World Signifance of
Tremper Mound Earthworks:
Article by Jarrod Burks, Archaeologist
Tremper Mound is uncommonly well-preserved. The large rivers of the Middle Ohio Valley were once home to one of the most prolific earthwork-building societies in the world. The Scioto River Valley contains one of the greatest concentrations of these ancient American Indian earthwork sites. Most of these sites are located up the valley in Ross County, where the rugged hills of southern Ohio meet the glacier-scoured flat plains of the north. As in other valleys, relatively few earthworks are found closer to the confluence of the Scioto and the Ohio River. Most earthworks in these settings have been almost completely destroyed by urban development. The Tremper site is a rare and rather unique type of earthwork located near the mouth of the Scioto River. It also is uncommonly well preserved. It is a large, solitary earthen embankment, about 500 ft. across, that surrounds a big mound. Even more impressive are the remains of the large wooden building found beneath the mound during an excavation in 1915. This multi-chambered ceremonial structure contained a number of burials, crematory basins, and one of the largest caches of stone smoking pipes ever found. These pipes were made from stone imported into Ohio from numerous places, including as far away as Minnesota. Yet, the designs of many of the pipes look almost identical to those in a similar cache of pipes found at Mound City, in Chillicothe, though the Mound City pipes were made on local stone.
Tremper Mound is a Window into a Rich Past. Preserving the Tremper site is a rare opportunity to protect one of the most unique and carefully excavated mounds in Ohio. While we know a lot about what was found beneath the mound, the discovery of more details about this important early Hopewell site await further research in the grounds around the mound and relatively intact embankment that surrounds it. But this is only possible on the site if it is preserved. One could write many volumes about Hopewell ceremonialism simply based on what was excavated in 1915. I look forward to the day when field studies of this important site allows us to paint a much broader picture of early Hopewell ceremonialism in the lower Scioto valley. Tremper is one of the earlier full expressions of this unique way of life that we refer to as Hopewell—especially the ceremonial side of it. Its not only a sacred place worth preserving in its own right. It could also hold the key to understanding the origins of the Hopewell Culture in the Scioto valley.
Important Historical Features of Tremper Mound Include:
- The site is located close to the mouth of one of the larger rivers flowing into the Ohio River. There aren’t many earthworks in this setting left anymore—most close to the Ohio River have been completely or almost completely destroyed, such as the earthworks at Cincinnati, Portsmouth, Marietta (these are the best preserved, such as that is), Grave Creek/Moundsville. The opportunity to preserve one of these earthwork sites that is largely intact is pretty rare.
- Tremper Mound was completely excavated in 1915 by forerunners of the Ohio History Connection. The remains of a Great House were found below the mound. Great Houses are multichambered buildings, often large, that typically contained crematory clay basins on the floors in which the deceased and important objects were cremated. Also present at Tremper were cremated human remains in deposits on or beneath the floor. As with many such buildings, the Tremper Great House was burned down just before being covered over by a mound of earth to mark the location. Some of the buildings were not completely consumed in the fire and thus voids where the posts were located were found during the excavation.
- Tremper mound is 250 feet long and 150 feet wide, with a maximum height at the time of excavation at 8 ft. The mound had been plowed for almost a century before the mound’s height was measured, so it likely was somewhat taller originally.
- The mound is NOT an effigy mound. Its shape relates the fact that it covers a multi-chambered building, not unlike similar mounds at Seip or Newark.
- Tremper mound was surrounded by an walled embankment with an opening to the south/southwest – pointing toward the middle of the mesa-like landform the mound sites on. The embankment is about 500 feet across at its widest. Solitary enclosures of this size are relatively rare.
- A cache of 136 pipes, most of them platform pipes, was found on the floor next to one of the clay basins. The pipes were made with a wide range of nonlocal pipestone materials, some from Illinois others from Minnesota (catlinite), but oddly none were made from the pipestone that was available just across the Scioto valley from the site at the Feurt Hill quarries. Many of the pipes have animals one them some of which look exactly like pipes found in a large cache at Mound City, 46 miles upstream.
- No excavations have occurred anywhere else at the site other than the mound. Modern archaeological techniques have since evolved that permit the recovery of detailed information on cultural uses of the site without any disturbance to ground or the archaeological features on land still held sacred by many Native American Indians.
- Also found in the building remains covered by the mound were: copper earspools, boatstones (likely rattles); a mica “bear” cutout; fabric, and more.
Just a few of the artifacts discovered at Tremper Mound: frog effigy pipe, and what probably are two hollowed out rattles, one referred to as a boatstone, and the other in the shape of a beaver.
Tremper Mound as Revealed by High Resolution Lidar Elevation Studies. Photo Courtesy of Jarrod Burks, Archaeologist.
This survey of archaeological features of Tremper Mound recorded during the 1915 excavation shows the large number post holes, evidence of likely generations of complex building construction on the site for ceremonial purposes.
Tremper Mound Profile as Surveyed in 1815 by William C. Mills.
2015 Magnetometer Studies that took place on and immediately around the Tremper Mound feature. Photo provided by Jarrod Burks, Archaeologist, through the courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc., who performed the research. No soil nor archaeological records were disturbed by this process.
2020-2021 Magnetometer Studies that were performed at a greater distance from Tremper Mound, revealing newly discovered archaeological features. Photo provided by Jarrod Burks, Archaeologist, through the courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc., who performed the research.