Middle Woodland people continued the basic lifestyle of their Early Woodland ancestors, living in small communities scattered through the river valleys and supporting themselves by cultivating crops, hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plant foods. Their flint tools and pottery, however, are distinctive in their form and, with regard to the pottery, decoration. Some Middle Woodland groups had contacts, perhaps through trade connections, with the flamboyant Hopewell culture of southern Ohio.
The Hopewell culture occupied the major river valleys of southern Ohio during the Middle Woodland period. The Hopewell people produced some of the most elaborate artifacts and large-scale earth constructions of all the prehistoric cultures of the eastern United States. They participated in trade networks that brought to central Ohio a variety of exotic materials from far-flung sources (copper from Lake Superior, mica from the southern Appalachians, marine shells from the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, among others). Skilled artisans fashioned these materials into ornaments and objects apparently used for special occasions and to symbolize personal social status.
The Hopewell constructed earthen burials mounds and complex earthworks enclosing hundreds of acres of land. They built some earthworks in geometric shapes-circles, squares, octagons-in the broad valleys of the Scioto, Licking, and Miami river valleys. The largest of these sites, the Newark Earthworks on the Licking River, covered four square miles. On other occasions, they ringed the tops of high hills with walls of earth. Both types of sites, the geometric and the hilltop enclosures, required considerable planning and organization of labor.