The Mound Builders
Now we know that when Lehi and his family arrived here in North America, they were not alone. There were, and previously had been, many other people upon this continent. Another thing we learned is that it was possible for Lehi to sail to this, his “promise land,” and probably had already heard of such travels by other people. Our focus, however, is not upon those other people, but upon another — the “Mound Builders.” (Right: Giant Serpentine Mound, Ohio; cir. 700 B.C.-200 A.D.)
Long before we knew those we call the American Indians, there lived a race that archeologists and anthropologists call the Mound Builders. There are varying beliefs on when these people lived, but most scholars agree that the time was between 3000 B.C. to 400 A.D. They were called Mound Builders because of the large sizes and numbers of mounds built of earth and stone. Of the Mound Builders, there are two specific groups; one is known as the “Adena” and the other is called the “Hopewell.” In briefly touching upon these two cultures, we will first start with the second group, the Hopewell.
The Hopewell Culture
The Hopewell culture is an ancient American civilization that arose in the mid-eastern part of North America as early as 200 B.C. until about 400 A.D. At their height they extended over much of the Midwest, from Florida to Minnesota, and from Nebraska to Virginia (Left: General map of Hopewell culture); with one of their chief characterizations being the building of gigantic mounds and earthen enclosures in a variety of shapes. These sites were obviously the centers of important religious, political, and economic activities, although the exact nature of such activities has yet to be clearly discerned.(1)
Since much of our knowledge of Hopewell comes from items (mounds, artifacts) associated with burial practices, we know little of Hopewell settlement patterns, subsistence, or daily life.
The Hopewell people should not be considered as having been a large political power; their leaders were not like powerful rulers, yet they were very influential over their area.(2) People from different villages worked together to build their society, which included many large mounds and enclosures. Generally speaking, they lived in small villages scattered throughout the river valleys of the regions in which they inhabited.
Hopewell dwellings were round, oval, or rectangular structures with rounded corners. (Left: Artistic conception of Hopewell dwellings — Compliments of Rodney Meldrum, DNA Evidence for Book of Mormon Geography DVD.) They were built of posts set in the ground, and joined at the top to form a dome with no obvious internal posts. The dwellings were covered with skins, bark, mats, or clay and thatch, and somewhat resembled the historically known “wigwams” of various Indian nations of northeastern North America. Some of these dwellings varied in size from 18-25 feet to 44 x 48 feet.(3) Hopewell dwellings and buildings were not made of stone as were the dwellings and buildings of Mesoamerica. However, the Hopewell did use stone in building some of their mounds, as did the Nephites of the Book of Mormon.
The Hopewell settlements were mostly along large river valleys near major waterways, apparently facilitating trading. Many exotic raw materials were exchanged through a sophisticated inter-regional network that tied together many local regional societies. Such goods were shells from the Gulf of Mexico; copper and silver from the Great Lakes region; mica, quartz crystal from the southern Appalachians; galena cubes from northwestern Illinois or Missouri; flint from Indiana and North Dakota; marine shells, shark and alligator teeth from Florida’s eastern and Gulf coast regions; and obsidian from Yellowstone Park and the Rocky Mountains; plus meteoric iron. From these materials the Hopewell culture crafted magnificent works of art, particular styles tools, and pottery unique to this time and region:
∙ Sheets of mica and/or copper silhouette cut-outs of birds, fish, human heads or hands, and geometric forms.
∙ Copper earrings, headdresses, masks, bracelets, beads, and chest ornaments
∙ Beautiful effigies of animal, bird, and human. (Right: This frog, or salamander, effigy is made from hammered copper. The two heads show the Hopewell fascination with mirror-images.)
∙ Painted fabrics.
∙ Giant sea snail shells from the Gulf Coast used for cups with central whorl cut into beads.
∙ Beads made from pearls of freshwater mussels, and used for anklets, bracelets, armlets, or sewn onto garments.
∙ Realistic figurines carved from stone or modeled from clay.
∙ In a few areas, large ceremonial bifaces of obsidian imported from Yellowstone National Park.
∙ Cut wolf jaws, cut bear jaws, and grizzly bear teeth used as beads or pendants.
∙ Alligator teeth and skulls, barracuda jaws and shark teeth.
One of the most outstanding characteristics of the Hopewell was their far-flung exchange systems which linked regions as far apart as Florida to the Great Lakes, North Dakota and the eastern slopes of the Appalachian mountains. Many of the finished items are of such surpassing excellence and skill in manufacture as to suggest that in many Hopewell centers there was a resident artisan class. (Right: This beautiful portrait of a Hopewell person is made from copper. It gives us a rare glimpse into how these people saw themselves.)
After 400 A.D. most of the most noticeable aspects of the Hopewell culture started to fade away.(4) Of the Hopewell, one author said, “The Hopewell ‘explosion’ was brilliant, but brief. It was all over by AD 400. The reasons for the sudden decline of the Hopewell culture are not well understood. The shift ... to larger villages surrounded by walls or ditches hints that increasing conflict may have been one factor in the abandonment of the earthworks and the far-flung networks of exchange.
“It is important to emphasize that the Hopewell culture is not the name of an American Indian tribe. We do not know what these people might have called themselves. Instead, it is a term of archaeological convenience that encompasses similarities in artifact style, architecture, and other cultural practices that distinguish the Hopewell culture from earlier and later cultures in the region. The name comes from the name of the person who owned the Hopewell Mound Group in Chillicothe when archaeologists were investigating the site in the 1800s. The site exemplified all the significant features of the culture, so it became the “type site” and the name of the site was applied to the entire culture.”(5)
The Adena Culture
The author, Robert Silverberg, said, “It would seem that a band of strikingly different people of great presence and majesty had forced their way into the Ohio Valley from somewhere about 1000 B.C.”(6)
The Adena culture lasted from 1000 B.C. to around 1 A.D. This people are most famous for their practice of burying their dead in large burial mounds and they have often been termed the “Mound Builders.” Many tools have also been found within the burial mounds. Stone hoes, flint blades, projectile points, and stone scrapers are among the most common items found. A few copper axes have been found, but most copper artifacts were for ornamental purposes.
The Adena culture refers to the peoples who lived in the neighboring regions of Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Indiana just before the Hopewell period. They were the first people in this region to settle down in small villages, cultivate crops, use pottery vessels, acquire exotic raw materials, such as copper and marine shell, to make ornaments and jewelry, and bury their honored dead in prominent burial mounds.
Physically, the Adena people were unusually tall and powerfully built; women over six feet tall and men approaching heights of seven feet have been discovered.
Like the Hopewell culture, Adena is not the name of an American Indian tribe. We do not know what these people might have called themselves. Like the name for the Hopewell, Adena is a term of archaeological convenience that encompasses similarities in artifact style, architecture, and other cultural practices that distinguish the Adena culture from earlier and later cultures in the region. The name comes from the name of the estate of Governor Thomas Worthington in Chillicothe, Ohio. A large mound on his property was called the Adena Mound. Since this mound site exemplified all the significant features of the culture, it became the “type site” and the name of the site was applied to the entire culture.(8)
Now why did we briefly venture into both the Adena and Hopewell cultures? It is because I believe, as do those who have considered the evidence, that the Adena and the Hopewell are none other than the Jaredite and the Nephite cultures mentioned in the Book of Mormon. There are a few very interesting parallels between them, so let’s cover just seven similarities:
1. The Jaredites came to this North American continent during the time of the tower of Babel, about 2243-2004 B.C., that is if we calculate by using the genealogies as found in the Bible. Now we don’t know exactly how much time elapsed between the time that Jared and his people left Babylon and when they embarked for their new world; it could have been considerable. So once they arrived in America, and considering that the people of Jared were most likely a small group, it would have taken them many years to develop into a civilization large enough to be considered a culture of their own. Entertaining this idea, then, the anthropological and archeological estimates of 1000 B.C., as the beginning date for the Adena people, corresponds quite easily with the date that could be given to the Jaredites.
2. The Book of Mormon states that Lehi left Jerusalem about 600 B.C. , and the Nephite civilization lasted until 421 A.D. We have learned that the Hopewell culture is a civilization that arose in the mid-eastern part of North America as early as 200 B.C. until about 400 A.D. Given time for a small group of people to get established, as we did with the Adena, then the difference between 600 B.C., when Lehi left Jerusalem, and estimated 200 B.C., when the Hopewell culture began, is a very fascinating coincidence to consider. It was stated toward the beginning of this chapter, the reasons for the sudden decline of the Hopewell culture are not well understood. However, we know the reason for the decline of the Nephite culture, and if the Hopewell and Nephite peoples are the same, then we DO know the reason for the sudden decline of the Hopewell.
3. The end of the Adena culture overlapped the beginning of the Hopewell culture; just as the Book of Mormon says that the Jaredite civilization overlapped the Nephite civilization just a little.
4. We know that the Hopewell and Adena people both built gigantic mounds and earthen enclosures, as did the Nephite and Jaredites of the Book of Mormon.
5. We know that the Hopewell did not use stone in building their dwellings, but did use stone in some of their mounds, as did the Nephites of the Book of Mormon.
6. We know that at the height of the Hopewell culture, the people were not only spread over much of the Midwest, but from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence, from Minnesota and North Dakota to the Mississippi and Florida, and from Yellowstone and the Rockies to the Appalachians of Virginia — which brings us to the Zelph enigma.
Zelph, being a rather strange name, comes from the experiences of a few Latter-day Saints (Mormons) who visited several high mounds in Illinois created by former inhabitants. About one of the mounds Joseph Smith said,
"On the top of the mound were stones which presented the appearance of three altars having been erected one above the other...; and the remains of bones were strewn over the surface of the ground. The brethren procured a shovel and a hoe, and removing the earth to the depth of about one foot, discovered the skeleton of a man, almost entire, and between his ribs the stone point of a Lamanitish arrow, which evidently produced his death. Elder Burr Riggs retained the arrow. The contemplation of the scenery around us produced peculiar sensations in our bosoms; and subsequently the visions of the past being opened to my understanding by the Spirit of the Almighty, I discovered that the person whose skeleton was before us was a white Lamanite, a large, thick-set man, and a man of God. His name was Zelph. He was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea to the Rocky mountains. ... He was killed in battle by the ... arrow found among his ribs, during the last great struggle of the Lamanites and Nephites." (History of the Church, ed. B. H. Roberts, 7 vols.; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1932-51), 2:79-80.)
Most of what we know of this experience came from personal journals kept by a few members of those, present at the time, who mentioned these ancient remains. It is mentioned that Zelph was a warrior and chieftain under the great prophet Onandagus, who was known from the Hill Cumorah, or eastern sea (lake Ontario) to the Rocky mountains. This is the same geographic area known to be the boundaries of the Hopewell people, as well as the Nephite civilization of the Book of Mormon.
7. We know that Physically, the Adena people were unusually tall and powerfully built, with women over six feet tall and men approaching heights of seven feet, as was the remains of the mysterious mummies entombed in a cement-type sepulcher that were about eight to nine feet in length, accompanied by various weapons and tools of copper, and metal tablets of various sizes, as we previously considered in chapter 5.
Let’s capsulate these seven very interesting comparisons between both the Adena and Hopewell cultures, and the Book of Mormon’s Jaredite and Nephite civilizations:
1. The time period of the Book of Mormon Jaredites corresponding exactly to the Adena time period (Adena: 1000 B.C. - 1A.D. compared to Jaredite: 2243-2004 B.C. - about 130 B.C.);
2. The time period of the Book of Mormon Nephites corresponding exactly to the Hopewell time period (Hopewell: 200 B.C. - 400 A.D. compared to Nephite: 600 B.C. - 421 A.D.);
3. The end of the Adena culture overlapped the beginning of the Hopewell culture; just as the Jaredite civilization overlapped the Nephite civilization;
4. The Hopewell and Adena people both built gigantic mounds and earthen enclosures, as did the Nephites and Jaredites;
5. The Hopewell people did not use stone in building their dwellings, but did use stone in some of their mounds, as did the Nephites;
6. The Hopewell culture spread from the Gulf of Mexico to the Great Lakes, from North Dakota to Florida, and from Yellowstone and the Rockies to the Appalachians of Virginia, as did that of the Nephite civilization;
7. The Adena people were unusually tall and powerfully built, as were the remains of the mysterious mummies entombed in a cement-type sepulcher found in the Rockies.
The similarities of the seven points mentioned above were not known when the Book of Mormon was first published. How in the world could such an under-educated young man as Joseph Smith come up with such comparative resemblance? Could all of these likenesses be simply coincidental, or does Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon have something more going for them than most people are willing to accept?