Hemp And The Hopewell Mound Builders

Between 200 B.C. and A.D. 400 (sometimes referred to as “Middle Woodland”), a major mound-building civilization, the Hopewell, emerged. At the height of it’s influence, the Hopewell extended over much of the Midwest, from Mississippi to Minnesota, from Nebraska to Virginia, producing their greatest burial mounds in the Ohio Valley, where ornate mounds spot the land and incredible geometric earthen-works often enveloped hundreds of acres of land. These sites were the focus of important religious, political, and economic activities, although the true reason for the mounds have yet to be clearly understood. Outside of Ohio, many contemporary societies in throughout the Eastern Woodlands shared Ohio Hopewell burial customs and rituals, as well as artifact styles.

While there is some disagreement about its exact origins, there can be little doubt that much of the Ohio Hopewell had its origins in the Adena tradition. And like the Adena, the Hopewell should not be contrived of as a monolithic culture nor a political system that is spread across the Eastern Woodlands. Instead, it is was a widely shared tradition of similar artifact styles and exotic raw materials traded through a sophisticated web of trade that brought together many regional societies, whose cultures varied greatly in terms of environmental adaptations, and the supporting material culture items developed from those adaptations.

Remnants are still visible of the Hopewell culture, where they are concentrated in the Scioto River valley near the city of Chillicothe, Ohio. The most inspiring Hopewell sites contain earthworks in the form of circles, squares, and other geometric shapes. Many of these sites were built on a monumental scale, with earthen walls up to 12 feet high outlining geometric figures more than 1,000 feet across. Conical and loaf-shaped mounds up to 30 feet high are often found in mysterious association with the geometric earthworks.

In his study of Prehistoric Textile Art of Eastern United States, Smithsonian Institute ethnologist W. H. Holmes showed that the ancient Mound-Builders utilized cannabis/hemp. Clay pipes, numbering in the hundreds, have been found in the so-called Death Mask Mound of the Hopewell Mound Builders who lived circa 400 BC in modern Ohio. Some pipes have been found to contain cannabis residues and have been wrapped in hemp cloth. At one site in Morgan County, Tennessee, Holmes recovered large pieces of hemp fabric:

“As if to convey to the curious investigator of modern times a complete knowledge of their weavers’ art, the friends of the dead deposited with the body not only the fabrics worn during life but a number of skeins of the fiber from which the fabrics were probably made. This fiber has been identified as that of cannabis sativa, or wild hemp…”

Hemp has been in North American much longer than many are led to believe.

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