World Signifance of Tremper Mound Earthworks
Tremper Mound was once part of the Great Portsmouth Works. Two thousand years ago the large rivers of the Middle Ohio Valley were home to one of the most prolific earthwork-building societies in the world – the Hopewell Culture of Native American Indians who constructed roughly 36 immense geometrical earthwork complexes. The Scioto River Valley contains one of the greatest concentrations of these ancient American Indian earthwork sites. Most of them were built north of Tremper Mound in Ross County, near Chillicothe. However, in the region today occupied by the city of Portsmouth, once stood one of the Hopewell Culture’s greatest architectural and artistic acheivements – the Great Portsmouth Works.
A landscape of mounds and grant promenades. In its day, Tremper Mound was located on the northern boundary of Portsmouth Work’s immense 50 square mile sacred landscape. Dozens of mounds, and miles of high-walled prominades guided ancient ceremonialists from the north shore of the Ohio River, right on across to complexes of earthworks on the far shore in modern day Kentucky. Today the only remaining remnants of the Great Portmouth Works are fragments on the south shore of the Ohio River in Kentucky, one of what was once two great horseshoe mounds and the nearby Lawson Mound in downtown Portsmouth – now completely surrounded by dense housing lots – and Tremper Mound. Tremper Mound is the only renmant of the Great Portsmouth Works that remains in a natural, spacious, unpopulated landscape.
Dimensions. Tremper mound is a large mound surrounded by an embankment wall. The mound itself is 250 feet long and 150 feet wide, and the embankment walls are 500 feet across. The walls had a maximum height at the time of excavation at 8 ft but are now barely visible. Now that Arc staff are actively mowing the feature, the mound and its encircling wall has risen out of the weeds to become visible to the eye once again. Although it is a subtle feature, having been plowed down by two centuries of plowing, it persists as a topographical feature on the land. We know from historic records that Tremper Mound did not originally stand alone. Other mounds once stood nearby, and across the Scioto River from Tremper Mound was a contemporary soapstone quarry.
Revelations of the 1915 Excavation. When Tremper Mound was excavated, remains were found of a large wooden building that served as a vital center for ancient ceremonial activities. The multi-chambered ceremonial structure, rimmed by vertical log walls, contained a number of burials, and ash-filled crematory basins. Also present at Tremper were cremated human remains in deposits on or beneath the floor. As with other similar Hopewell-era 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.
Effigy & Platform Pipes. Tremper Mound has a stunningly large cachesof stone smoking pipes – 136 altogether. 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, even though the Mound City pipes were made of local stone and were likely carved a bit later in time. The caches of the Tremper Mound pipes and the Mound City pipes were the only animal effigy pipes ever to be found in Ohio.Today the Chillicothe pipes reside in the British Museum in London. Fortunately, Tremper Mound pipes are still safely residing locally in the archives of the Ohio History Connection. Also found in the building remains covered by the mound were: copper earspools, boatstones (likely rattles); a mica “bear” cutout; and woven fabric.
Below is a reconstruction of the features that may have composed the Great Portsmouth Earthworks’ sacred landscape. There was probably more features that were lost to the ravages of time and are now missing from the collective human memory. The map is based on historical research of old maps and written materials performed by Emily Uldrich, Southern Ohio Museum and Cultural Center. The features in red are indigenous archaeological sites that are other than from the Hopewell era.