Near the end of the life of the Hopewell Culture (350-500 AD) indigenous peoples began developing a large ceremonial site in the beautiful Paint Creek Valley of southeastern Ohio. The valley was formed in the last Ice Age when glaciers wore down the Allegheny Mountains into large hills (or small mountains.) The choice of this location may reflect an increased dependence on agriculture, because the black soils of the valley are extremely fertile. Their choice may also been influenced by the proximity of four distinct vegetative zones, which would have supplied a variety of natural foods.
The 180 acre complex seems to have been utilized for a variety of communal activities. At the center was a 30 feet tall burial mound, with a mortuary temple on top. Bodies of loved ones went through certain rituals prior to being buried in the mound or taken back home to be interred. The mound is very unusual that it is in a truncated rectangular pyramid like contemporary mounds in Georgia and Alabama. The towns and ceremonial sites in the Southeast had evidently influenced Ohio architecture, because earlier Hopewell burial mounds were conical or hemispherical. When excavated in the 1920s and 1930s, it was found to contain mica art from the North Carolina Mountains, fine smoking pipes from Tennessee, sea shells from the Gulf or Atlantic Coast, and copper from Isle Royale, Michigan.
Archaeologists have found the footprints of several buildings within the earth berms of the complex. There was a large shop for working North Carolina mica in to artwork. Other structures seemed to be associated with stone carving, pottery, flint knapping or residential usage – perhaps the homes of the priests and caretakers of the complex.
Seip, as the name implies, contains numerous ceremonial earthworks in varying geometric forms. They do not seem to have been used for burials, so probably defined spaces used for large rituals and trade festivals. There is no evidence that the site itself contained a substantial village. As stated in the earlier article on Hopewell Ceremonial Complexes, the people seemed to have lived in small, transient village sites, or perhaps migrated seasonally between food resources. During early Colonial times, the Potawatomi, Ojibwa and Kickapoo, probable descendants of the Hopewell People, still rotated between four seasonal village sites during the year.
The Seip Earthworks are a unit of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. It is also maintained as an historical park by the State of Ohio. The museum-headquarters of the park are in Chillocothe, Ohio, adjacent to the Mound City and Hopewell ceremonial complexes. The rangers provide visitors with maps to go on self-guided tours of the other preserved sites. If time allows, the driving tour is well worth the time. Some of Ohio’s most beautiful scenery is in the vicinity of the Seip Earthworks. In the Paint Valley are quaint 19th century farms where Amish women sell pies, breads and preserves to tourists on the roadside.