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Jason Jarrell and Sarah Farmer

Until around 1970, American archaeologists considered the people buried in the Adena mounds of the Ohio Valley to represent a distinct population. This was due to the fact that Adena skeletons possessed certain characteristics which were not observed in most of the populations that preceded and succeeded them. It should be emphasized that these were not traits that were considered "unusual". They were simply congenital markers of a specific population. Investigators who recorded and reviewed the Adena physicality include some of the most important names in Adena studies: William S. Webb, Charles Snow, and Don W. Dragoo.

Webb and Snow published the first wide scale review of the Adena physical type, which included 87 Adena crania from Kentucky, Ohio and West Virginia. They commented extensively on the unique congenital features that were made even more pronounced by the practice of artificial cranial deformation:

"…one is impressed with the globular nature of most of the skull vaults, which are high and flattened on the back, the broad high foreheads, the massive flat faces, the prominent hooked nasal bones and the projection of the jaws." (1, p. 251)

"Approximately 92% of the skulls (89% male, 95% female of all ages) are deformed at the back to moderate or pronounced degrees… these measurements when compared with the range of human variation in size, indicate an Indian group with rather short, but broad and extremely high heads; with large, long, broad faces…with palates fairly large and the lower jaws big and robust…However, those skulls with light or no deformation (undeformed) present similar proportions." (1, pp. 251-254)

Other consistent and recurring traits which Webb and Snow noted in the Adena population include prominent foreheads and brow ridges, prognathic bulging upper and lower jaws, large cheekbones with forward and lateral prominence, and very wide, bony chins “unusually prominent for American Indian crania.” (1, p. 48) In 1963, archaeologist Don W. Dragoo of the Carnegie Museum published his own review of Adena anthropology (2):

"…it was evident that the people were brachycephalic with artificial head deformation generally present. The face was large both in length and breadth and there was moderate alveolar prognathism. The chin was prominent and broad with bilateral eminences usually present. The cheek bones were large with pronounced lateral projections." (2, p. 72)

"Two outstanding traits have been noted repeatedly for this group. One is the protruding and massive chin often with prominent bilateral protrusions…The second trait is the large size of many of the males and some of the females. A male of six feet was common and some individuals approaching seven feet in height have been found, for example, Burial 40 in the Dover Mound and Burial 54 in the Cresap Mound. Some of the females of the Dover Mound were also more than six feet in height. Not only were these Adena people tall but also the massiveness of the bones indicates powerfully built individuals. The head was generally big with a large cranial capacity." (2, p.249)

As mentioned our AOM article, both William S. Webb and Don W. Dragoo discovered skeletons reaching 7 feet in length in Adena tombs. Indeed, Dragoo's observations regarding the bones of the large skeleton he discovered in an Adena mound in West Virginia are particularly noteworthy in the contexts of Adena anthropology:

"This individual was of large proportions. When measured in the tomb his length was approximately 7.04 feet. All the long bones were heavy and possessed marked eminences for the attachment of muscles." (2, p.67)

"Ages of the Giants: A Cultural History of the Tall Ones in Prehistoric America", records discoveries of skeletons ranging between 7 and 8 feet in length by Antiquarians and Archaeologists in the tombs of ancient North American cultures spanning thousands of years. The majority of these date to between 1400 B.C. and 450 A.D., including many instances from Adena and Hopewell mounds in the Ohio Valley. Dr Greg Little-- author of the excellent "Path of Souls" (2014)--has performed several statistical analyses on the Smithsonian's own documentation of the large remains in order to test several popular explanations, including the "giantism" and the "basketball player" hypotheses. We quote Dr. Little here at length:

"We then decided to do a careful review of the Smithsonian's two major reports that detailed their mound investigations (the 1887 and 1894 Bureau of Ethnology Annual Reports). We used original publications for our search and went through them page-by-page. The 1894 report contained 742-pages detailing the mound investigations and the 1887 report had 100 pages. We found that the Smithsonian's field agents found 17 skeletons in mounds that were close to 7 feet or taller. The largest they reported was just under 8-feet in length. The main concentration of these was in West Virginia's Kanawha Valley...

I performed two statistical analyses on the "giant" skeletons found in West Virginia to determine the probability that the large skeletons excavated there could simply be due to chance. The first analysis assumed that the skeletons were measured correctly and it showed that the statistical probability of finding so many tall skeletons in the West Virginia mounds was well beyond chance: the actual results were as close to zero as it gets statistically. The second analysis assumed that all of the skeletons were measured incorrectly because of "spreading," which can occur to skeletons as falling stone and ground cause pressure to push apart skeletons. This analysis essentially reduced the height of all the skeletons by about 7.5%. The resulting statistical analysis also showed that the probability of finding so many tall skeletons in West Virginia mounds were far below what might be found by chance (p > .01)...

In essence, for the Smithsonian to have found 17 skeletons that were 7 feet tall by chance alone, they would have had to excavate 2.5 million skeletons. (That statistic utilizes modern height statistics, not the smaller heights known to have existed in ancient Native American populations.) In sum, there is a genuine mystery here. The height of many of the individuals entombed in ancient American mounds was far taller than the general populace - far beyond what could be explained by simple chance.

Skeptics have related that the disorder gigantism probably was the cause of many reports, but they actually cite no evidence for this assertion. It is a weak attempt to explain away and dismiss the issue. Gigantism is exceedingly rare, so rare that there is no actual incidence statistic for it. America has less than 100 cases of gigantism recoded in its history. In fact, the overwhelmingly vast majority of tall people today, those reaching or approaching 7 feet, do not have the disorder of gigantism. The actual percentage of modern humans who reach 7 feet in height is 0.000007%. In the ancient world of America's Mound Builders, the percentage of the population that reached 7 feet in height would have been even lower.

Returning to another skeptics claim, that freezing and thawing makes skeletons so big they might look like a giant, it was found to be completely wrong and baseless. Modern paleopathology texts and sources relate that buried bones that freeze can shatter and most buried bones actually lose mass - they get smaller. In addition, not one report has surfaced where a mastodon/mammoth bone was found in an American mound and said to be human. In an 1884 issue of Science, Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian's Mound Survey detailed the excavation and recovery of a 7.5-foot-tall skeleton found in the Kanawha Valley. A host of other newspaper articles we found to be accurate summaries of archaeological field reports of large skeletons. Thus, the skeptics' outright dismissal of all of the old giant skeleton reports is simply false. I see the denial of all such reports as stemming from deep-seated psychological processes."

Greg Little, "The truth about giant skeletons in American Indian mounds, and the Smithsonian cover-up", AP Magazine, June 2014.

Some notes on craniometry

Over time a popular trend in anthropology took hold in Ohio Valley archaeology, as the experts decided that craniometric features of prehistoric populations were useless in determining population history. Previously, the shape of the crania from ancient groups were considered a sign of genetic affinities--a field of study known as craniometry. Commonly used terms for skull types in craniometry are:

Dolichocephalic: A long skull with an index of less than 75.

Mesocephalic: A medium proportion of length and height, with an index between 76 and 80.9.

Brachycephalic: A short, high vaulted skull with an index of over 80.

Although many Adena skulls exhibited artificial flattening of the occipital region (via use of an infant cradle board), there were nonetheless undeformed skulls recovered which showed the basic skull morphology of the population to be round headed (or brachycephalic). Craniometry had fallen out of favor since the publication of Franz Boas’ "Changes in the Bodily Form of Immigrants" (Columbia University Press, N.Y. 1912), which convinced many anthropologists that skull shape could change dramatically from one generation to the next due to purely environmental factors, and should therefore be discounted as evidence of inherited traits. However, Corey Sparks has recently published the results of his recreation of the original study of Boas, utilizing modern multivariate statistics (3). This study demonstrated that cranial features actually do preserve genetically inherited traits, and differences between ethnic groups are far more apparent than between generations of single families. Furthermore, American environmental factors were found to have little impact upon cranial characteristics. Sparks summarizes his findings:

"Criticisms of biodistance studies have focused on the original report of Boas (1910), on the basis that radical changes can take place in human head form in as little as one generation. The findings of this analysis do not support these criticisms. The replication of Boas’s original study performed herein shows that upon statistical reanalysis of the data there is actually very little differentiation caused by the American environment." (3, p. 60)

In fact, craniometry is again being incorporated into studies of ancient population migrations in Europe during the Copper and Bronze Ages (4), and recent studies have shown that population histories and genetic affinities suggested by craniometric and skeletal morphologies actually do correspond to the results of actual mtDNA research in the Americas (5, 6).


1.William S. Webb and Charles E. Snow, The Adena People, University of Kentucky, Lexington, 1945.
2.Don W. Dragoo, Mounds for the Dead: An Analysis of the Adena Culture, Annals of the Carnegie Museum, Vol. 37, 1963.
3.Corey Shepard Sparks, Reassessment of Cranial Plasticity in Man: A Modern Critique of Changes in Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants, Masters Thesis, University of Tennessee, 2008.
4. Elzbieta Haduch, “Bell Beakers and Corded Ware People in the Little Poland Upland—An Anthropological Point of View”, in The Bell Beaker Transition in Europe: Mobility and Local Evolution During the 3rd Millennium B.C., ed. ‪Maria Pilar Prieto Martínez and Laure Salanova, Oxbow Books, 2015, pp. ‬8-14.
5. Raghavan, et al.,The genetic prehistory of the New World Arctic, Science 345 (6200 ), August 2014.
6. Brianne Herrera, Tsunehiko Hanihara, and Kanya Godde, "2014 Comparability of multiple data types from the Bering Strait Region: cranial and dental metrics and non metrics, mtDNA, and Y-chromosome DNA", American Journal of Physical Anthropology 154: 334-348.

Edited 7 time(s). Last edit at 07-Mar-18 20:11 by Jason Jarrell.

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Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 274 Jason Jarrell 07-Mar-18 19:12
Re: Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 29 Wheeler 14-Mar-18 22:22
Re: Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 20 Jason Jarrell 14-Mar-18 23:51
Re: Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 19 Wheeler 15-Mar-18 02:39
Re: Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 18 Jason Jarrell 15-Mar-18 08:27
Re: Some Notes on Adena Anthropology 37 Wheeler 15-Mar-18 10:31

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