Hopewell People

The Hopewell were a people of ancient America who lived around the Ohio River Valley and down the Mississippi from about 300 BC to 550 AD.  They were probably not a nation as we think of it, but rather a series of city states all sharing a similar culture.  They traded far across the continent from the Rocky Mountains to the Atlantic and from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  And they built cities including burial mounds filled with pottery and weapons and jewelry.

An artist’s concept of a city of the Hopewell culture. Illustration by Herb Roe, shared under CC license.

Their art was focused on nature with depictions of plants and animals.  They made every day objects like pipes and dishes into works of art.  They used pottery, wood carving, and metal working to make their dishes and objects.

Indigenous American bird image made of beaten native copper sheets on display at the American Museum of Natural History, New York. Photo by Uyvsdi, CC license, Wikimedia.

Virtual Expedition

Visit the Hopewell National Park website to learn more and to see pictures of the mounds and artifacts.  Teachers can access a series of pdf guides from the NPS filled with information and activities about Hopewell culture.

This is a stone pipe end. The little holes lining the edge of the headdress would have had pearls in them. Public domain image.

Like other archaeological finds of ancient places, Hopewell is not the name the ancient people used for themselves, it is the name of a modern  farm where archaeologists first took note of the mounds.

The Hopewell people built mounds. Some of them have been excavated. Some are grave sites, but most are just hills. Why did they build them? No one knows. Photo by Herb Roe, CC license, Wikimedia.

Map Exploration

This is a map of the area in North America where the Hopewell culture once existed.  The purple is the place where it started and is the home of the Adena people.  The yellow shows how the culture spread.  Archaeologists don’t think the Hopewell people were all one united nation or kingdom, but rather a series of kingdoms or tribes who shared a common culture in the same way the Celts of Europe were culturally similar but politically and linguistically separate.  They existed at the same  time as the Olmec and Maya of Central America.


Print out an outline Ancient American Peoples Map, color in the Hopewell cultural area along with the Olmec, Adena, and Maya cultures.  All of these ancient cultures thrived at roughly the same time.


Hands-on Model Exploration

Make a model of a burial mound site from play dough or salt dough.  The people made earthen banks to act as boundaries and then within those banks they threw up large mounds that were burial sites containing bodies and artifacts.  Here is an view of the Serpent Mound to get an idea.

This is the Serpent mound, which lies along the edge of the Ohio river. Some mounds were shaped like animals, but most were just rounded or squared off hills.  Image in the public domain.

Additional Layers

  • Archaeologists have only just begun to learn about the Hopewell culture.  Find out more about how archaeologists learn about ancient people.  What can they know and what do they have to guess about?
  • Fort Sherman was built right on top of a Hopewell mound complex during WWI, destroying part of the site.
  • Most ancient cultures operated on the basis of city-states instead of empires or nations.  Later the idea of taking large tracts of land by conquest entered in.  What do you think is a better government model, the city-state or the large nation?  Do modern communication and travel make any difference?
  • Many people think that humans have progressed from uncivilized to civilized over millennia and as a group we improve.  But we see over and over that complex societies like the Hopewell collapse and degenerate into tribal, nomadic groups rather than the other way around.  What do you think about the cycle of civilization and the nature of people?
  • Why do civilizations like the Greeks, Romans, Egyptians, Hopewell, Maya, British Empire, and others collapse?  Archaeologists like to speculate about natural disasters and conquest having a big roll, but historical evidence of people we know more about usually indicates collapse from within.
  • The way people treat their dead is fascinating. Sometimes they use cremation, or elaborate tombs, or a simple hole in the ground.  Some native American tribes left their dead on top of high pole structures.  What does your family do with their dead?  What do you think of your own customs when compared to other cultures?
  • This map activity is from Unit 1-15 of the Layers of Learning Homeschool Curriculum.  Get the whole thing!
Layers of Learning Unit 1-15
Unit 1-15: First North Americans, North America, Salts, Creative Kids [cc_product sku=”115″ display=”inline” quantity=”false” price=”true”]


  1. I love this. Your additional layers questions are phenomenal! I've linked your blog to my blog's blog roll, so I can share your great posts with my readers.

    I don't homeschool, but now that summer is here I'm excited to explore some of your topics with my kids. I might start with this one.

    Thanks for sharing your learning adventures. I appreciate the work you are doing!

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