South Charleston is the site of the second largest remaining Indian burial mound in the State. It is located in the downtown business district along MacCorkle Avenue (U.S. Route 60) fronting Oakes Avenue and Seventh Avenue. The Mound is a large earthen pile measuring 1 75 feet in diameter at the base and approximately 35 feet high.
Some early inhabitants of South Charleston were believed to be a race of people commonly referred to by archeologists as Indians of the Adena Culture. Because of the large earthen mounds they erected over the tombs of their dead, they are known today as “Mound Builders”. Adena is a classification of these Mound Builders who had common cultural and physical traits and burial customs.
Thomas Worthington, Governor of Ohio from 1814 to 1818 lived on a large estate northwest of Chillicothe, Ohio. He named his estate “Adena” after a Greek adverb meaning “sufficient” or “lacking nothing”. On his estate was a great earthen mound which became a prototype for identifying other mounds of similar traits and artifacts.
There are many existing mounds of various sizes in areas of West Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky, although many have been destroyed by land developers. Most of the remaining mounds have been excavated by archeological teams, and the artifacts and remains found have undergone meticulous study and interpretation.
Skeletal analysis reveals that this primitive society of early Mound Builders were a broad-faced race of people who practiced the cultural custom of flattening and reshaping the head through the use of a cradle board in infancy. Charred bone fragments found in some mounds also indicate that cremation was performed.
Some scholars believe that the Adena Indian Civilization originally came from Mexico and Middle America by way of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, to the Kanawha Valley, while others feel that they were descended from a people who crossed to this hemisphere from Europe. The truth is, no one really knows and their period of existence can only be estimated from 500 BC to 1000 AD.
An official report by the Bureau of Ethnology (1890-91) reported fifty (50) mounds in this area varying in diameter from 35 to 200 feet and from 3 to 35 feet in height. The Report also states that, prior to excavation, the top of the South Charleston mound was leveled in order to erect an office and judges’ stand in connection with some type of race course surrounding it.
In 1883-84, the Smithsonian Institution sent Colonel P. W. Norris to the Kanawha Valley to make a complete study of the prehistoric mounds in the area. The excavation of the South Charleston Mound, which was supervised by Colonel Norris, revealed 13 complete skeletons and parts of another, a flint lance head, copper bracelets, arrowheads, tools, and various metal and shell ornaments which are now in the possession of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
Arrowheads, believed to be from a pre-Adena Civilization have also been found in the Spring Hill area of South Charleston. The authentic private collection was donated to the South Charleston Library by Hillis J. Youse and Henry R. Larmoyeux, Jr., members of the Kanawha Chapter of the West Virginia Archeological Society. Today, the collection hangs mounted under glass in the form of a wall display. The South Charleston Mound is now preserved in Staunton Park, which is owned and maintained by the City of South Charleston.
Research conducted and prepared for the South Charleston Convention & Visitors Bureau by Maxie D. Foster, a member of the Adena Indian Chapter, Colonial Dames XVII Century.