Hopewell Indian Artifact Looting

Effigy Pipe (#12)

Illustration of Hopewell effigy pipe.

One of the important plot points in The Ghost of Cheeney Creek is the illegal looting of Hopewell Indian artifacts from an undiscovered burial mound located in Hamilton County, Indiana. Such a looting occurred in real life in 1988 resulting in the imposition of a year in prison for the man found guilty of trafficking in artifacts  illegally removed from a Hopewell burial mound on property owned by GE near Mt. Vernon, Indiana. The burial mound was discovered by accident when a heavy-equipment operator cut into it during a highway construction project. Thousands of artifacts were removed from the Indiana site, including tooled leather, copper axheads, jewelry, and rare silver instruments with the reeds still intact.

The Hopewell Indians occupied Indiana from 900 A.D. to 1300 A.D. The Hopewell culture participated in long-distance trading networks. This allowed them to acquire copper from the upper Great Lakes, mica from the Carolinas, shells from the Gulf of Mexico, and obsidian from the Rocky Mountains. Magnificent works of art were crafted from these exotic raw materials, such as a large carved mica hand, decorated ceremonial pottery, and ornate carvings decorated with fresh water pearls, sea shells, sharks’ teeth, copper, and even silver. The Hopewells also built great geometric earthworks (or mounds) that are among the most impressive Native American monuments throughout American prehistory. The function of the mounds is still under debate, but believed to be ceremonial, not for burial.

The Archeological Resource Protection Act of 1979 prohibits thefts from ancient sites on federal land, Native American-owned property, and even on private property, as was the case with the man convicted of looting in 1988. To allow looting on private land was deemed by the court as contrary to the goals of the law, which are  “. . .to preserve valuable collections of Indian artifacts. . . until the location of each object in it has been carefully mapped.”