Adena charmstone

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North America's Native People

clear spaceADENA

Towards the end of the Archaic (shortly before 3000-4000 years ago), some societies in the Eastern Woodlands began burying their dead in low, natural ridges and hills. Then around 1000 B.C., perhaps earlier, morturay rites assumed increasing importance and complexity - people began building small artificial mounds under which their dead were buried (a few mound burials date as far back as 5600 B.C. in Labrador). By 500 B.C. this burial mound ceremonialism extend across a broad region of the Eastern Woodlands, from the western Appalachians to the Mississippi Valley, and north into Wisconsin and Michigan.

Perhaps the best known of the early burial mound building cultures is the Adena of the central Ohio Valley (dates span time from about 2800 BP [800 BC] to 100 AD). Although people often speak and write of an Adena "culture," in actuality the term is really a label of convenience that covers dozens of Eastern Woodland cultures that thrived in the period between 3000 and 2200 years ago - cultures that varied markedly in material culture but were bound together by a shared ceremonial complex, the Adena.

Adena sites (many are now destroyed) are concentrated in a relatively small area - around 300 sites in the central Ohio Valley, with perhaps another 200 scattered throughout Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. The importance of the Adena complex comes from its considerable influence on other contemporary cultures and cultures that came after it.

Although most Adena sites are burial mounds, many sites in the central Ohio Valley (as well as a few other regions) have, in addition to the burial mounds, large and largely unexplained earthworks. These range in shape from circles to squares to pentagons and sometimes enclose large fields and/or conical or domed burial mounds.

Burial Mounds and Funerary Customs
Earlier Adena burial mounds and funerary customs were simple:

As more and more burials were added, the mound grew in size.

After 2000 years ago, sweeping changes occured in burial customs with mound interments becoming far more elaborate:

Food Resouces
As in the Archaic, food resoruces came from an almost endless variety of plant and animal species (preserved human feces from one site even contain a grasshopper leg and a beetle fragment):


Textile arts were well developed - plain plaiting, twilling, and twining, with examples found near or around copper objects where copper salts preserved the material

Inter-regional Exchange
While the elaboration of burial customs is one of the major characteristics that distinguish Eastern Woodland cultures in the early post-Archaic period, it is not the only trait. Another is a gradual intensification of local and inter-regional exchange, begining with the Adena, expanding phenomenally to an almost continental wide system with the Hopewell and reaching its apogee with the Mississippian tradition.

For additional information on Adena, see:


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Historical Periods

Paleo-Indian | Archaic | Formative

Updated: 09 Mar 2000