The Great Cache of Hornstone Discs from the Hopewell Mound Group, Ross County, Ohio and Just Who is That Girl?

The Great Cache of Hornstone Discs from the Hopewell Mound Group, Ross County, Ohio and Just Who is That Girl?

The quantity and quality of objects recovered over the years from the Hopewell Mound Group it astounding. The exquisite material culture of ancient Ohioans found there includes copper plates and headdresses, silver covered ear spools, obsidian spearheads, ornaments of exotic stone, mica cut-outs and finely engraved marine shell objects, just to name a few. Such expertly crafted items are rightfully recognized as being among the great artistic endeavors at anytime from anywhere in the world. They are the end product of an exotic material procurement system that gathered resources from all over North America and brought to the Hopewell Mound Group and other important sites in and around Ross County for reasons that are still not fully understood. Some items are notable for the artistic level that was achieved and others for the sheer volume of material they represent. It either case it represents a tremendous amount of energy expended.

Pictured are six of the approximately 9,000+ Indiana Hornstone bifaces or discs excavated from Mound 2 at the Hopewell Mound Group. Mound 2 was a somewhat diminutive mound, located near the center of the nearly 110 acre enclosure. When first mapped by Squier and Davis, Mound 2 measured about 80 feet in diameter but only 6 or 7 feet in height. During their limited explorations there in the 1840s they recovered nearly 600 discs from a 4’x6’ trench dug into Mound 2 and estimated that there could be thousands more. In the 1920s Henry Shetrone recovered several hundred more during his explorations of the Hopewell Mound Group on behalf of the then Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society. That aside, the great bulk of the discs, numbering in the thousands, were excavated by Warren Moorehead’s 1891-1892 survey of the Hopewell Mound Group, organized to collect material for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. It should be noted that the Mound 2 cache was not just a heap of flint discs with a mound erected over it. Rather the deposit was well organized in two layers of individual stacks of bifaces stacked in a herringbone fashion within two distinct sand strata as demonstrated in Moorehead’s illustration published in “The Antiquarian” in 1897.

In archaeological terms, caches of flint bifaces are not that unusual. They were often included in burial mounds as grave furniture or other forms of offerings within the mound but there are numerous instances where that is not always the case. In the 1980s, the Lukens Cache of some 356 well made, tear-drop shaped Flint Ridge Flint bifaces was discovered in Portage County, Ohio – nowhere near a mound. Like other such deposits, it appears that the Lukens Cache was deposited in what was a bog or shallow pond in ancient times. It has been proposed that caches were meant to be retrieved at a later time to be used as tool stock or placed there as a religious offering or represented some sort of currency, but those are just theories. We just don’t know. The Mound 2 Hornstone discs are thick and generally unrefined, just basic forms. The only projectile point-like item in the entire cache was an outsized rendering of a stemmed point that would be totally non-functional as a tool. It appears that, for whatever reason, the discs were produced and transported to Ohio for the sole intention of being memorialized in the mound. Ohio is rich in flint sources, particularly in the hills in the eastern half of the state. Even with such resources available, the flint used in the Mound 2 cache originated in southern Indiana, hundreds of miles further distant. At the Ohio History Connection Museum in Columbus there are 750 of these (I counted them) on display, including the outsized stemmed point. I would guess that they weigh an average of a pound or slightly more making the total weight of the 9,000+ item deposit around 10,000 pounds or 5 tons and then transported to Ross County from southern Indiana! In the field Moorehead had estimated his portion of the cache weighed 5,500 pounds but that was just a rough guess. In any case it was a significant weight of flint. Then consider that, unlike bedded flint in Ohio, Indiana Hornstone occurs in nodules ranging from grapefruit size to larger than a beach ball and encased in limestone bedrock. Unless there was a huge lag deposit of nodules that had weathered out of the bedrock over the eons, they had to be mined out of the bedrock and then broken down. The amount of labor involved to quarry the hundreds if not thousands of nodules and processed into discs for a singular purpose is difficult to comprehend. It was not for a physical survival strategy based on tool manufacture but for some higher calling. When you stop to think about it, getting all that flint to Ross County from southern Indiana was probably the least difficult part of the enterprise. Once loaded into canoes, it could be transported up the Ohio River to the Scioto River and up the Scioto to Paint Creek and onto the Hopewell Mound Group where the flint would be carried overland a short distance to its final destination. It was just that easy!

The image showing the great pile of flint discs recovered by Warren Moorehead’s survey in 1891 is well known. It may count as one of the most recognized antique archaeology pictures ever. It’s hard to pick up a book on Midwest or Ohio Valley archaeology and not see that image somewhere inside. So what’s with the young lady? What part does she play in all this? Was she Moorehead’s daughter? She looks to be possibly 10 or so, probably born somewhere around 1880. Warren Moorehead was born in 1866 making their age difference only about 14 years so I rather think that he was not her father. She also appears to be just a little too well dressed to be a worker’s daughter or a curious farm girl from the neighborhood. For those who wonder about such things, her identity has been one of those things just sort of hanging out there for more than a century. However after all this time, I may have figured out at least half of it. An acquaintance of mine has a copy of Moorehead’s 1890 book Fort Ancient. It was purchased as just an autographed volume but what a great autograph! It was actually signed by Moorehead during his survey at the Hopewell Mound Group and dedicated with his compliments to a Miss K.H. Shaw.

I examined the book further and saw that it had been annotated in the margins of several pages by Moorehead as to what needed to be corrected, changed or omitted for the next printing, sort of his personal volume. In other words, it didn’t appear to be a gift Moorehead had planned to give away but more like something he came up with on the spur of the moment. What’s Miss Shaw’s part in all this? Note that Moorehead’s dedicatory signature is dated September 25, 1891. According to Moorehead’s notes, Mound 2 was excavated between September 17 and 21, 1891 and the discs hauled to camp headquarters and laid out to be numbered and photographed which would have occurred a few days later, about September 25. It’s quite plausible, at least to me, that the girl posing with the flint discs is in fact Miss Shaw, added to the composition to demonstrate just how great the pile of discs really was. This may have left Moorehead scrambling to find as suitable a gift as he could for her as a token of his appreciation, gentleman that he was. So if K.H. Shaw is the girl in the picture, forever a tiny part of archaeology history, who was she? Was she the daughter of an important visitor or was she with the photographer? I still haven’t been able to connect anyone named Shaw with Moorehead during his Hopewell survey but I still look. Sounds like a job for History Detectives!

Bill Pickard

Posted May 23, 2020

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