The Adena Culture emerged in the Ohio River Valley sometime between 1400 and 800 BC, and persisted until around 300 AD. Adena raised earthen mounds ranging from just a few inches to nearly 70 feet high (21 meters). Within the mounds, the honored dead were buried in sub-mound pits, log tombs, and occasionally elaborate timber structures. The human remains from the mounds were frequently found with artifacts, including copper bracelets, beads, and gorgets, as well shell, flint, and slate objects.
The Adena also constructed circular earthen enclosures. These “sacred circles” usually included an interior ditch following the circuit of the earthen wall and one causewayed entryway. These structures are typically considered to have served some ritual or ceremonial purpose. The Adena people lived in dispersed seasonal hamlets and consumed white-tailed deer, squash, and gourd. At the Charleston Mound Group in West Virginia and elsewhere, evidence has been found suggesting that the Adena engaged in some level of maize agriculture by the third century BC.
Since May of 2015, the authors have been working closely with Marcia K. Moore on a project to reveal the living image of the Adena people. For this project, the authors selected a good many photographs of several intact Adena crania, in order to provide a tangible, physical foundation point for the recreations made by Marcia, who then chose which skulls among the photographs she wished to recreate. For the build of the body of the Adena male, references of measurements of skeletons from Adena tombs reaching between 7 and 8 feet (213 and 243 cm) in height were also sent. The large remains were discovered and originally measured by Smithsonian agents and 20th century archaeologists. The first publicly available image of the Adena male was released in late 2015, and was picked up and ran by National Geographic in Poland.
Artist’s representation of the “Adena Giant”, Prehistoric Mound Builders. [Image copyrighted © by MARCIA K MOORE CIAMAR STUDIO. The use of which is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained. Contact Marcia K Moore at: www.marciakmoore.com]
The Adena Female
For the stunning image of the Adena female, Marcia chose a skull from the Wright Mounds in Kentucky. The dead at the Wright Mounds were considered by anthropologist H.T.E. Hertzberg to exemplify the distinct congenital features of Adena, including large, lower jaws and high-vaulted cranial vaults—enhanced by artificial occipital flattening. In their reviews of Adena skeletal material, William S. Webb, Charles Snow, and Don Dragoo noted the characteristics of the powerful people who once dominated the Ohio River Valley. Adena possessed massive and prognathic jaws, pronounced brow ridges, and some of the highest skull vaults noted for any population in the world. Their bones were very thick, featuring marked eminences for musculature. And it was not only the male skeletons that occasionally exhibited extraordinary stature. Some Adena mounds also contained the remains of females exceeding six feet in height (182.88 cm).
The Adena Female. [Image copyrighted © by MARCIA K MOORE CIAMAR STUDIO. The use of which is prohibited unless prior written permission from the artist is obtained. Contact Marcia K Moore at: www.marciakmoore.com]
Adena Society and Influential Females
Modern archaeology considers Adena society to have been heterarchical in nature. In heterarchical societies, leadership positions activate when needed, but supposedly do not ascribe lasting power to the person or persons chosen to bear the status roles. However, research in some regions of the Ohio Valley has suggested that at least some Adena polities were modeled upon an inherited, generational elitism.
Whatever the nature of power in the Adena Culture, what is evident in the archaeological record is that influential females were often the ones to wield it. Such evidence can be found at The McKees Rocks Mound, located in Stowe Township, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. The mound was between 16 and 17 feet high and 85 feet in diameter at the time of excavation in 1896. The McKees Rocks Mound was built up in three periods of construction, possibly spanning hundreds of years, and the final structure contained the remains of between 30 and 40 individuals. The original or primary mound had been built of river sand to a height of between 3 and 4 feet, covering the remains of a single female burial—numbered as burial 26 by excavator Frank Gerodette.