BURIALS AND SOCIAL STRUCTURE
The people buried here at the ceremonial center were attended with the fullest ritual and care. Although the early archaeologists’ excavations of these special places cannot be undone, their records, and the artifacts, tell us much about the people, and their ways of life and death. Some of the burials were first burned in another location, then the remaining ash and bone swept together and re-deposited here. Most were buried unburned, though, stretched out in log tombs.
Inside buildings, some of the tombs were covered with mounds. It’s possible that burying, mounding, burning, and depositing precious objects were all going on at once: a concentrated mix of human effort and vision with the elements of earth and fire.
About eighty of the graves under the Great Mound at Hopewell were in three large groups. These may have been kin groups, or clans, each with a respected place in the community. The nonperishable metals, stones, bone, and shells that survive were distributed widely, suggesting that there was not just one single, important person here. Each of the three groups included a few leaders, a larger number of people with some importance or special duties, and others without any particular prestige.
And, with plain graves right next to elaborate ones, it seems that there were not strong class divisions. In many societies, only the most powerful would be buried within such an important ceremonial center.