During the ancient Woodland Period, two related cultures flowered in the Ohio River valley: the Adena (400 BC–AD 100), known in part through their conical burial mounds, and the Hopewell (100 BC–AD 400), who left behind a legacy of large ceremonial enclosures defined by earthen perimeter berms. This extraordinary human effigy pipe was created by an Adena sculptor during the transition between the Adena and Hopewell periods. The pipe was found in a tomb at the lowest level of the famous Adena Mound, near Chillicothe, Ohio; the tomb contained the remains of a man whose importance was marked by the unrivaled wealth of his grave goods. Most remarkable was the pipe, which laid near his left hand.
The identity of the pipe’s standing male remains a matter of speculation, in part because the effigy is unique in the history of Native American art. Perhaps a revered ancestor, mythical hero, or shaman, the figure has an idealized, broad-shouldered body with the lean, muscular appearance of a youth at the height of his physical powers. The flexed knees, open mouth, and swelling throat could refer to a ritual performance involving dance and song. It is unknown how tobacco relates to the figure’s meaning, but matter it must since tobacco smoking and pipes are linked to essential religious beliefs and ritual practice among Native Americans. Sacred tobacco was burned in a bowl between the figure’s feet, the smoke traveling through a tube within the body to the mouthpiece atop the head.
The Adena Mound was excavated in 1901 by William C. Mills of the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, known today as the Ohio History Connection. Since the pipe’s discovery, it has become an icon of Ohio archaeology and in 2013 was designated the official state artifact.
Sarah P. and William R. Robertson Gallery
September 3, 2016–January 8, 2017
Cleveland Art, July/August 2016