Ancient American smokers preferred imported pipes

 

Archaeologist William Mills dug up a treasure-trove of carved stone pipes that had been buried almost 2,000 years earlier. Almost a century ago, Mills was the first to dig at Tremper Mound in southern Ohio. Making a reasonable, but unassayed, assumption, Mills concluded that the smoking pipes were made from locally quarried stone. His conclusions, first published in 1916, have been repeated in monographs and other scientific publications since them, and have now been proven incorrect.
 
New findings should challenge archaeologists to look more carefully at the evidence left behind by the Hopewell people, said Thomas Emerson – the director of the Illinois State Archaeological Survey. Referring to analysis undertaken by Emerson and a team of experts,  “This study really says to the archaeological community, you need to go back to the drawing board,” he said. “You’ve been telling stories for decades that are based on essentially misinformation.” 
 
Emerson and colleagues discovered that the pipestone pipes buried roughly 2,100 years ago actually came from stone gathered in northern Illinois. Emerson’s study tested stone pipes and pipestone from quarries found across the upper Midwestern United States. The research concluded that the pipes buried at Tremper Mound came mostly from Illinois. Spending nearly ten years on research, the experts collected mineralogical signatures of stone found in traditional pipestone quarries in Illinois, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri and Ohio. The material found in the quarries was then compared to the artifacts buried by the people of Tremper Mound. They found that less than 20 percent of the 111 Tremper Mound pipes tested were made from local Ohio stone, while about 65 percent were carved from flint clay found only in northern Illinois and 18 percent were made of a stone called catlinite, which comes from Minnesota.
 
Experts are still pondering how the materials reached Ohio from Illinois, while they also puzzle over another discovery. Pipes from a site 40 miles from Tremper Mound, the elaborate mounds known as Mound City, were carved almost entirely from local stone. Mound City was inhabited at about the same time or shortly after Tremper Mound, and the pipes found there are stylistically very similar to the Tremper pipes. 
 
(owl effigy pipe)
 
Speaking about the misconception about Tremper Mound that had been repeated for decades by archaeologists, Emerson said “This is how mythology becomes encased in science.” A news release said that the study, which has been published in American Antiquity, confirms that the Hopewell people who produced these pipestone artifacts were more diverse and varied in their cultural practices than once thought. The Hopewell people, who lived in the region from about 100 B.C. to roughly A.D. 400, have long been the subject of speculation. The relics they left behind are not easily understood. Those living in southeastern Ohio, especially, seemed to be “conspicuous consumers and connoisseurs of the exotic,” Emerson said. According to Emerson, the Hopewell people from that area collected “massive assemblages of obsidian from Wyoming, mica from the Appalachians, and caches of elaborately carved pipes.” In addition, the Hopewell people collected shells from the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, as well as  skulls of exotic animals such as alligators. “Strange animals, strange minerals, strange things were really a focus,” he said.
 
Of the carved stone pipes from that era, most have been found in Ohio, where very large caches often containing more than 100 pipes were ritually broken, burned and buried.  The same style of pipes are found in Illinois, but many fewer have been uncovered in Illinois to date, he said, and they are dispersed, not heaped together in giant hordes as in Ohio. There is evidence of stone carving at the Illinois sources where the stone was gathered, but none at Tremper Mound, suggesting that the Illinois stone was carved into pipes before it was transported to Ohio.
 
The team used a variety of techniques to analyze the material in the quarries and the artifacts. One method, called X-ray diffraction (XRD), produces a distinct signal that reflects the proportion of minerals in different types of stone. The stone must be pulverized, however, to subject it to XRD. To analyze the intact pipes, the researchers used a non-destructive portable technology, called PIMA, which illuminates a specimen with short-wavelength infrared radiation and records the refracted (unabsorbed) wavelengths, allowing investigators to identify the minerals present. They verified the accuracy of the PIMA by comparing its results to those obtained with XRD on quarry specimens and broken pipes. 


Spero News editor Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. He is also a freelance translator.

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