The complex, monumental architecture encoding astronomical alignments provided the perfect stages for large numbers of people to gather at specific times to engage in rituals of many repetitive steps as congregants cycled through the various earthwork modules of circle, square and octagon each with its own particular set of appropriate ceremonies. And the magnificent Hopewell art constituted the religious icons, which helped to ensure the efficacy of the rituals being performed.
The movement of pilgrims through the earthworks, possibly in synchronized, choreographed processions, produced the sense of connection and trust between people that may have come to these places from far and wide.
According to Wiltermuth and Heath, such unifying rituals may have endowed cultural groups such as the Hopewell with an evolutionary advantage by ensuring that the members of the group were all equally committed to its enduring success.
Jones article, The ritual animal, appears in the 24 January issue of the journal Nature.