Early American History
The First Americans
Vocabulary
Adena people
burial mound
Cahokia
clay pipes
cremate
earthworks
Great Plains
Hopewell people
Illinois
Lake Superior

 

Key Concepts
The Mound Builders
Mississippians
Mississippi River
Mississippi River Valley
Monk's Mound
Mound Builders
Ohio River
Ohio River Valley
obsidian
Serpent Mound

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While the Olmecs were building in Central America, the Adena were building a civilization in North America. The Adena people lived in the Ohio River valley from 1000 B.C. to 200 A.D. The Adena were the first of three civilizations known as the Mound Builders. The Mound Builders lived in the eastern half of the United States.

The Mound Builders built earth mounds called earthworks. One of the most famous Adena earthwork is Serpent Mound. It is 5 feet high, 20 feet across, and 1330 feet long. It is formed in the shape of a snake.

The Adena built small burial mounds. The burial ceremony prepared the body's spirit for the afterlife. First they covered the body with red paint. Red represented the color of blood and life. The Adena believed the red paint allow the person's spirit to live after death. Then they laid the painted body on a bed of bark strips on the floor of a burial house. To help the dead enjoy life after death, the Adena placed jewelry, clay pipes, beads, and other useful objects around the body. Finally, they set the burial house on fire and cremated the body. After the house burned down, the Adena covered the ashes with earth. Over time, more people were buried on the same mound. The burial mound grew higher over the years.

About 300 B.C., the Hopewell civilization began. The Hopewells were the second of the three Mound Building civilizations. They were the strongest
civilization for 500 years and grew in the middle of the United States. The Hopewells were skilled at arts and crafts. They wove mats, made ceramic pots, and carved figures from bone, wood, and metal. The Hopewells made spear points and knives from obsidian. Hopewell clothing was made from animal skins. They wore jewelry made from copper and shells. Like the Olmecs, the Hopewell culture spread through trade. Their trade reached from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Plains, and from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.

The third and greatest mound building civilization was the Mississippian.
The Mississippians lived in the Mississippi River Valley from 800 to 1500 A.D. They built huge mounds, some as big as football fields. The largest
Mississippian city was Cahokia. Cahokia was located near East St. Louis, Illinois.

Monk's Mound was where the Cahokia chief lived. It was 110 feet high and covered 16 acres. It took The Mississippians more than 300 years to build. Workers carried the soil to the mound, one basketful at a time. The Mississippian Culture ended about 500 years ago.
 
Additional Information

Adenas - Adenas mounds are found in the region of Adena, Ohio. The Adenas built cone shaped mounds for the dead. They also built animal shaped mounds that might have had a religious meaning. The Adena people did some farming, but were hunters and gatherers. Their land was rich with fish, game, nuts, and berries.

Cahokia, 1000 B.C. - Cahokia was located near three rivers: The Mississippi, the Missouri, and the Illinois. It was an excellent location for
trading. The people of Cahokia built mounds that look like flat topped
pyramids. One mound was as tall as a ten story building. Its base was wider than any Egyptian pyramid. The people of Cahokia built temples, public buildings and statues on top of the mounds. About 25,000 people lived within
the city. Another 25,000 people lived on the outskirts of the city in villages.
The ruler of the city was very powerful and he was called the "Great Sun."

earthworks - Mounds were made by thousands of Indians carrying baskets of dirt. They slowly made mounds with the dirt. The mounds were already built by the 15th Century, when the Spanish explorers arrived. Some mounds were used as graves. Other mounds were used as platforms for temples and palaces. Some mounds were religious symbols.

Hopewells - The Hopewell lived in villages along the rivers . They traded with each other and with people from across the continent. Like the Adenas, the Hopewells grew some crops. The Hopewells left beautiful artifacts in their mounds.

Mississippians - The Mississippian era began about 1,000 years ago. At first, they imported corn from Mexico. Then they became corn farmers. Being successful corn farmers allowed their cities to grow very large. The Mississippians had well organized governments. Their rulers were treated as gods. Temples and the homes of the Mississippian leaders sat on top of tall earth mounds.

Mississippi River Valley - The Native Americans named the Mississippi River. Its name means "Big River." Some tribes called it the "Father of Waters." It is the largest river in North America. The Mississippi River has two huge branches. One branch is the Missouri River, and it flows from the west. The other branch is the Ohio River and it flows from the east.

Mound Builders - The Mound Building period lasted for about 2000 years. It is divided into three periods, the Adenas, the Hopewells, and the Mississippians.

Serpent Mound - Serpent Mound is located near Cincinnati, Ohio. It is shaped like a huge curving snake. It is more than 2,000 years old and is
over 1,300 feet long. The mouth of the snake is open and is swallowing
something. Some people think the serpent is swallowing an egg.

Trade - The Mound Builders were great traders. They traded from coast to coast and from north to south. They used a kind of relay system to get goods
to and from distant places. 2000 years ago, during the time of Christ, the Mound Builders were a strong civilization