From May 6-9, 2013, the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) was recently performing some repair and replacement of Works Progress Administration (WPA) gutters with a more modern gutter and drainage system as well as upgrading a sidewalk.  The work was located near the Ulysses S. Grant birthplace in Point Pleasant, Ohio in Southern Ohio. 

During recovery efforts, nearly 100 artifacts were recovered, including pipe fragments, ceramics, a glass medicinal bottle and sagger fragments.  Saggers are defined as large cylindrical fired ceramic vessels, with or without holes in the sides, used to contain unfired pots (especially glazed ware) or other kinds of ceramic products (e.g. clay pipes).   All of the materials, while postdating the Grant’s occupation of the home, came from a few of the pipe making factories that played an important part of industry in the town of Point Pleasant, Ohio.  A number of different pipes had been recovered previously back during the replacement of the Original Grant Memorial Bridge in 1984 and during archaeological investigations by ODOT on Lot 37 in 2011. 

Many of the pipe fragments resemble the Milled Chesterfield Diagonally Ribbed type and the Ribbed Elbow type.  According to previous research, these two types of pipes were produced by the Lakin-Kirkpatrick-Davis-Peterson (LKDP) Pottery, which was the longest operating pottery plant in Point Pleasant, Ohio.  While many of the pipes are only fragments, approximately four pieces were complete.  However, it appears that the complete pieces (and likewise the fragments) were discards due to a warped shape or other abnormality during the firing process. 

Of special interest were sagger fragments and a medicine bottle that were recovered near the Grant Birthplace.  The saggers, like a majority of the clay pipes, were found in fragments. 

The final artifact of interest was a medicine bottle that was recovered during trenching efforts in front of the Grant Birthplace home.  The medicine bottle had embossing on it that read: “Peter Nodler Pharmacist, Covington, KY.”  Nodler was a prominent druggist in Covington during the last third of the 19thcentury with a store at Fifth and Madison Streets in that city. He was also well known as a dealer in all sorts of lamps and accessories as well as doing a good trade in ginger ales and soda waters that he supplies to retail dealers. He seemed well established in Covington about the same time the LDKP Pottery was in business.  Stay tuned for more discoveries!

Chandler Herson


In March of 1941, the Ohio Historical Society’s Curator of Archaeology Richard Morgan received a remarkable letter. Employees of Ohio’s Department of Highways had made what they felt was a momentous discovery. According to a report enclosed with the letter, workers repairing a bridge on State Route 350, near Clarksvillein Clinton County, had uncovered “a rock that is evidently the handiwork of prehistoric civilization.”

This rock appeared to be in the shape of “the bottom of a mocca-sined foot,” estimated to be about a size six. The shape of the foot was said to differ “from our present civilization in that there is a distinct curve in the foot at the point we know and call the instep.”

The proximity of the Fort Ancient Earthworks suggested to the author of the report that “this piece of work” might be “a remnant of the Mound Builders’ art.”

Morgan looked over the pictures and immediately realized the discovery was not what it appeared to be.

In his reply to the Highway Department, he tried to be diplomatic:

“In my opinion, the object is not the work of the prehistoric Indians but is a natural rock formation. Such formations are known to geologists as concretions. …

We appreciate your interest and courtesy in bringing the object to our attention and wish to thank you for your co-operation.”

The Footprint Rock sure looks like a human footprint, but it surely is an entirely natural formation. It’s a good example of how easy it is to for your brain to fool you by finding apparent meaning in the seemingly infinite variety of nature. There’s even a word for it – pareidolia. It’s why we sometimes see a man in the Moon or camels and whales in the clouds.
Brad Lepper

Introducing Our New Natural History Curator

This Blog is an introduction and a welcome to the Ohio Historical Society for our new curator of natural history, David L. Dyer. Dave brings to our museum an enthusiasm and energy for natural history, museums and wild, natural landscapes such as the natural history sites OHS operates.

Most recently, Dave was curator of the zoology collections and herbarium at the museum of the University of Montana in Missoula, where he worked with their collections for twenty years. He has a master’s degree from the University of Nebraska in museum studies, with an emphasis in natural history. Prior to working on his MS, Dave spent four years working as a museum preparator for the Ice Age Exhibit at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Somewhat serendipitously, prior to that Dave spent 12 years right here at the Ohio Historical Society, first as a high school student intern and part-time while working on his BS at Ohio State, then full time as our Collections Manager. While Dave, his wife and two sons loved the wilderness hiking opportunities of Montana, roots in Ohio and family still living here motivated Dave to apply for the position here at OHS.  I am excited about “turning over the reins” to such a passionate and dedicated natural history museum person. You’ll get a small sense of Dave’s commitment to this sort of work as you read his own introduction below. As you get the opportunity, welcome Dave back to Ohio and to the Ohio Historical Society.

Bob Glotzhober, Senior Curator of Natural History

David Dyer: In His Own Words.

As a school child I loved museums. The most anticipated days of the year were the annual spring tours to various Columbus museums.  It was a chance to get out of the classroom, to see exciting objects on exhibit, and to have new experiences. Most memorable were the trips to COSI, when they were at their old location on East Broadway, and of course the “Ohio State Museum” in Sullivant Hall at 15th and High. That, as you may know, was the home of the Ohio Archaeological and Historical Society before it changed its name to the Ohio Historical Society and then moved to 17thAvenue.

The exhibits were fascinating of course. Who doesn’t want get out of school and get to see the huge swinging Foucault’s Pendulum at COSI or the grizzly bear diorama and rooms full of artifacts at OHS!? Yet it was the doors from the exhibit halls to the unknown back rooms that fascinated me. What was going on behind those doors?!  What were those people doing who came and went through those “Staff Only” doors? What amazing things were back there that we could not see? I knew there were large rooms that we could not access and that they MUST have held the coolest stuff in the world!  I would stray from my group and sneak a look through the crack between the doors…what would I see? Dinosaur bones? Mummies? All manner of stuffed animals peering back at me?  You guessed it; I saw filing cabinets, cinder block walls, and cement floors!

Fast-forward about a decade. As a junior in high school I had the chance to get a behind-the-scenes tour at one of my favorite museums: the Ohio Historical Society! (I still like that phrase: “behind-the scenes”! Who doesn’t want to get to see behind the scenes of almost anything!? I still enjoy watching the how-it’s-made short videos that come with feature film DVDs, usually more than the actual films themselves!). Finally, I was going to see what went on in those long halls and rooms behind the exhibits. As the door swung open from the exhibit hall it was just a little disappointing at first; indeed it was a typical office environment… filing cabinets and all. However I held out hope for more when I saw the endless rooms that lined the long hallway. Our small group met with Dr. Carl Albrecht, the Curator of Natural History at the time. After a short orientation we started off down the hall (and as it were, toward my future). We approached a set of dark wooden doors with the intriguing room title on the wall “Synoptic Room”*! I had NO idea what that meant, but with a title like that –sounding all scientific yet a bit mysterious – it HAD to be awesome! Sure enough it was a jaw-dropping experience:  row after row of cabinets with signs that hinted at amazing things within:  Minerals, Insects, Birds, Mammals, Skeletons, and Fossils. And on top of the cabinets large, fascinating objects loomed overhead… huge skulls, giant bones, and long tusks that I knew must be from Ice Age mastodons or mammoths.

One glimpse into a museum collection and I knew then and there that this was to be my life’s work. Growing up I had always collected various natural history objects, and my brothers and I even operated a small “museum” in our basement for the neighborhood kids. So on this day, when I realized that working in a museum was an actual career possibility, I knew that I had to do it. I quickly begged to be allowed to work on any task that needed doing, and ended up volunteering in natural history during my senior year of high school. I was then privileged to continue part-time during my college years. 

I am now honored to be given the opportunity to follow the previous natural history curators; Carl Albrecht, William Schultz, and Bob Glotzhober. They had faith in me when I started in museum work, shared their amazing knowledge, and opened those doors for me, both literally and figuratively.  

*Want to know what Synoptic Room means!? Email me!

People of the Forest

The Arc of Appalachia’s 2013 Indigenous Legacies Summer Lecture Series
Exploring Eastern America’s Cultural Roots
Three Archaeological Lectures on Ohio Valley’s Mound-builders
Sunday July 14, Saturday August 3, Saturday August 31, 2013;
1:00 pm, at the Serpent Mound shelter house.

Free to the public, no registration required, parking fee $7.00 per car

For no less than 12,000 years preceding European contact, Native Americans were an integral community member of the rich and complex ecology of America’s Eastern Forest. This lecture series will explore three different ancient woodland cultures: the Adena Culture, the Hopewell Culture, and the Fort Ancient Culture. 

In these presentations we will step back in time, and take in a broad sweeping perspective. From this holistic view, within the limitations of the archaeological evidence we have, these lectures will address: Who were these peoples, what distinguished their cultural eras, what was each culture’s geographic reach, who were their contemporaries elsewhere in the continent and the world, and what were each culture’s most distinguishing artistic and cultural contributions?
Program One: People of the Forest – the Adena Culture
Epic Mound Builders: 1000 to 200 CE 
Sunday July 14 at 1:00 pm
Presented by Elliot Abrams, Professor of Anthropology, Ohio University
Program Two: People of the Forest – the Hopewell Culture
Geometry & Astronomy – Written on the Land: 100 BCE to 400 CE
Saturday August 3 at 1:00 pm
Presented by Bradley Lepper, Curator of Archaeology for the OhioHistorical Society
Program Three: People of the Forest – the Fort Ancient Culture
Farmers of the Ohio Valley: 1000-1750 CE 
Saturday August 31 at 1:00 pm
Presented by Robert Allan Cook, Associate Professor of Anthropology, Ohio State University
More information on each lecture can be found here: http://arcofappalachia.org/events/people-of-the-forest.html.

The possibility that various European, African, or Asian cultures might have “discovered” the Americascenturies or even millennia before Columbusis a wildly popular idea. Numerous books, magazines, and television programshave been devoted to the topic. Most of these claims are complete nonsense, but at least one has the distinction of having been championed by a respected archaeologist who works for the normally reputable Smithsonian Institution.
In my May column for the Columbus Dispatch, I consider the hypothesis, championed by the late Betty J. Meggers, that fishermen from Japan’s Jomon culture, perhaps swept out to sea by a major storm, survived a prolonged sea voyage to end up on the shores of Ecuador where they introduced their ideas about how pottery should be made.
Meggers, writing in the Winter 1980 issue of the unfortunately short-lived magazine Early Man, described how Emilio Estrada, “a young Ecuadorian businessman” and dedicated avocational archaeologist, along with Clifford Evans, a fellow Smithsonian archaeologist, and Meggers came up with the “hypothesis of a pre-columbian introduction of pottery making from Japan to Ecuador.”
Here, in her own words, is a brief summary of how they came up with the idea:
“During late 1960, Estrada undertook a large excavation at Valdivia, which provided a much bigger sample of pottery from the earliest levels. The following spring, he wrote us a letter with a novel suggestion. He had encountered a report on the Jomon pottery of Japan and observed that many of the techniques and motifs of decoration were similar to those of Valdivia.
Having been taught in graduate school that transpacific contacts were irrelevant to explaining the origins of New World traits, we reacted with skepticism. When we examined his sources, however, we found to our surprise that the similarities were closer and more numerous than anything we had been able to find within the Americas. Following the rules traditionally employed by archeologists for establishing affiliations made it necessary to infer that Jomon and Valdivia were related. This implied a transpacific contact about the beginning of the third millennium B.C.”
Among the specific decorative traits and rim treatments shared by Jomon and Valdivia pottery are the following:
 1.  Broad-line incision
 2.  Excision
 3.  Red slip
 4.  Finger grooving
 5.  Shell stamping
 6.  Combing
 7.  Cord impression
 8.  Rocker stamping
 9.  Folded-over rim
10.  Short spout

There are essentially two alternative explanations for the similarities. Either the two traditions developed independently and the similarities are entirely coincidental, or one gave rise to the other through the direct transfer of knowledge via transpacific contact.
For Meggers, the “rules traditionally employed by archaeologists for establishing affiliations” required accepting the transpacific contact hypothesis as the preferred explanation for the facts.
Those “rules,” at the time Meggers and her colleagues were developing their hypothesis, were based on the view that similarities and differences in artifacts were a simple reflection of the social identities of their makers. Therefore, the degree of similarity between artifacts at different sites provided a direct measure of the degree of the social relationships between the people living at those sites. Lewis Binford and others subsequently challengedthis “cultural historical” approach to the analysis of artifacts and assemblages, but without going into this debate it seems surprising to me that Meggers could not see the difference between applying this line of reasoning to assemblages of artifacts from neighboring valleys and applying it to assemblages on opposite sides of the Pacific Ocean in the absence of other convincing evidence of contact between those distant places. Isn’t it obvious that, as a general rule, the plausibility of an argument for a cultural relationship between groups of people making similar looking artifacts would decrease with increasing geographic distance between the groups?
Given the strong arguments against the idea of pre-Columbian contacts between the Americas and the rest of the world and the long history of failure of all such arguments that had been proposed up to that time, it seems to me that Meggers and her colleagues were extraordinarily naive to think their data constituted a strong case for transpacific contact or that their arguments would convince the archaeological community.
The new genetic evidence for a possible connection between Jomon Japan and Valdivian Ecuador, which I discuss in my Dispatch column, provides a measure of vindication for Meggers, but it does not mean that the archaeological community should have accepted the evidence as it was presented in the 1960s.
Robert Pirsig has written that “the real purpose of the scientific method is to make sure Nature hasn’t misled you into thinking you know something you don’t actually know.”
Meggers thought she knew something back in 1965. She may, indeed, have been on to something, but she actually didn’t know it. The evidence was not sufficient to support her extraordinary claim.
Oddly enough, another Smithsonian archaeologist, Dennis Stanford is now making the even more extraordinary claim that the Paleolithic European Solutrean culture colonized eastern North American introducing the Clovispoint to this hemisphere. The hypothesis is not widely accepted and, unlike the Jomon hypothesis, it is not supported by the genetic record.
Finally, it should go without saying (but won’t) that even if it can be confirmed that the Jomon culture did, indeed, make contact with ancient Ecuadorans, that would in no may make any of the other claims for pre-Columbian contact any more plausible. Each such claim must stand or fall on the merits of the evidence marshaled for that particular claim.
Craig, O. E., et al.
2013 Earliest evidence for the use of pottery. Nature, Volume 496, pages 351-354.
Daggett, Richard E.
1978 The life cycle of an idea: transpacific voyages and American archaeology. Journal of the Virgin Islands Archaeological Society No. 6, pp. 13-22.
Ebbesmeyer, Curtis and Eric Scigliano
2009 Borne on a Black Current. Smithsonian.com
Estrada, Emilio and Betty J. Meggers
1962 Possible transpacific contact on the coast of Ecuador. Science, Volume 135, Number 3501, pages 371-372.
McEqan, Gordon F. and D. Bruce Dickson
1978 Valdivia, Jomon fishermen, and the nature of the North Pacific: some nautical problems with Meggers, Evans, and Estrada’s (1965) transoceanic contact thesis. American Antiquity Volume 43, Number 3, pages 362-371.
Meggers, Betty J.
1972 Prehistoric America. Aldine, Chicago.
Meggers, Betty J., Clifford Evans and Emilio Estrada
1965 Early Formative Period of Coastal Ecuador: The Valdiviaand Machalilla Phases. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, Volume 1: http://www.sil.si.edu/smithsoniancontributions/Anthropology/sc_RecordSingle.cfm?filename=SCtA-0001&CFID=16241102&CFTOKEN=22089688
Roewer, Lutz, et al.
2013 Continent-wide decoupling of Y-chromosomal genetic variation from language and geography in Native South Americans. PLOS Genetics, Volume 9, Issue 4: http://www.plosgenetics.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pgen.1003460
Brad Lepper

The Adena Pipe is now Ohio’s State Artifact.

So what?

As a friend of mine implied in a comment to my announcement on Facebook, is it just another meaningless exercise in naming “State Things”?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think you would think so either if you had been in the room at the Ohio Statehouse listening to Governor John Kasich talk to the students from the Columbus School for Girls who have been fiercely persistent in their effort to have this unique effigy pipe recognized as the State Artifact.

It certainly isn’t meaningless to those young women and their teachers.

In their joint statement at the ceremony, Charlotte Stiverson and Tracy Kessler told their students the lesson they hoped everyone would remember –

“Your voice can be heard – whether you’re a child or a long, lost prehistoric culture.”

These young women did their best to help give a sort of voice to Ohio’s ancient peoples. One of their most magnificent works of art now represents the State of Ohio.

You might say it’s only a symbol, but symbols can be extraordinarily potent.

Think about it.

Our State Artifact is a small masterpiece carved by a Native American artisan more than 2,000 years ago.

It’s not a rubber tire, a light bulb, or an astronaut’s space helmet. It’s not a soldier’s saber, a judge’s gavel, or a politician’s pen.

Unanimous votes from both the House and Senate declared in one voice that Ohio would pay homage to our Native American heritage with this symbolic honor.

I don’t think that’s meaningless. I think it’s a miracle.

Thank you to Charlotte and Tracy, to the students at the Columbus School for Girls, to the State Representatives and Senators who sponsored the bills and all of them that voted for both versions, and to Governor Kasich for signing the final bill into law!
Brad Lepper

Spring is an exciting and yet also frustrating time of year. After months of dreary, cloudy, cold, rainy and snowy weather, we deeply yearn for sunshine and warmth. Many of us with leanings toward the natural world are eager to see spring wildflowers. An early warm spell catches us off guard, but we are committed to other tasks and cannot find time for woodland walks. Or we plan a day to be afield, and when the calendar turns, the ever present battle of spring between winter and summer bounces back to one of those cold and dreary days! Often it seems our timing cannot win.

As a naturalist, looking months ahead and trying to schedule a public wildflower walk, this dilemma can be even more frustrating. Every spring for the last 33 years I’ve led public hikes along Fort Hill’s Gorge Trail to share the beauty and fascinating ecology and geology of that site with folks. Those hikes can at times offer abundant wildflower displays and I can share the wonders with an enthusiastic group of hikers. Other times, I’ve walked alone in the rain and wind – still enjoying the serenity and peace that a wild area like Fort Hill can offer, but feeling disappointed that the weather had discouraged both the wildflowers and the visitors. Some of those times, the wind howling through the gorge of Fort Hill and the bleak skies with scurrying dark clouds makes one feel like a hobbit on a less than welcomed journey through some darkly enchanted forest.

Sometimes, however, our busy schedules, our calendars and the weather seem to blend perfectly. Wow! What excitement such seemingly rare occurrences bubble into our souls and lift our spirits.

May 4th this spring was one of those serendipitous happy times. The early morning drive of almost two hours from Columbus started out as cool 58 degrees – but the sun was out and air was warming! By mid-afternoon it was in the mid-70s and balmy. Perhaps due to a few previous cool days, and cool morning, only four visitors joined me.  All were from Cincinnati and three of them had been on my walks before. With nearly 20 species in bloom right in the Fort Hill parking lot, we were all excited and anticipating a glorious day in the rapidly greening woods. While a larger group is always more appreciated by a naturalist’s supervisors (numbers of contacts help justify time and costs), this small group was able to interact in a special way that can never happen in a large group.

The wildflowers did not disappoint us! Three weeks earlier, leading a group for the Arc of Appalachia’s Wildflower Pilgrimage, we found 27 species in bloom. Last year with the early warm spring, by early May many species were past – but this May Fourth was magical. By the end of the day we had observed and recorded 52 species in full bloom – not counting those that had already set seed or were not quite open yet. I’d have to confess that I have had one or two hikes at Fort Hill with a higher count, but those were in the early to mid-1980s, before the explosion of the deer herd impacted what is still a magnificent display of wildflower. Fort Hill may be one of the best displays of spring wildflowers in the state! Sorry, perhaps I’m prejudiced on that opinion.

What were the highlights of the trip? I’m sure that varied with each of hikers and their past experiences and preferences. I’d have to include the Dwarf Crested Iris – which we usually find in one nice large patch, but this year we found three good clusters – one in a place I’ve never seen them before. Then there were several spots with Goldenseal which is always a treat. I think many of my visitors were really thrilled with the Showy Orchis and the Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper orchids – especially these two orchids were found within twenty yards of the best patch of the Dwarf Crested Iris. What a magnificent display for form and color and rarity all in one small area of this huge semi-wilderness area. Another favorite for me is the lone Red Buckeye tree (Aesculus pavia) which was in full bloom and in obvious contrast the more abundant Ohio Buckeye. In her detailed 1969 publication on the ecology and vascular plants of Fort Hill (published by the Ohio Biological Survey) E. Lucy Braun lists only the Ohio Buckeye among her 650 species of herbaceous plants she records. In Braun’s 1961 The Woody Plants of Ohio (Ohio State University Press) she does not even list the Red Buckeye as being found anywhere in Ohio. Even the 2001 publication, Seventh Catalog of the Vascular Plants of Ohio by Cooperrider, Cusick and Kartesz does not list the Red Buckeye as being found among the nearly 3,000 species of plants recorded for Ohio. And yet this tree grows on a low promontory thirty feet above Baker Fork at a spot at least a mile from the closest residence. ODNR botanist Jim McCormac tells me that Red Buckeye grows in Kentucky and so might not be unexpected here in southern Ohio – but it is still a neat find here at Fort Hill.

Fort Hill has 11 miles of hiking trails, and on May Fourth, my group hiked only four – through the gorge of Baker Fork and looping back to our vehicles. At the end of the day, all were tired, but it was a pleasant tiredness full of great memories and photos. As you read this blog, most of the blooms we saw that day will be past. But perhaps you can make a note for next April and early May to schedule a hike through the scenic gorge at Fort Hill. The four folks on my May Fourth hike all urged me to come out of my pending retirement and lead a public wildflower hike next spring at Fort Hill again – so perhaps I’ll follow that thought and you could join us!

To learn more about Fort Hill State Memorial – a National Natural Landmark – go to one of the following web pages. The OHS page is at: http://www.ohiohistory.org/museums-and-historic-sites/museum–historic-sites-by-name/fort-hill/fort-hill  Our partner that handles the daily operation of Fort Hill is the Arc of Appalachia, and they have a great web page at: http://www.arcofappalachia.org/visit/fort-hill.html

For those who wonder what species made up those 52 plants in bloom that we saw, following is my list – in no specific order.

Bob Glotzhober

Senior Curator of Natural History

Fort Hill Blooms Observed May 4, 2013

Trees & Shrubs: Dogwood, Redbud, Pawpaw, Bladdernut, Ohio Buckeye, Red Buckeye, Black-haw (V. prunifolium);

Herbaceous Flowers:  Blue Phlox, Common Blue Violet, Pale Violet, Canada Violet, Yellow Violet, Three-lobed Violet, Walter’s Violet, Green Violet, Golden Ragwort, Golden Alexanders, Bluets, Spring Beauty, Dwarf Larkspur, Early Meadow Rue, Large-flowered Bellwort, Wood Betony, Wood Poppy (Celandine Poppy), Virginia Bluebells, Seneca Snakeroot, Columbine, Smooth Sweet Cicely, Philadelphia Fleabane, White Baneberry (Doll’s Eyes), May Apple, Dandelion, Rue Anemone, Wild Ginger, White Trillium (Large Flowered Trillium),  Drooping Trillium, Wild Geranium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Star Chickweed, Swamp Buttercup (Hispid Buttercup), Small-flowered Buttercup (Hooked Crowfoot), Bishop’s Cap, Dwarf Crested Iris, Showy Orchis, Large Yellow Lady’s-slipper, Violet Wood Sorrel, Goldenseal, Squawroot, Solomon’s Seal, Solomon’s Plume, Greek Valerian, Ohio Spiderwort.

Other notes:  We also saw and heard a number of birds, including a large number of Scarlet Tanager’s calling with their “Chick-Burr” notes, and a group of six baby Wood Ducks scurrying up the creek way below us toward the frantic whistle-call of the adult female, which remained concealed.
In March of 1942, Charles Snow, a Harvard-trained physical anthropologist at the University of Kentucky, sent a letter to Richard Morgan, then the Ohio Historical Society’s Curator of Archaeology, asking permission to reproduce an image of the Adena Pipe for a paper he was writing about two “Indian Dwarfs from Moundville.” He expressed his opinion that “in its realistic treatment the figurine appears to be that of an achondroplastic dwarf.”

Richard Morgan, then Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society, readily granted permission for Snow to use the image, but expressed his doubts that the man on the pipe actually represented a dwarf:

“I was talking to Dr. Frank Roos (Dept. of Fine Arts, Ohio State Univ.) who is making a study of primitive art throughout the world. He remarked that the Adena figurine was like other representations of the human figure in primitive art. He stated that squatty figures with large heads were typical of such art and that it would be dangerous to draw definite conclusions concerning the physical type represented.”

This argument didn’t persuade Snow. He replied on 10 March:

“Several persons have remarked about the pipe-figurine and its figure which in its realism suggests to some that the model may have been an achondroplastic dwarf. Of course, it is very difficult to assert that any such art reproduction represents all of the things artists read into them. In this case, the proportions of the arms, the elbow level, the short, heavy legs the protruding buttocks are all too suggestive in my opinion. Furthermore, the little Indian reported by Fowke, buried at the center of Mound 4 Waverly Group probably was an achondroplastic dwarf. Thus the Adena artist may well have used an actual model… I am using the figurine purely as suggestive.”

Snow makes some good points, but I think the issue is not what “artists read into” ancient artifacts such as the Adena Pipe, but what physical anthropologists read into them.

While doing research on the Adena Pipe for my 2010 Timeline article, I contacted the Pre-Columbian Art Historian Johanna Minich and asked her for her views. She is “not entirely convinced” that the man on the pipe was intended to represent a dwarf. For example, the arms are roughly in proper proportion to the body, and the seemingly shortened legs are bent, which may have made it difficult for the sculptor to get the proportions right. She concluded that “if the artist of the Adena man was trying to show us a dwarf, in my mind, it would be more obvious.”

So, the man on the Adena Pipe may be a dwarf, but sculpture is not photography and we simply don’t know enough about the art of the Adena culture to make such a claim with any degree of confidence.
Brad Lepper
Note: Thanks to OHS volunteer Sara Nuber Thomas for discovering the Snow-Morgan correspondence in the Archaeology files and for recognizing its timeliness!


Johanna Minich is a Pre-Columbian Art Historian. Her 2004 dissertation, Hopewell Stone Carvers: Reinterpreting the Roles of Artist and Patron, is an insightful study of the magnificent Hopewell effigy pipes from Mound City and Tremper Mound.
I have known Johanna since 2006 when we began working together on the Hopewell Iconographic Workshop, hosted by Kent Reilly at the Center for the Arts and Symbolism of Ancient America, Texas State University, San Marcos, Texas.
In preparation for my upcoming talk on the “Indigenous Art of Ancient Ohio,” I asked her whether it was valid to use the term “art” for artifacts created by non-Western cultures and particularly prehistoric societies where the intended meanings of artifacts either have been lost entirely or are, at best, much less obvious.
I am happy to share her thoughts in this guest blog post.

Art is a word used to describe the array of material remains from New World peoples and is a concept that is embraced with varying degrees of enthusiasm by scholars. Some of the common arguments against the use of this term are 1) non-Western creative output is really so different from “traditional” art forms, how can it be considered the same? and 2) it imposes a Western perspective of what art is onto people who may or may not have shared that view.

I think it’s instructive to break down these two points and see where the perspective might be skewed.

It is a matter of contention among art historians for a long time that certain cultures are privileged in our program of study over others. We term everything that did not have a direct effect on the collective Western aesthetic as “non-Western,” meaning of course, everything ever produced by anyone, at any time, that came from anywhere besides Europe. The Ancient Near East and Egypt are also included in the study of Western art, but why? They wrote things down, and they kept records. So it would seem that what we really place the most importance on is a culture’s ability to maintain written records about themselves. New World cultures such as the Maya, we now know, kept extensive and detailed records.  However, these weren’t discovered or understood until the art historical canon had already been set in stone.

Art historians are trained to look at the big picture in terms of artistic production.

Who made it? In the case of non-Western material output, we are looking at objects crafted, for the most part, by people whom we don’t know much about. Does that negate it as art? Arguments about defining what art is from a Western perspective, in my opinion, are useless here. I agree that we make aesthetic judgments from our cultural perspective but by saying “we can’t call it art,” we are in effect saying “these people are less human than we are.” Humans make art. It really matters very little if we like it, hate it, or even understand it, as long as we accept that basic premise.

What are we looking at? The vast majority of objects that survive in an archeological context from prehistoric cultures are objects that we are more comfortable defining as “craft.” This includes ceramics and carved stone. How do we differentiate between that which is described as “craft” and that which is considered “fine art”? Maybe it would be easier to use material as a starting point. We are quick to define ceramics, particularly indigenous pottery, as craft. If we turn back to our art history textbook for some guidance, we find pages of beautiful, full-color, Greek pottery. The Greek mastery of black-figure and red-figure techniques, combined with their use of detailed narrative, later inspired Renaissance and Neo-Classical masters. Ceramics are fine art. The Ohio River Valley produced some of the greatest prehistoric stone carvers on the North American continent. But stone carving is a craft, right? Michelangelo didn’t think so.

Why is the object created? This is question that reaches deeper into the heart of the issue. Is the impetus for non-Western production of things so much different from the Western?  F. Kent Reilly introduced the idea of how material objects are capable of embodying the social and cultural phenomena developed during the ancient period. He writes:

“The function of art as a material expression of cultural (and therefore mental) constructs is a well-documented phenomenon among ancient civilizations as well as contemporary small-scale societies. A common characteristic of such societies is the construction of analogies between the social order and the natural world, expressed in religious beliefs and practices (i.e., ritual) and given tangible form in art.”

In short, art has always served the religious, political, sexual, and economical needs of the cultures that produced it. The material remains of cultures around the world give testament to both the individual desire and the collective ideal.

Johanna Minich

On Saturday, May 18th at 2:00 PM I’ll be giving a program on the “Indigenous Art of Ancient Ohio” here at the Ohio History Center.

Here’s a brief description of the program:

Ohio’s Adena Effigy Pipe is about to be recognized as our official State Artifact. It has been called the finest known example of prehistoric stone sculpture north of Mexico. It may be the most spectacular example of ancient art in Ohio, but it is certainly not the only one.


The Ohio Historical Society’s Curator of Archaeology Brad Lepper will share the stories behind the Adena Pipe and several other extraordinary works of indigenous art in our collections — from an exquisitely crafted spear point made when mastodons were tromping through Ohio’s forests to a pair of rare stone carvings of women from the period just before the arrival of Europeans in our state.

I hope you will be able to join me for this timely look at Ohio’s ancient masterpieces and why one of them absolutely deserves to be our State Artifact!

Brad Lepper