In a previous article we discussed the Hopewell Culture. The time frame for this people is believed to run from 300 B.C. to 400 A.D., the same time period as the Nephites.
In and around many Hopewell sites there is evidence of another group that existed much earlier. The Adena culture thrived from 1000 to 200 B.C. Many archeologists date the culture even further back to 3000 B.C. and extend the end of the Adena period to 100 A.D. However, most agree they were prominent from 1000 to 200 B.C.
Where did they live?
The greatest evidence of the Adena can be found in the Ohio Valley area, but they were spread eastward through Indiana, Kentucky, Pennsylvanian, and Virginia.
“The evidences of the presence of this ancient people are found almost everywhere upon the North American Continent, except, perhaps, upon the Atlantic coast. They consist of mounds sometimes of imposing size and other earthworks, so numerous that in Ohio alone there are, or were till quite recently, estimated to be not less than ten thousand of the Mounds, and fifteen hundred enclosures of earth and stone all evidently the work of the same people. In other parts of the country they were found in such numbers that no attempt has ever been made to count them all.” (William Cullen Bryant, Sidney Howard Gay and Noah Brooks, Scriber’s Popular History of the United States Volume 1, 1896, page 20)
Like the Hopewell, the Adena were mound builders. One difference between Hopewell mounds and Adena mounds is Adena mounds were cone shaped and Hopewell were either rounded or plateaued. Another striking difference is the Adena built large effigy mounds. These mounds varied in size, shape, design and purpose. The Adena built some in the shape of birds, some animals or reptiles and some in the shape of people. Some mounds are even built to represent inanimate objects such as tools or weapons.
One of the most famous of these mounds or earthworks is the Great Serpent Mound along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio. It is a 5 foot high, 1,348 foot long serpent effigy that winds like a snake through the bushes and trees.
” . . . the figures are varied enough and distinct enough, to show that they were meant to be the effigies of perhaps every quadruped then known in the country, of birds with outstretched wings, of fishes with fins extended, of reptiles, of man; and of inanimate things, the war-club, the bow and arrow, the pipe, the cross, the crescent, the circle, and other mathematical forms. They rise above the surface two, four, sometimes six feet in height ; the animal figures vary from ninety to one hundred and twenty feet in length. but there are rectangular embankments, only a few feet in height and width, that stretch out to a length of several hundred feet. Among all these representations of animals there is no one more remarkable than that recently described, called the Big Elephant Mound, found in Wisconsin a few miles below the mouth of the Wisconsin River. Its name indicates its form; its length is one hundred and thirty-five feet, and its other proportions are in accordance with that measurement. It does not seem probable that the people who piled up these mysterious earthworks could represent a mastodon or elephant if it were not a living creature with which they were familiar.” (William Cullen Bryant, Sidney Howard Gay and Noah Brooks, Scriber’s Popular History of the United States Volume 1, 1896, page 22)
Many critics of the Book of Mormon site the ninth chapter of Ether as proof of Joseph Smith’s lack of understanding of ancient North American history. In the nineteenth verse of that chapter it reads:
“And they also had horses, and asses, and there were elephants and cureloms and cumoms; all of which were useful unto man, and more especially the elephants and cureloms and cumoms.” (Book of Mormon, Ether 9:19, emphasis added)
Critics scoff at the idea that there were elephants in North America. However, when we look at such ancient effigies as those reported above, it appears there are two possibilities. Joseph Smith had an exceptional understanding of ancient North America, greater than any other scholar in his day, or the Book of Mormon is an authentic ancient American text which he translated . . . or both.
Who were the Adena?
As mentioned earlier, scholars place the Adena time frame at 1000 to 200 B.C. (Some scholars put it as early as 3000 B.C.)
The Jaredites of the Book of Mormon left the old world at or around the time of the tower of Babel. Although we don’t know exactly when that was, it is generally agreed that it was around 2200 – 1900 B.C. This makes the Jaredites strong contenders to be the Adena.
What happened to the Adena?
Many historians believe the Adena culture died out as a culture, but not as a people. It’s believed that the Adena are the same people who we have named the Hopewell. The culture changed in the type of structures they built and the art they created, but they were genetically the same group of people.
What we do know about the Adena is that they, like the Hopewell, were a highly advanced, civilized people. They were a religious people. They planted crops, hunted game and traded with others. They had great respect for their dead and many of their mounds were burial sites for the dead.
There are a lot of things that suggest the Adena were the Jaredites, but the biggest obstacle to making such an emphatic statement is the fact that we don’t have definite dates on when the Jaredites arrived in North America or when that final battle took place that wiped them out. If they were the Jaredites of the Book of Mormon, then they died out not only as a culture, but also as a people. (see Ether chapter 15)
Whether the Adena were the Jadeites or not, the things they left behind give us great insight into the lives of Book of Mormon people in North America before the birth of Christ.
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Various effigy mounds and elephant effigy mound from Scriber’s Popular History of the United States Volume 1
Serpent Mound by: Eric Ewing, wikimedia commons.