Adena culture from Pre-Columbian Native Americas


The Adena culture was a Pre-Columbian Indigenous American society that survived from 800 BCE to 1 CE, in a time now recognized as the Early Woodland period. The Adena culture relates to what was probably several related Native American societies sharing a ceremonial system and burial complex. The Adena culture was concentrated on Ohio’s modern state’s location and stretched into contiguous areas of eastern Indiana, northern Kentucky, West Virginia, and Western Pennsylvania.

The Adena culture was named for the extensive mound on Thomas Worthington’s early 19th-century estate found near Chillicothe, Ohio, which he called “Adena.”

A map showing the archaeological cultures of Ohio.

The significance of the Adena complex comes from its significant influence on other modern cultures and cultures that came after it. The Adena culture is regarded as the precursor to the Hopewell tradition’s traditions, which are sometimes thought of as an illustration or zenith of Adena traditions.

The Adena were notable for their pottery, agricultural practices, artistic works, and widespread trading network, which supplied them with various raw materials, extending from copper from the Great Lakes to shells from the Gulf Coast.

Art and religion


Lasting evidence of Adena’s culture is still seen in the remains of their abundant earthworks. At one point, more massive Adena mounds numbered in the hundreds, but only a small number of the remains of the gigantic Adena earthen monuments still survive today. These mounds generally ranged in size from 6.1 m (20 feet) to 91 m (300 feet) in diameter and as burial structures, historical markers, ceremonial sites, and possibly gathering places. These earthen monuments were constructed using thousands of baskets full of specially chosen and graded earth. According to archaeological studies, Adena earthworks were often constructed as part of their burial rituals. The land of the earthwork was piled immediately on top of a burned mortuary building. These mortuary buildings were designed to keep and preserve the dead until their final burial was performed. Before constructing the earthworks, some useful and grave goods would be placed on the structure’s floor, burned with the goods, and sanctified dead within. The earthwork would then be built, and often a new mortuary installation would be placed atop the new earthwork. In the following Adena period, circular ridges of mysterious functions were sometimes built around the burial earthworks. 

Prominent mounds

Adena MoundThe Adena Mound, the type site for the culture, is a registered historic structure near Chillicothe, Ohio.
Biggs SiteThe site, located in Greenup County, Kentucky, is a conical abide surrounded by a series of circular ditches and embankments. It is connected to the Portsmouth Earthworks directly across the Ohio River in Portsmouth, Ohio.
Criel MoundA 35-foot (11 m) high and 175-foot (53 m)-diameter conical mound, it is the second largest of its type in West Virginia. It is located in South Charleston, West Virginia. P. W. Norris of the Smithsonian Institution oversaw the excavation. His team discovered numerous skeletons along with weapons and jewelry.
Enon MoundOhio’s second largest conical burial mound, it is believed to have been built by the Adena.
Grave Creek MoundAt 62 feet (19 m) high and 240 feet (73 m) in diameter, it is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States. It is located in Moundsville, West Virginia. In 1838, much of the archaeological evidence in this mound was destroyed when several non-archaeologists tunneled into the mound.
Miamisburg MoundOnce serving as an ancient burial site, the Miamisburg Mound is the most recognizable landmark in Miamisburg. It is the largest conical burial mound in Ohio, and remains virtually intact. Located in a city park at 900 Mound Avenue, it is an Ohio historical site and serves as a popular attraction and picnic destination for area families. Visitors can climb to the top of the mound via stone-masonry steps.
Wolf Plains GroupA Late Adena group of 30 earthworks including 22 conical mounds and nine circular enclosures. It is located a few miles to the northwest of Athens, Ohio.
Prominent mounds

Stone tablets

The Adena also built small stone tablets, usually 4 or 6 inches thick. Both flat sides elegantly composed stylized curvilinear geometric patterns in deep relief. Paint has been located on some Adena tablets, leading excavators to propose that these stone tablets were used to stamp designs on animal hides or cloth or their own bodies. They were likely used to outline the pattern for tattooing.

Domestic life

Settlement patterns

The long and complex mound sites served a nearby population. The population was scattered in small settlements of one to two structures. House was constructed in a circle form from 15 to 40 feet in diameter. The walls were built of paired posts tilted outward and joined to other wood pieces to form a cone-shaped roof. The roof was then enclosed with bark, and the walls may have been wickerwork and bark.

Food sources

Their food was acquired through the cultivation of native plants and foraging.

  • Elk, Hunted deer, woodchuck, beaver, porcupine, black bear,
  • turkey, ruffed grouse, and trumpeter swan.
  • Gathered several grasses, edible seeds, and nuts.
  • Cultivated squash, pumpkin, goosefoot, and sunflower.


The Adena ground stone axes and tools. Somewhat more turbulent slab-like stones with chipped edges were apparently used as hoes. Antler and Bones were used in small devices, but even more prominently in ornamental objects such as combs, beads, and worked animal-jaw paraphernalia or gorgets. Beads, spoons, and other implements were made from the marine conch. A few copper axes have been discovered, but otherwise, the metal was hammered into ornamental forms, such as rings, bracelets, beads, and reel-shaped pendants.

Was it worth reading? Let us know.