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ADENA is the name given to what is now recognized as a diverse set of precontact archaeological cultures that occupied the watershed of the Upper Ohio Valley in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Ohio. The Adena cultural expression flourished between around 500 b.c. to a.d. 1, although some authorities would extend its time span to a.d. 200.

The Grave Creek mound at Moundsville, West Virginia, was the first of the Adena type to have been accorded attention by travelers and is the largest known example, having originally been measured at sixty-seven feet in height. However, the name for this cultural tradition is taken from a mound that was located on the Adena estate of Governor Worthington, near Chillicothe, Ohio. Throughout the eastern woodlands, Adena mounds took the form of pointed conicals, in contrast to the dome shapes of the Middle Woodland Period (see Hopewell). Evidence at Adena mounds usually reveals repeated use over extended periods and includes remains from cremations and bundles of human bone placed under a thin blanket of soil, sometimes accompanied by pipes, polished stone artifacts, and other objects. A distinctive Adena burial facility was a large house with a circular ground plan. Burials were placed in its floor and covered with small individual mounds. After the structure was deliberately decommissioned, the location was covered by a large mound of soil as part of a ritual practice of completion.

Adena mounds stood in isolation from domestic living areas. Presumably they served a nearby scattering of people. The population was highly dispersed in small settlements of one to two structures. Their subsistence was achieved through foraging and the cultivation of native plants, such as squash, sunflower, and goosefoot (chenopodium).

Art motifs that became important later can already be seen at Adena archeological sites. Imagery on artwork features the shamanic transformation of humans into animals—particularly birds—and back to human form.

Objects made of special rocks and minerals gathered from some distance through trade have been found interred with the dead in Adena mounds. Of particular importance are objects of native copper. Shaped and polished stonework took a number of distinctive shapes, particularly that of a breastpiece (quadraconcave gorget) with cut-away sides. Distinctive tubular smoking pipes testify to the offering of smoke to the spirits. It is possible that the objective of pipe smoking was altered states of consciousness achieved through the use of the hallucinogenic plant Nicotiana rustica. Such a practice would have supported the work of shamans. All told, Adena was a manifestation of a broad regional increase in the number and kind of artifacts devoted to spiritual needs.


Dragoo, Don W. Mounds for the Dead: An Analysis of the Adena Culture. Pittsburgh, Pa.: Carnegie Museum, 1963.

Fagan, Brian M. Ancient North America: The Archaeology of a Continent. London: Thames and Hudson, 1991.

James A.Brown

See alsoIndian Mounds .