Articles

A Beautiful Adena Pipe

ADENA !!  If you are a student of ancient America, you have probably heard that word but you may not exactly understand it.  The term actually comes from the name given by an early nineteenth century Ohio governor, Thomas Worthington, to his estate, near Chillicothe, in the great Buckeye State.  But just what is this Adena when referring to American Indians?  As early as about 1,000 BC, groups of natives began developing this lifestyle that eventually covered an area from modern New York to westward to Indiana.  This remarkable cultural entity did indeed envelope much of that entire expansive territory but was primarily centered in what is now central and southern Ohio.  Their existence was essentially built on a religious/ceremonial system that centered on shamanism and the cultural network of earthen mounds and the burial complexity within these monuments.  A few hundred years ago, there probably existed many thousands of these conical mounds but most have been destroyed by the march of progress in our modern civilization.  These pioneering and remarkable natives developed an early form of extensive trade which garnered them such far flung and exotic raw materials as marine shells from the Gulf of Mexico, obsidian from the Rocky Mountains, mica from the Blue Ridge and copper from the Great Lakes which they used in their various devout ceremonies.  And they did all this without the horse or the wheel.  Quite an achievement for a supposed uncivilized and savage people.  But that was not all their achievements.  They made early ceramic pottery and artistic objects and they were forward thinking agriculturists.  These aboriginals moved many wild plants from the fields and forests into their village gardens, including sunflower, maygrass, knotweed, goosefoot, sumpweed and squash and they purposely cultivated these floras for human consumption.  This was hundreds of years before corn and beans were introduced to the region from Mexico, so the people inventively made do with what they had available.  Their art objects were beautiful and thoughtfully made and included animal and human effigy smoking pipes, stone pendants, intricately carved stone tablets.  The early pottery made by the Adena people was most likely made primarily for cooking and eating and usually not used in burial contexts as was done by later traditions.  But these vessels were very well made with grit or limestone paste in flat bottom bowls and sub-conical jars.  And all this was done by a people who were still in the “hunter and gatherer” mode of living.  Yes they had their village sites and homes and earthen mounds but they still often physically moved in search of game and plants to gather and eat.  You might say they were a rather odd group of people – these Adena.  But odd or not they must have had amazing lives and they did make, using only simple stone tools, some truly wonderful items of artwork including this beautiful Adena pipe.

The multitude of burial mounds that the Adena people left for the world to see probably began to be built shortly after the culture came in existence - that is perhaps as early as 3,000 years ago.  This most likely began when some very important person died and was placed in an honored position in the village and many baskets of dirt were piled over the body.  Then another revered clan member died and was placed at the top of the dirt pile and the process was repeated.  After a period of time (the social organization lasted about two thousand years) these burial mounds became rather large.  But burial practices and mound building was just a portion of the lifestyle of the Adena natives.  Their ceremonial and religious daily customs dictated that the society priests or shamanistic healers be an integral part of the Adena continuance.  These religious ministers were directly responsible for conversing with the society deities as well as for healing the injured, sick and lame members of the group.  Among the tools the priests used for curing illnesses were smoking pipes and various herbal and medicinal burning concoctions placed within, including native tobacco and various hallucinogenic plant materials.  Probably both the nicotine laden tobacco and the native cannabis were smoked for magical and ritualistic purposes as well as for personal enjoyment.  Early European explorers noted that the Indian priests used tube pipes in healing exercises by loading the smoking medium into one end of the instrument and blowing the fumes through the pipe onto the person being treated.  One of the pipe styles used for these healing procedures is the so called medicine tube pipe.

Today there are several names used for this pipe configuration including medicine tube, cloud blower pipe, hourglass pipe, concentric center pipe and bi-conical tube pipe which is the designation preferred by this writer.  The bi-conical tube pipe was probably developed from the simple straight tube pipe well before the Adena Culture was born and lasted into the Historic Period according to eighteenth and nineteenth century exploration records.  The straight tube pipe most likely came into being during the Late Archaic Period or maybe 3,000 to 5,000 BC and maybe originated with the Watts Bar and Candy Creek Cultures in what is now modern Tennessee.  The pipe style later spread north, east, west and south of Tennessee into most of Eastern North America.  The natives used these smoking devices to inhale the burning vapor of many plant materials including willow bark, goldenrod flowers and sumac leaves as well as the native tobacco and the hemp flower or marijuana.

Around 1,000 BC, the natives began the transition from pure “always on the move hunters and gathers” into a form of semi-settled village life that included the manufacture of ceramic pottery and art objects and the development of intertwined religious and ceremonial cultures.  Archaeologists have come up with a name to call this period of change – the Woodland Period – and it dominated the way of life for the natives for a couple thousand years, 1,000 BC until AD 1,000.  And the bi-conical tube pipe was certainly a part of this change.  The natives used steatite for many, if not most, of these smoking tools but they also made the pipes from sandstone, limestone and other semi-hard minerals.  These exceedingly rare pipe forms look like the familiar hourglass or two convex cones joined together at their small ends --- hence bi-conical.  They are basically round in cross-section but many seem to be slightly elliptical.  Some have an extremely constricted exterior mid-point lengthwise while others are almost completely straight one end to the other.  Most have one or two and rarely three or four carved rings around the pipe exterior at the mid-point but some have no outer surface rings.  The interior cavities that held the burning masses are usually slightly curved to a rather small hole connecting the two conical halves of the pipe.  This small hole was probably there to keep the smoker from inhaling and choking on the burning vegetation rather than only the smoke.  Bi-conical tube pipes are normally very well made and quite often are highly polished probably from the original manufacturing process as well as the countless hands that held and stroked the implement for hundreds and maybe thousands of years of their usage.

This particular bi-conical tube pipe was a surface find in modern Knox County, Kentucky which is in the extreme southeastern portion of the state and not exactly in the heart area of the ancient  Adena Culture.   But it is certainly of the Adena way of life because when found, it contained a classic Adena spearpoint inside the pipe bowl.  The material is a fine grain sandstone which was a lithic material commonly used by the Adena master craftsmen.  It is 3 3/16 inches long and the elliptical diameter, at its widest point is 2 1/16 inches.  One end of the pipe was evidently broken in ancient times and the damaged rim was ground smooth so the pipe could continue to be smoked.  There is only slight constriction in the interior hole in the mid-point or at least where the mid-point was before one end of the pipe was damaged.  There are three carved rings on the exterior center which is especially rare.  The end that was pre-historically broken and ground has eight tally marks, the reason for which is unknown, extending from the bowl rim to the first center ring.  Most of these marks are worn and almost obliterated from the pipe being extensively handled during its duration of use. 

Today, if we break a tool, we simply buy another.  But today we do not have to laboriously make another tool from a chunk of stone and thereby want and need to cherish that utensil as did probably the pre-historic maker of this pipe.  So whether you wish to call this ancient hand-made smoking appliance a bi-conical tube or one of the other names that are used for the type, it will always be an extremely rare ancient object of art – this beautiful Adena pipe.

 

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Dragoo, Don                                                                          1963

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Hart, Gordon                                                                         1978

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Hothem, Lar                                                                          1999

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Litton, Ralph                                                                         1924

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Maus, James E.                                                                     2004

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Power, Susan                                                                                    2004

     EARLY ART OF THE SOUTHEASTERN INDIANS – FEATHERED SERPENTS AND WINGED BEINGS

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