The West Virginia. Cyclopedia

Grave Creek Mound

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Grave Creek Mound in 2011
The mound in the mid-20th century
Looking north from summit of mound over Moundsville, WV
Museum entrance at Grave Creek Mound

On a level near the junction of Grave Creek and the Ohio River in present-day Moundsville, WV, in Marshall County, the Grave Creek Mound (map) is the largest conical type of any of the mound builder structures. In 1838, road engineers measured its height at 69 feet and its at the base as 295 feet. Originally a moat of about 40 feet in width and five feet in depth with one causeway encircled it. Rather than being with water, the "moat" was another type of earthwork known as sacred circles, built by Adena Native Americans, perhaps related to ceremonial activities.

In 1976, by using notes from the original excations of the mound in 1838, archaeologists were able to produce a rendering of the mound's orginal appearance which seems very similar in to the drawing of the mound published in the Cincinnati Chronicle in 1838, but somewhat different from the mound's appearance today.

It is estimated that the mound contained 57,000 tons of soil. Assuming one cubic foot of earth per basket load, Adena Native Americans built Grave Creek Mound by carrying about 1.2 million basket loads of soil during the building for the site. It is believed the mound was built in successive stages, over a period of 100 or more years.

Construction of the mound is estimated to have taken place from about 250-150 B.C., during the Late Adena Period of the Early Woodland Period. The Grave Creek Mound is just one of many mounds that once existed in the area.

In 1838, Mr. A.B. Tomlinson, owner of the great mound at Grave Creek, West Virginia, excavated the mound and claimed to discover a stone tablet.

The "Mystery" of the Mound Builders

During the late 1800s, many people in America believed the Mound Builders to be some entirely different race from the American Indians. The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints (Mormons) believed the builders were the Lost Tribe of Israel. Others believed the mounds were built by a race of "moon eyed" giants with red beards. The white culture simply could not accept the possibility that the Indians could have built such magnificent structures, since they did not have a highly developed culture.

The "mystery" of the so-called "Mound Builders" was solved in 1894, when Cyrus Thompson of the Smithsonian Institution concluded that the Mound Builders were in fact the Native Americans.

Still, many West Virginia "history" book printed through the early decades of the 20th Century failed to mention the Smithsonian's conclusion. Those books stated the mounds were the products of some unknown, "mysterous" race of gaints. Even today, the Internet is full of Web pages reporting the relationship between the Mound Builders and alien beings from other planets.

The Mound Builders from the Indian Perspective

"We know exactly who was building mounds in the Ohio Valley -- it's no mystery," says Barbara Mann, an instructor at the University of Toledo in English literature, African-American and Native American history.

Mann says the Mound Builders were hardly lost or alien to North America. They represented just one stage in the evolution of native peoples, and their descendants live on through Indian nations, such as the Cherokee.

A National Park Service brochure read, "Beginning in the late 1700s, settlers from the eastern states migrated to the Ohio Valley and found hundreds of mounds and earthworks. The Shawnee and other American Indian peoples of the region apparently knew nothing of the builders."

But according to Mann, "We know perfectly well who the Hopewell were," she said. "Cherokee tradition is absolutely clear on who they were. There's no doubt in any native tradition."

According to Mann: The Talligewi/Hopewell were, in fact, the Cherokee who, after several centuries of bloody warfare, were pushed to the southeastern United States by two other powerful invaders from the west, the Iroquois and the Lenape. "Of this, I have no doubt whatsoever," Mann said. "The Cherokee went down to Tennessee and North Carolina and continued building mounds." More...

External Links

Grave Creek Archaeology Complex

Grave Creek Mound