The scattered myriad of ancient earthen mounds rise in stark contrast against the more level ground of the Ohio landscape. Some stand in complete isolation in the middle of a vast plain, appearing to reach skywards. Others are found grouped in planned geometric designs, perhaps intentionally reflecting some element of cosmic order. While the sizes, locations, and initial means of these mounds may vary, each structure contains remnants of the great indigenous populations of the Eastern Woodlands. Cultures, such as the enigmatic Adena and Hopewell, flourished in these areas, developing complex societies that proved reverent of tradition, yet innovative and evolving.
Perhaps around 800 B.C.E, the peoples of the Eastern Woodlands appeared in dispersed settlements. Some of these communities were situated in association with a centralized structure, such as the aforementioned earthen mounds, thereby providing the stability needed for the continuous development of trade networks, craft specialization, social stratification, and religion.
While much of these social facets remain heatedly debated in the academic realm, the indigenous people’s ability to adapt to their lush and resourceful environment remains uncontested. Through a method known as broad-spectrum foraging, as well as horticulture, the Native Americans of the Eastern Woodland tradition exploited their surroundings for a wide range of subsistence.
Women generally tended small plots of land that were regularly cleared via slash-and-burn. Both children and their mothers were responsible as well for gathering a collection of plants, including pecans, acorns, hickory nuts, hazelnuts, chestnuts, raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, plums, tubers and herbs. Even maple syrup was tapped from the dense forest trees. Clams, oysters, lobsters, mussels, and a variety of different fish were also readily available in numerous freshwater streams that coursed throughout region.
Men, meanwhile, concentrated on hunting white-tailed deer, black bear, moose, bison, elk, opossum, fox, raccoon, rabbit, and turkey. Animals were killed with bows and arrows, as well as bifacial, or dual-sided, spear points. These flakes were often attached to narrow atlatls, designed to bring down large animals from a safe distance. The meat was then either broiled for immediate consumption, or dried and placed in storage.
The food procured by hunting and gathering was supplemented by selected domesticates comprising the Eastern Agricultural Complex. During the Early Woodland Period, this system included a range of small, starchy, and oily grains such as maygrass, erect knotweed, sumpweed, chenopod, sunflower, bottle gourd, and little barley. With the progression of time, maize, beans, and squash, or “The Three Sisters”, replaced such smaller grains as staples of this area.
The abundant forests of the Eastern Woodland without a doubt allowed for the steady growth and development of local populations. Such stability hence enabled complex cultures to pursue feats beyond those required for survival, as evidenced by the humbling earthen mounds, which continue to define the lands of this region.