Burned Bones, Mysterious Timber Circles & the Rites of the Ancients - Adena Culture in Mason County

Burned Bones, Mysterious Timber Circles & the Rites of the Ancients - Adena Culture in Mason County

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Mason County, West Virginia is a place rich in history. In October of 1774, Colonel Andrew Lewis successfully lead the Virginia militia against a confederation of Algonquian Shawnee and Mingo forces led by Chief Cornstalk in the “Battle of Point Pleasant”. Lewis’ camp was named “camp Point Pleasant”, which became a permanent settlement and gradually grew into the modern town and County Seat of Mason County.

Illustration of Battle of Point Pleasant. 1854

Following the Battle of Point Pleasant, Chief Cornstalk ( Hokoleskwa or Kokolesqua in Shawnee) became a diplomat and peace advocate who secured working relations between his Shawnee kinsmen and Revolutionary Americans.

Illustration; one of the earliest depictions of Chief Cornstalk. From Frost's pictorial history of Indian wars and captivities from the earliest record of American history to the present time. 1872.

Disturbing Death and Injustice

In the fall of 1777, Cornstalk and his son, Elinipsico, were wrongly detained at Fort Randolph while attempting to engage in peaceful relations with the Virginia militia, and both were murdered on November 10th. By the time of his death, Chief Cornstalk had become a renowned figure throughout the American colonies, and there was outrage over his wrongful end.

Replica of Fort Randolph, where Cornstalk was murdered. (Kevin Myers/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

None other than Patrick Henry (governor of Virginia at the time) attempted to bring justice upon Cornstalk’s killers, but the militiamen refused to testify against one another, and the murderers walked free.

While these historical events may be interesting enough in their own right, there are far older things buried in the ancient soil of Mason County. For over 2,000 years ago, this region of West Virginia hosted several ritual centers of the Adena Culture.

History Hidden in the Soil

The first to build burial mounds and earthworks in the Ohio River Valley, the chronology of the Adena Culture spans 1000 BC and to around 200 AD. A major Adena center (consisting of 10 earthen enclosures and between 40 and 50 burial mounds), was once located along the Kanawha River at the present-day location of Charleston, West Virginia in Kanawha County.

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Another major conglomerate of Adena mounds once existed at Grave Creek Flats in Marshall County, consisting of several enclosures and around 47 mounds, including the famous Grave Creek Mound, which was originally between 60 and 65 feet in height. While these two locales have received the lion’s share of attention by historians and archaeologists in West Virginia, the lesser-known Adena sites in Mason County are extraordinary in their own right and provide a unique glimpse into Adena ritualism and burial practices.

Grave Creek Mound, Moundsville, West Virginia, USA (Tim Kiser/ CC BY-SA 2.5 )

Ritual Circles

The Neibert Site was located along the Ohio River south of Point Pleasant, near the Gallipolis Locks and Dam. Excavations at Neibert ahead of a locks replacement project in the 1980s revealed the former existence of four or five timber circles located on a high terrace above the Ohio River.

Aerial shot of Adena ceremonial circle at the Neibert Mound site, 1992. (USACE/ )

Four of the circles were constructed in paired-post fashion, and all five were situated in a linear pattern variously 10-50 meters (32.8-164 feet) distant from one another.


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Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer are investigative historians and avocational archaeologists. They study many subjects including depth psychology, Biblical mysteries, political science, and comparative mythology. They’re also authors of the book, Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America (2017). |


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