Spruce Hill Cultural History
Between 1,500 and 2,200 years ago, the Hopewell had become one of the largest most influential prehistoric cultures to ever exist in North America. At home along the fertile rivers of the eastern forest, the Hopewell were epic travelers, prodigious moundbuilders, and consummate artists. Living in what is speculated to have been a singularly peaceful environment, they intentionally gathered materials for their sacred art from far-flung places. They journeyed to the Great Lakes for copper, Florida for shells, the Carolinas for mica, and Yellowstone for obsidian – covering ground in ways more closely resembling heroic journeys than secular barter and commercial trade. Their finest discoveries, whether wild ram horn from the Rockies, or gleaming black obsidian used for chipping ceremonial blades, were carried back to their major ceremonial centers at what is now the Ohio towns of Chillicothe, Newark, and Portsmouth.
What is missing from the archaeological record is what they traded back. With the absence of known material going in the other direction, or evidence of bountiful trade materials along the routes, we can only surmise that the people who gathered the goods at a distance, were the same people who carried the precious goods all the way home. Metaphorically, the Hopewell Culture’s southern Ohio heartland was the “Rome” of their religious influence, and the “Alexandria” of their sacred art. Their nature-inspired relics, with native animals predominating as artistic themes, have huge emotional and spiritual impact, even on modern observers. It is of great significance that the valleys of the Paint Creek and the Scioto Rivers once cradled the flowering of one of the most aesthetic cultures to arise in the New World. Their artifacts and earthworks remain one of the least known and therefore under appreciated treasures to be found anywhere in the world.