The Adena culture was a Pre-Columbian Native American culture that existed from 1000 BC to 200 BC, in a time known as the early Woodland Period. The Adena culture refers to what were probably a number of related Native American societies sharing a burial complex and ceremonial system. The Adena lived in a variety of locations, including: Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Pennsylvania and New York.
Adena sites are concentrated in a relatively small area - maybe 300 sites in the central Ohio Valley, with perhaps another 200 scattered throughout Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania, although they may once have numbered in the thousands. The importance of the Adena complex comes from its considerable influence on other contemporary cultures and cultures that came after it. The Adena culture is seen as the precursor to the cultural traditions of the Hopewell culture which are sometimes thought as an elaboration, or zenith, of Adena traditions. They are notable for their agricultural practices, pottery, artistic works and extensive trading network that supplied the Adena with a variety of raw materials such as copper from the Great Lakes to shells from the Gulf Coast. The Adena culture is named for the large mound on Thomas Worthington's early 19th century estate called "Adena", in Chillicothe, Ohio.
Adena culture's most lasting artifacts were substantial earthworks. Adena sites are concentrated in a relatively small area - maybe 300 sites in the central Ohio Valley, with perhaps another 200 scattered throughout Indiana, Kentucky, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Once Adena mounds numbered in the hundreds, but only a number of Adena earthen monuments still survive today. These mounds generally ranged in size from 20 to in diameter and served as burial structures, ceremonial sites, historical markers and possibly gathering places. These mounds were built using hundreds of thousands of baskets full of specially selected and graded earth. According to archaeological investigations, Adena mounds were usually built as part of burial ritual, in which the earth of the mound was piled immediately atop a burned mortuary building. These mortuary buildings were intended to keep and maintain the dead until their final burial was performed. Before the construction of the mounds, some utilitarian and grave goods would be placed on the floor of the structure, which was burned with the goods and honored dead within. The mound would then be constructed, and often a new mortuary structure would be placed atop the new mound. After a series of repetitions, mound/mortuary/mound/mortuary, a quite prominent earthwork would remain. In the later Adena period, circular ridges of unknown function were sometimes constructed around the burial mounds. Adena mounds stood in isolation from domestic living areas.
Although the mounds are beautiful artistic achievements themselves, Adena artists created smaller, more personal pieces of art. Art motifs that became important to many later Native Americans began with the Adena. Motifs such as the weeping eye and cross and circle design, became mainstays in many succeeding cultures. Many pieces of art seemed to revolve around shamanic practices, and the transformation of humans into animals—particularly birds, wolves, bears and deer—and back to human form. This may indicate a belief that the practice imparted the animals qualities to the wearer or holder of the objects. Deer antlers, both real and constructed of copper, wolf, deer and mountain lion jawbones, and many other objects were fashioned into costumes, necklaces and other forms of regalia by the Adena. Distinctive tubular smoking pipes, with either flattened or blocked-end mouthpieces, suggest the offering of smoke to the spirits. The objective of pipe smoking may have been altered states of consciousness, achieved through the use of the hallucinogenic plant Nicotiana rustica. All told, Adena was a manifestation of a broad regional increase in the number and kind of artifacts devoted to spiritual needs.
Unlike in other cultures, Adena pottery was not buried with the dead or the remains of the cremated, as were other artifacts. Usually tempered with grit or crushed limestone, it was largely plain, cord-marked or fabric marked, although one type bore a nested-diamond design incised into its surface. The vessel shapes were sub-conoidal or flat-bottomed jars, sometimes with small foot-like supports.