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Hopewell Culture. Hold My Ear Spool!. Copper Ear Spool Design. A study by Katherine Ruhl and Mark Seeman looked at copper ear spools at Hopewell mound and village sites using Carr’s style theory as a spring board for their hypothesis.

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Hopewell Culture

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hopewell culture


Hold My Ear Spool!

copper ear spool design
Copper Ear Spool Design
  • A study by Katherine Ruhl and Mark Seeman looked at copper ear spools at Hopewell mound and village sites using Carr’s style theory as a spring board for their hypothesis.
  • The results are consistent with the interpretation that the size of social groups participating in ritual events increased over time, while the requirement for durable ear spools decreased.
  • This leads to the theory that as ear spools became more ceremonial in use they were not worn in every day life as often as in previous times.
carr s style theory
Carr’s Style Theory
  • The “etic” meaning of style has undergone some debate
  • Carr produced a synthesis of conflicting theories of style favored by most researchers.
  • Carr’s theory provides an organized framework for identifying variability within a particular artifact class, for constructing an attribute hierarchy, and for linking observed patterns of variation to a number of specific social units and processes.
style seriation and meaning
Style, Seriation and Meaning
  • Early seriation studies saw “style” as strictly for use in building chronology, though later investigations began to explore potential relationships between stylistic variation and broader social functions
  • Many defined style as residing in a particular category of attributes which includes very little of the artifacts presently in possesion.
  • Carr developed an inclusive model where all stylistic attributes are considered according to three criteria
    • Degree of visibility
    • Priority of planning process
    • Position in the actual process of production
  • Each level correlates to expected geographic distribution, a particular set of social or personal units, or other processes that determine some aspect of style
  • Those highly ranked attributes represents conscious messages with importance for the most inclusive social unit, they are visible over a great distance and take priority in artifact design processes.
previous ear spool studies
Previous Ear Spool Studies
  • Earliest explorers of Hopewell mounds in Southern Ohio found and described ear spools and misinterpreted them as early European products, like metal ornaments for sword belts.
  • In 1883 Putnam later deducted that these artifacts strangely reminded him of ear ornaments from Peru
  • Putnam oversaw an excavation that yielded Hopewell figurines bearing ear spools, and after experimenting with fabrication techniques made the connection. His colleague Charles Willoughby published a study on methods of ear spool construction in 1916.
  • In 1970 Griffin believed ear spools were subject to some sort of stylistic variation over time
  • Ruhl’s study in 1992 was the first intensive stylistic study of the ear spools in more than 80 years
ear spool construction
Ear Spool Construction
  • Cross section of a typical bicymbal ear spool. Consists of two circular discs joined by a central column. Outer surfaces are curved with a convex outer ring and depressed center.
  • This seemingly complex design is specifically used for suspension and balance when worn
  • The outer plates are highly visible and the interior remains hidden from general view when worn.
Hopewell artisans employed an array of sheet metal working techniques to create these complex three dimensional objects
  • Artisans developed a number of different construction plans to satisfy functional requirements.
  • Some ear spools found have also been made of stone, bone, silver, gold, wood, shell as well as copper.
  • 55 percent of 22 variable morphological attributes of ear spools examined in the study are significantly correlated with profile order, including the highly visible characteristics.
  • One exception would be the “white” metal overlay which can vary the disc color. Iron or silver metal was used to obtain this visible characteristic.
  • Findings generally support the utility of Carr’s model that highly visible attributes tend to be sensitive to time differences.
turner mound
Turner Mound
  • The Turner site located in Ohio on the Little Miami River is a site containing detailed provenience information for a sample of ear spool analysis.
  • Ear spools came from one particular mound, the “Burial Place” and turner Mound 12 and Marriott Mound
  • “The Burial Place” yielded the highest concentration of ear spools associated with human remains and two distinct social groups.
  • The only difference between these two groups are profile order and some dimensional attributes.
  • Comparing ear spools within these three settings, highly visible attributes and construction techniques do not differ
  • For this particular site, within-site differences in ear spool design do not occur.
variations among separate but neighboring sites
Variations Among Separate but Neighboring Sites
  • Comparing ear spools from the Hopewell, Ater and Porter sites, located all within 12 km from each other in South-central Ohio
  • Profile rankings of the ear spools at all three sites fall within a similar range though the Hopewell sample tended to be larger.
  • The number of attributes displaying significant differences among these sites is greater than the intra site differences at turner Mound.
  • In addition to poorly visible or subtle aspects of ear spool proportions, community level differences among Hopewell, Ater and Porter sites include unique construction.
  • All along the Little Miami River region, variations continue in the materials used to construct the ear spools, not the design or style.
  • The surface contours of ear spools were crafted to convey an obvious ring shaped image to the viewer with a prominent exterior circumference and recessed center.
  • This is interpreted as important to the Hopewell belief systems suggested by the prominence of bicymbal ear spools on human figurines found at Hopewell sites as components of different costumes and ritual deposits.
  • The continuous variation in the concave to convex transition of ear spools permits the construction of a consistent seriation based on this highly visible characteristic
  • These highly visible changes may reflect changes over time in the social uses of ear spools, their condition of use, or both.
  • Possibly group size increased for certain events involving the use of ear spools either because local populations were increasing or because individual ceremonial centers were serving border geographic areas.
more conclusions
More conclusions
  • Over time this need called for changes in construction and resulted in decreased durability of the ear spool itself
  • As viewed through the study of ear spool attributes, “Hopewell interaction” is composed of many social relationships of varying geographic and social scope
  • The actual trading of ear spools would have tended to homogenize attribute variations across social boundaries and has been over emphasized in the past.
  • The details of proportion and construction techniques were shared within much smaller areas and may express local or individual preferences rather than broad ones.

“The Temporal and Social Implications of Ohio Hopewell Copper Ear Spool Design” by Katharine Ruhl and Mark Seeman. American Antiquity 1998.