The Midwest Archaeological Conference held its annual meeting in Columbus last week. It was a great event with lots of presentations on the latest cutting-edge research on the archaeology of Midwestern North America. I was in hog heaven because there were two entire sessions devoted to mounds and earthworks as well as a tour of a few of Ohio’s more spectacular examples of monumental earthen architecture.
A highlight of the conference for me were two presentations by Brazilian archaeologist Denise Schaan on the geometric enclosures of Western Amazonia. These amazing earthworks are similar in many ways to those built by Ohio’s Hopewell culture and were built at about the same time period.
Schaan reported that the South American earthworks date to between A.D. 1 and 900, whereas the ages of Hopewell earthworks range between 100 B.C. and A.D. 400.
Archaeological investigations at the Brazilian sites suggest they were used sporadically for communal feasts. And, like the Hopewell, there is evidence for long distance exchange of certain kinds of artifacts. There is no evidence that either culture knew about what the other was doing, but, if not, the parallel cultural developments are fascinating.
I was a co-leader of the earthworks tour along with Jarrod Burks, conference program Co-Chair, and NPS archaeologist Bret Ruby. We visited the Mound City and Hopeton earthworks in Chillicothe and then traveled north to the Newark Earthworks.
Dr. Jarrod Burks (left) listens to Dr. Bret Ruby introducing the MAC tour participants to the Mound City Group.
Denise Schaan came on the tour and clearly was impressed with the achievements of the Hopewell and the evident similarities to the South American earthworks. She told us that while she had been aware that the Hopewell culture built mounds, she did not know about the uncannily similar geometric earthworks here in Ohio. It will be interesting to see how she integrates what she learned on her visit to Ohio with her interpretations of the Brazilian circular, square, and octagonal earthen enclosures. There was a lot for everyone to learn at the MAC’s many conference presentations as well as all the conversations that took place between sessions. I’ll be sharing some of what I learned in future blog posts as well as in my monthly column for the Columbus Dispatch. Brad Lepper
Midwest Archaeological Conference tour participants walking towards the entrance to the Mound City enclosure on a perfect autumn morning.