an individual from the Hind site, a Glacial Kame site dating back to approximately 2900 BP from Middlesex County, Southern Ontario”. Clearly there is some level of long term genetic continuity in the region, spanning the Late Archaic predecessors of Adena-Hopewell to modern Algonquian speakers.
For decades, scholars have connected the cultures discussed in this article with specific ancestral Algonquian groups using linguistic and archaeological research that can now be seen to corroborate the evidence more recently obtained by the genetic and anthropological studies. J.V. Wright (1999) considered the Laurel Culture to be the heritage of the Ojibwa and Western Cree, and suggested that a marriage network existed between the people of the Laurel, Point Peninsula, and Saugeen peoples. J. Peter Denny (1994) suggested that the Eastern Cree are also descendants of the Laurel Culture—according to his theory, Eastern groups adopted the Cree language and engaged in marriage alliances with ancient Algonquians during the expansion of the Laurel Culture, facilitating participation in new ceremonial practices and exchange. The Algonquian Arapaho and Suhtai Cheyenne have also been associated with regional Laurel and Blackduck (600-800 AD) cultures (Clark 2012:34), and Barry Pritzker (2000) has traced the ancestral heritage of the Arapaho as far back as 3,000 years in the Red River Valley in Manitoba, Canada and Minnesota.
The antiquity of the Algonquian ancestors in the Northeast is continually being pushed back in time by genetic research. In a large scale study cross referencing the DNA of ancient remains dating back to 4,800 years ago with that of modern Native American populations, Scheib et al. (2018:1) found that “the ancient Southwestern Ontario (ASO) population clusters with modern Algonquian speaking populations and the Ancient One [Kennewick Man]”. This dating overlaps the Laurentian Archaic-Old Copper Culture in the region, which is considered the original ancestor of the cult of the dead that evolved into Red Ocher-Glacial Kame and Adena-Hopewell (Dragoo 1963). Current studies of the mtDNA of individuals associated with the ancient Maritime Archaic Culture, which dates back as far as 7,500 BC, have even revealed certain X lineages that survived to continue on in Algonquian populations.
Obviously, we are only beginning to understand the incredible time depth and vibrant cultural heritage of a people who—long before the discoveries discussed in this article—had already tried to tell us: “We have always been here.” We will visit some of the deeper ramifications of the Northeastern Anishinaabe legacy in the next installment of this series.
Bibliography available upon request.
Jason Jarrell is co-author of Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America (LuLu.com, 2017): https://www.lulu.com/en/us/shop/sarah-farmer-and-jason-jarrell/ages-of-the-giants/paperback/product-1rv687k6.html
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