Insights into Hopewell Material Culture Derived from the Contemporary Ceremonial Practices of the Shawnee Tribe: A Case Study Supporting the Value of Collaborative Research with Native American Tribes

Bradley Lepper

Among the remarkable assemblage of more than 5,000 artifacts that Henry Shetrone and Emerson Greenman (1931) recovered from the Burnt Offering at the base of the Seip-Pricer Mound (Figure 1), five engraved steatite spheres stood out for Shetrone as the "most interesting of all" (Shetrone 1947: 110) (Figure 2). Shetrone (1930:103) interpreted these objects as marbles (see also Greenman and Shetrone 1931:424) in spite of the fact that, as he acknowledged, the game of marbles "does not appear in the complex list of games of the native Americans of historic record.”

More recently, Christopher Carr (2008:155) and Carr and Troy Case (2005:515) have interpreted these stone spheres as "shamanic paraphernalia" likely used for divination. Although it seems clear that Hopewellian societies included individuals who served a shaman or shaman-like role, the evidence they offer in support of the proposition that the stone spheres recovered from the Seip-Pricer Mound can be identified unambiguously as shamanic paraphernalia is not compelling.

Ben Barnes and I propose instead an alternative interpretation that emerged from a casual conversation about the traditional Shawnee drum at a consultation meeting we both attended at the Eastern Shawnee Bluejacket Complex in 2014. During that conversation, Barnes mentioned to Lepper that the Shawnee Tribe traditionally used spherical, black pebbles obtained from a particular source to attach the leather drumhead to the shell of their ceremonial water-drum (Figure 3). I recalled the, at least superficially similar, steatite spheres from Seip-Pricer Mound and we wondered whether this might not suggest that these Hopewell spheres documented the formerly unsuspected presence of a Hopewell drum.

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