Originally published in Ancient American magazine.
by Ross Hamilton
Long ago in central North America, there was a great civil war. It was a war owning many battles, and had an incredible loss of life. It wasn’t the North versus the South, although it sponsored a confederacy against a union. It probably spanned the geography of a number of present day states—commencing from the area that is the boundary line of the ancient Mississippi. There, the great tribes of the west encountered for the first time the great nation of the east, and the resultant history—or shall we say prehistory, ultimately shaped the pre-Columbian world far more than can ever be understood. Our archaeological record holds relatively limited data of this time period, much less this proposed event, and thus we are dependent to some extent on the invaluable resource of Native American transmission.
Our related science’s present understanding of the pre-Adena (Archaic) inhabitants of the greater Ohio River valley is yet somewhat sketchy, what to say of the Adena themselves. However, many pieces to the puzzle are now thought to be in place. The timeline for the Adena begins around 1000 B.C.E. according to the carbon dating of Dragoo and others. The Archaic populace is not believed to have constructed mounds in the Ohio Valley region, although this is not known for certain due to several factors, including widespread destruction of the earthworks, without content cataloging, over the last 250 years. Most understanding is based upon the dating and trait-grouping of materials found in the diminished number of mounds and village sites yet existing after a formal discipline in archaeology and anthropology finally took over excavation and detailed record keeping.
There are Archaic era mounded structures, often intricate and complex, in the deep southern U.S., including Watson Brake, Poverty Point, Fig Island, and Sapelo. For this reason, theories have been put forth that the moundbuilding tradition came into the Ohio Valley around the time of the Adena from the southern Mississippi, thereby tentatively associating the Adena people with older cultures from the south. In one way of looking at this idea, it supposes that moundbuilding was a phenomenon peculiar to only one geographical source, necessarily having been passed on. Unlike the Adena mounds however, the more ancient southern earthworks did not poignantly suggest a very specialized “cult of the dead.”
By their skeletal remains in the earlier studies, the pre-Adena people were known to have had slender or thin bodies, and been “long-headed,” with “narrow” skulls (dolichocranic), i.e., having a breadth of skull small in proportion to length from front to back. The Adena people weren’t physically akin to these Archaic people. Generally the Adena had more massive bone structure, according to these same studies. The pre-eminent theory of Adena origin at the time was that their ancestry had come from Mexico or even further south. However, the Adena body bone structure type was unusually difficult to trace with surety south of the Rio Grande—where another distinguishing Adena-resonant trait was found practiced from earlier times. That practice was “cradleboard” head deformation.