Open Tuesday through Saturday
9:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
Sundays and Mondays
Admission to the museum is free.
Main: (304) 843-4128
Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex
801 Jefferson Avenue
Moundsville, WV 26041
The heart of the Grave Creek Mound Archaeological Complex is the famous and certainly the largest of the Adena burial mounds. A massive undertaking, the total effort required the movement of more than 60,000 tons of earth. Artifacts and exhibits interpreting the lifestyle of the Adena people are displayed in the Delf Norona Museum, adjacent to the 2,000 year old mound. The most impressive and largest Adena mound, Grave Creek Mound is the largest conical type of any of the mound builder structures. Construction of the mound took place in successive stages from about 250-150 B.C., as indicated by the multiple burials at different levels within the structures. In 1838, road engineers measured its height at 69 feet and its diameter at the base at 295 feet. Originally a moat of about 40 feet in width and five feet in depth with one causeway encircled it.
The first recorded excavation of the mound took place in 1838, conducted by local amateurs. To gain entrance to the mound, two horizontal tunnels and one vertical shaft were created. This led to the most significant discovery of two burial vaults.
In addition to the Adena ornaments and remains found in the interior, the upper vault contained a small, flat sandstone tablet. Later, authenticity of the tablet and the meaning of its inscription became quite controversial. Though the stone has never been authenticated and has been disputed by most professionals, a replica of the original is on display in the museum.
Grave Creek Archaeological Complex also maintains a 136-seat theater with a small stage.
Opened in December 1978, the Delf Norona Museum, with its natural brick façade and pyramid-shaped skylights, is an architectural tribute to a prehistoric era. Exhibits and displays on the upper level portray and clarify what is known about the cultural life of this prehistoric people and the construction of the Grave Creek Mound. The museum also houses archaeology exhibits that pertain to the early inhabitants of the area including The First Homes of West Virginia, The Grave Creek Tablet, The Building of the Mound, The Builders of the Mound and Who They Were.
The museum is open year-round to visitors. An interpretive lecture is available to groups with advance reservation, and group leaders can contact the museum for a list of hands-on programs.
The Adena People
About 1000 B.C. marks the beginning of a new period in North America. Called the Woodland Period, this period lasted until about 700 A.D. During this time, a new culture emerged and made significant settlements in what is now known as West Virginia. These people are known to us today by the general term the Mound Builders, so called for their practice of creating earthen burial mounds and other earthworks. The Mound Builders lived over a wide range from the Atlantic, the Midwest and the Ohio Valley to the Mississippi Valley. The term “mound builders” refers to several cultures that span a period of about 20 centuries.
The first group of people to develop this unique way of life were the Adena, from about 1000 B.C. to about 1 A.D. They had well-organized societies and lived in a wide area including much of present day Ohio, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky and parts of Pennsylvania and New York. A later group of Mound Builders, the Hopewell, lived from about 1 A.D. to 700 A.D. and represented a greater refinement over the earlier Adena culture. Other cultures extended Mound Builders to about 1300 A.D.
The labor of many people must have been required to build these mounds since they did not use the wheel and had no horses. Large amounts of earth had to be moved by the basket-load. Perhaps for this reason, the mounds were often used more than once. In many mounds, there are multiple burials at different levels. Over time, the mounds gradually increased in size.
Most of the people were cremated after death, placed in small log tombs and covered with earth. More important people were laid to rest with a variety of artifacts such as flint tools, beads, pipes, and mica and copper ornaments.
Grave Creek Mound is of the late Adena Period and was built in successive stages over a period of 100 years or more. It is not known why the Adena chose to build this particular mound on such a huge scale compared with other burial mounds in the area, which generally range in size from 20 to 300 feet in diameter.
A typical Adena house was built in a circular form from 15 to 45 feet in diameter. The walls consisted of paired posts tilted outward, joined to other wood to form a conical-shaped roof. The roof was covered with bark, and the walls may have been bark, wickerwork or some combination. They were extensive traders as evidenced by the types of material found in the mounds they constructed. Copper from the western Great Lakes region and shells from the Gulf of Mexico all attest to the range of their economic activity. In addition, the culture also practiced agriculture, hunting and fishing.
About 500 B.C., the Adena culture began slowly to give way to a more sophisticated culture, the Hopewell. Although little remains of their villages, the Adena left great monuments to mark their passing, and one of the greatest of these is the Grave Creek Mound.