FORT HILL,
PAINT VALLEY

DAZZLING ARTISTRY

Flat hammered copper shapes were found piled on top of one low mound in the ceremonial center. People may have worn them here as part of their costumes, or carried them on poles or banners, and then laid them down in tribute: maybe a memorial ceremony for the ones already buried beneath. Look at the variety! There are copper spools for the ears, and bracelets; also natural forms, like fish, bear claws, bear teeth, a deer antler. And, there are abstract forms that may have many meanings.

A man buried in the Great Mound at Hopewell wore a robe that looked something like this. The fabric featured a colored design, on which were sewn many shell beads and fresh water pearls and bear teeth, some pearl-studded and incised like this. A necklace of bear claws, with a fur piece, resembles the ones still worn by certain Bear Clan members.

Teeth and claws may symbolize bravery in hunting, or a connection to rebirth (since a hibernating bear re-awakens every Spring). The antler headdress, like others throughout native history, shows this man taking on the spirit of an animal. On his chest, abdomen, and back, were copper plates like these, common to this culture, which may have meanings related to parts of the body and to spiritual power.

The Hopewell seem to have liked surfaces that played with light: translucent, pearly, or reflective. These shiny, copper plaques were perforated, so they could be hung with sinew, or decorated with shell beads. They might have been meant to associate light or power with certain individuals, or certain parts of the body.

For the burial, though, each plaque was apparently wrapped in cloth, as if to contain or protect its power. Then they were carefully laid out: on the chest, on the abdomen, and behind the hips. After many centuries, though, it is the plaques that have protected their wrappings! The corroding copper has preserved the fine design of the fabrics!

Fort Hill, Paint Valley

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