The Scioto Hopewell and Their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding

By Lepper, Bradley T. | Southeastern Archaeology, Summer 2012 | Go to article overview

The Scioto Hopewell and Their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding


Lepper, Bradley T., Southeastern Archaeology


The Scioto Hopewell and Their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding. D. TROY CASE and CHRISTOPHER CARR (eds.). Springer, New York, 2008. xvii, 774 pp., illus., maps; CD-ROM. $183.00 (hardback), ISBN 13: 978-0-38777386-5; $79.95 (softback), ISBN: 978-1-4419-6507-3.

The Scioto Hopewell and Their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding includes an outstanding synthesis of the Ohio Hopewell culture. Certainly it is the most potentially useful sourcebook of data pertaining to Hopewell archaeology ever assembled under a single cover, and Case and Carr are owed a debt of considerable gratitude for the enormous effort they have poured into this project.

This book presents the foundation of data upon which their previous synthetic work, Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction (Carr and Case 2005), was based. Yet it also extends and adjusts interpretations presented in that previous volume. I cannot do justice to the full extent of what Carr, Case, and their contributors have accomplished in a review of this length, but I will attempt to highlight what I perceive to be the book's principal strengths. In addition, I draw attention to what I regard as serious methodological problems with their research program.

Case and Carr have two complementary goals for the book. First, they wish "to describe in rich, ethnographic-like detail and genre, to the extent possible, the culture, lifeways, environment, and history" of the Scioto Hopewell (p. 5). They refer to this as "thick prehistory" (p. 3). Second, they attempt to "systematize and present for use by other researchers the massive, largely unpublished mortuary-archaeological and physical anthropological information and other supporting data that exist on the Scioto Hopewell and their Hopewellian neighbors across Ohio" (p. 5). Case and Carr fully achieve their second goal and make important contributions toward the first, but, I think, overreach in their ambitious attempt to write a "thick prehistory" for the Hopewell episode. It is a laudable goal, but I remain unconvinced that current archaeological theory and methods afford us the capability "to know and experience the lives of past people in their own social and cultural terms" (p. 7).

The book comes with a CD-ROM on which there are a number of invaluable research aids, the most important of which are four extensive databases, including an Excel database of the human remains, funerary objects, and forms of burial for "1,052+ individuals buried in 126 earthen mounds and burial areas in 52 ceremonial centers" (p. 16). In addition, there are digitized maps of "the spatial layouts of burials and ceremonial deposits of artifacts on the floors under 50 mounds" and of Ohio counties showing the "locations of 3,691 earthen-mound and earthen-enclosure ceremonial centers" (p. 17). Finally, there is a compilation of "the ceremonial functions, symbolic meanings, and social role associations of a wide range of historic Woodland Native American ceremonial paraphernalia that are analogous to those used by the Ohio Hopewell" (p. 16). This last database will be useful to a wide audience of archaeologists, anthropologists, and ethnohistorians.

Among the more important contributions to our understanding of Hopewellian history presented in this book are Case and Carr's convincing determinations that neither the florescence nor the decline of Hopewell culture can be tied convincingly to demographic or ecological causes (290) and that spiritualreligious events likely initiated both (chapter 5). Also, they argue persuasively that the pace of change throughout the Middle Woodland period was more rapid than often has been appreciated (p. 289). The concluding chapter, in which Carr offers his suggestions for future research, is an important recognition that we still have a lot to learn about this fascinating culture.

Although Case and Carr express their intention to develop a rich description of the Hopewell culture without being unduly concerned that it "fit neatly with general anthropological theoretical expectations, ethnohistorical Woodland Native American analogs, or popular interpretations" (p. …

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