Friday, April 6, 2012

Adena (800 BC - AD 100) Human Effigy Pipe

According to the Ohio Historical Society, the fascinating story of the discovery of this pipe of started when

"In 1901, Joseph Froehlich contracted with the Ohio Historical Society to remove a large mound on his property so that he could use the land for farming."

Adena Mount, Ross County, Ohio, before 1901 excavation.


"Froehlich had recently acquired the land from the heirs of Thomas Worthington, an early Ohio political leader and the sixth governor of Ohio, who in 1789 purchased a 2000-acre estate near Chillicothe that he called Adena."

Thomas Worthington Miniature Oil Portrait on Ivory, 1796


"William C. Mills, curator (1898-1921) and then director (1921-1928) of the Museum of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society at Columbus, led the excavation of the mound, which was approximately 26 feet high and 140 feet in diameter."

Book Plate: The large scroll-like piece represents a large copper plate, the only example found in the mounds at that time. The center piece is the Adena Mound Pipe, one of the finest examples of sculpture work found in any mound in the United States.

"Mills discovered that the mound was built in two phases. The original mound was approximately 20 feet high and 90 feet in diameter. A second phase of building extended the north side of the mound by about 50 feet. Different materials were used in the two phases of construction. A dark sand, likely from a nearby lake, was used in the early phase, while lighter sand and soil were used in the later phase.


Artifacts found in each section were similar, although more numerous in the original mound. A total of 33 skeletons were interred in the burial mound. They were buried with tools and ornaments such as pipes, spear points and arrow points, knifes, needles, pottery, shell hoes, stone gorgets, sandstone tablets, necklaces made of shell and bone, and bracelets and rings made of copper."

And as it turns out...


"The most distinctive artifact found in the mound was the Adena Pipe, an effigy pipe in the shape of a man."


Adena Human Effigy Pipe Being Excavated. This photograph shows the pipe being excavated from Burial 21, Adena Mound, Ross County, in 1901.



The object is now held in the Ohio Historical Society Archaeology Collection.

So, what do we know about the Adena culture?


"The Adena culture inhabited the Ohio River valley between 800 B.C. and A.D. 100., during the Early Woodland period.  It is typified by burial mounds, large earthworks likely used for ceremonial purposes. Effigy pipes, pipes in the shape of human or animal figures, are also hallmarks of the culture."

Many agree that the Adena pipe is one of the best examples of this culture.


"It is a large (Height 8 inches/200mm ), anthropomorphic tube pipe is in the form of a man standing upright, wearing a patterned loincloth, ear spools"



"and a feather bustle."



"The mouthpiece has a small hole in a semicircular projection at the top of the head. The bowl of the pipe is located between the figure's feet."



"Made of pipestone, the front, or ventral face, is light yellowish brown and much of the back, or dorsal face, is yellowish red."

The pipestone was most likely carved using a hard stone such as this Adena flint blade from the Ohio Historical Society Collection or a leaf-shaped blade, both of which are on permanent display in Columbus:

Flint Stone, Width: 42mm, Length: 110mm


Close-up of three sections of the blade, top, center and bottom, show a continuum of striking curvatures and thicknesses that make the blade a versatile multi-purpose tool for carving the softer pipestone:

Zooming ratio x 5


Zooming ratio x 5


Zooming ratio x 5


The ceremonial nature of this pipe is beyond doubt. 


"the decorated loincloth with the feather bustle is particularly interesting. A similar bird fan-tails is shown on the Berlin Tablet, which is a stone tablet engraved with a stylized carving of a bird."




"Tubular pipes were used for smoking tobacco as a part of special ceremonies. Shamans also could have used them as "sucking tubes" through which they believed they could draw evil spirits from the bodies of sick people."

And while we can speculate as to what specific role this pipe played in ceremonials, there is hardly a doubt that its majestic presence and the powers befolding the one who drew smoke from it, would have inspired awe and faith among the participants to those rituals.

The facial expression is one of fierce determination and dominance,




 and le regard...





Thanks to the outstanding conservation and digital preservation work of the Ohio Historical Society, and its collaborative project aptly named Ohio Memory, we are now able to rediscover the majestic beauty of a masterpiece of North American native heritage which happens to be...a pipe.

1 comment:

  1. Great pictures, links, and interesting connections. Warrants further investigation. Thank you for connecting some interesting dots that prior to reading this post, I did not know existed.

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