Artifacts open window into Native American history in central Ohio

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Bradley Lepper, Curator of Archaeology at the Ohio History Connection, studies earthworks built by Ohio’s earliest inhabitants and the cultural history gleaned from the tools and ceremonial mounds they left behind.

Lepper cited William C. Mills, the archaeology curator a century ago, when the Ohio History Connection was known as the Ohio Archaeology and Historical Society (OAAHS). Mills believed that there were 132 mounds in Franklin County in central Ohio at an earlier time before development.

Thousands of mounds in Ohio were plowed over for farming and construction in the past two centuries. Most of the burial mounds, usually one to 20 feet high, were built by the Adena culture that flourished from about 800 B.C. to A.D. 100.

Shrum Mound in Columbus is 20 feet high and 100 feet in diameter, constructed by people of the Adena culture (800 B.C. to A.D. 100. (Photo: Ohio History Connection)

Stem points made by early moundbuilders about 2,000 years ago have a rounded base, Lepper said, while older spear points from the late Archaic Period 3,000 to 4,000 years ago (precursor to the Adena culture) are flat-based. Points found in the field with beveled edges were sharpened to be used as cutting implements.

“From 13,000 years ago, where the people used some kind of spear point to hunt mammals and mastodons, all the way up to the late prehistoric people that lived here,” Lepper said the soil occasionally turns up fascinating relics such as spear points, arrowheads, and larger ground stone axes with grooves that were hafted to a wooden handle. True arrowheads, which are much smaller than stem points and triangular in shape, are rarer, Lepper noted.

Mills formally identified the Adena culture in 1902, after excavating a plantation in Chillicothe and finding a common thread in the artifacts. The Adena cultivated several plants but still maintained a lifestyle of hunger-gatherer, establishing a patchwork of settlements.

The conical burial mounds and accompanying earthen circles have fascinated modern explorers for several centuries, which, according to Lepper, were usually built surrounding river valleys. The waterways provided a source for travel and attracted game for food. This made central Ohio an ideal center of activity early North America.

Kelli Hughes, a resident of western Franklin County, has culled buckets worth of Native American artifacts from Ohio fields. She pointed to one “made up of flint from Coshocton.” Lepper reviewed the find, commenting, “Based on the corner notches, the blade outline and the serrated edges, I’m reasonably sure it’s an Early Archaic Kirk Corner Notched Point, so it’s more like 10,000 years old.”

“The fact that such a large number of tools were found in these fields just indicates that these were wonderful places to live,” said Lepper. “If you find (artifacts) like this in the fields or when you’re gardening, these are really important traces of the past.”

Lepper recommends that when you find historical artifacts, professional archaeologists “can provide information about the objects and then add your discoveries to Ohio’s archaeological database.”

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