At 62 feet (19 m) high and 240 feet (73 m) in diameter, the Grave Creek Mound in the Ohio River Valley in West Virginia is one of the largest conical-type burial mounds in the United States. The builders of the site, members of the Adena culture, moved more than 60,000 tons of dirt to create it about 250–150 BC. The earthwork mound is located in present-day Moundsville near the banks of the Ohio River.

The first recorded excavation of the mound took place in 1838, and was conducted by local amateurs. The largest surviving mound among those built by the Adena, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

In 1978 the state opened the Delf Norona Museum at the site. It displays numerous artifacts and interprets the ancient Adena Culture. In 2010, under an agreement with the state, the US Army Corps of Engineers gave nearly 450,000 artifacts to the museum for archival. These were recovered in archaeological excavations at the site of the Marmet Lock, and represent 10,000 years of indigenous habitation.


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 (21 m) and its base as 295 feet (90 m). Originally a moat of about 40 feet (12 m) in width and five feet (1.5 m) in depth, with one causeway across it, encircled the mound. Inside the mound, archaeological researchers have discovered Adena Hopewell remains and ornaments, along with a small sandstone tablet, the Grave Creek Stone, believed by modern scholars to be a hoax.


Grave Creek mound was created during the Woodland time period (late Adena Period around 1000 BC to about 1 AD). The people who lived in West Virginia during this time are among those groups classified as Mound Builders. This particular tumulus or burial mound was built in successive stages over a period of a hundred years.


The Grave Creek Mound was believed first seen by a European American in 1770, when Joseph Tomlinson and his brother built a log cabin at Grave Creek Flats. Joseph discovered the mound accidentally while hunting. Two years later, he built a cabin 300 feet (91 m) from the mound for his family. This was 33 years before Merriwether Lewis wrote about the mound in his journal; he saw it in 1803 on his way to meet William Clark in Louisville, Kentucky on their expedition to explore the Louisiana Purchase.

About 1830, Tomlinson's descendant, Jesse Tomlinson, and his partner Thomas Briggs made tunnels through the mound and found two rooms. One was a burial chamber in the center of the mound and another room was nearby. The tunnels they made destroyed valuable evidence that could have been used by researchers to compare with data from other mounds. The rooms contained skeletons adorned with jewelry. Some of the jewelry found were 1700 ivory beads, 500 sea shells, and five copper bracelets. Once the mound was completely excavated, Tomlinson opened up a museum inside the mound and charged an admission fee for visitors. In 1843, Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, an early ethnologist of Native Americans, mapped the area.

In 1908 the mound was saved from demolition for development by local women of the Wheeling Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, who raised funds to acquire an option on the property. In 1909 the state of West Virginia purchased the site for preservation. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1964.

Further archaeological investigation led to the discovery that the appearance of the mound is quite different underneath the surface compared to the land around it. Although it is the same dirt used, the remains of dead bodies from fire changed the color of some dirt to blue.

Delf Norona Museum

The Delf Norona Museum displays many artifacts found at the site. It is owned and operated by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. Opened in 1978, the museum's exhibits interpret the culture of the Adena people and theories about the mound's construction.

In the 21st century, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers transferred nearly 450,000 artifacts to the Delf Norona Museum for curation and archival. They were recovered during the 1990s in an extended archaeological excavation for the replacement site of the Marmet Lock on the Kanawha River. The artifacts, representing 10,000 years of habitation by varying cultures at one site in the Kanawha Valley, include stone projectile knives, a 3,000-year-old sandstone cooking bowl hand carved before the people started making pottery, and stone jewelry from a Fort Ancient village.

In April 2010, the state mounted two exhibits of artifacts from the site at the rotunda of the state capitol in Charleston. The exhibits included historic items dating from the John Reynolds plantation, including pendants made by slaves from 1790s Spanish coins, and material related to colonial salt production. The major part of the exhibit is made up of prehistoric artifacts of Native American peoples, whose occupancy of the valley was thousands of years longer than that of European Americans. Additional exhibits will be mounted as the state's Office of Culture and History has an opportunity to assess the artifacts. The Native American artifacts will be kept at the Delf Norona Museum.

The museum is open year round and admission is free. A gift shop sells books related to indigenous cultures, as well as Native American crafts, trinkets, and other souvenirs.



The Criel Mound is a Native American burial mound located in South Charleston, West Virginia, USA. The mound was built by the Adena culture, probably around 250–150 BC, and lay equidistant between two “sacred circles”, earthwork enclosures each 556 feet (169 m) in diameter.

It was originally 33 feet (10 m) high and 173 feet (53 m) in diameter at the base, making it the second-largest such burial mound in the state of West Virginia. (The Grave Creek Mound in Moundsville is the largest.) The Criel Mound is located at 38°22′8.0″N 81°41′48.2″W. This archaeological site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


The mound was originally conical in shape. Residents of the area leveled the top in 1840 to erect a judges' stand, as they ran horse races around the base of the mound at the time.

The Criel Mound was excavated in 1883–84 under the auspices of the US Bureau of Ethnology and the supervision of Col. P.W. Norris. The excavation was performed by Professor Cyrus Thomas of the Smithsonian Institution. Inside the mound, Professor Thomas found thirteen skeletons: two near the top of the mound, and eleven at the base. The skeletons at the base consisted of a single very large but badly decayed skeleton at the center, a "once most powerful man" which according to A.R. Sines who assisted Col. Norris in the excavation, measured "Six feet, 8 3–4 inches" (205 cm) from head to heel with broad shoulders, massive teeth and a very thick low and flat skull encased in a large copper headband.
This skeleton was surrounded by ten other skeletons arranged in a spoke-like pattern, with their feet pointing toward the central skeleton. The skeletons at the base had been wrapped in elm bark and were lying on a floor of white ash and bark. Several artifacts were found buried with the skeletons, including arrowheads, lanceheads, and shell and pottery fragments. The central skeleton was accompanied by a fish-dart, a lance-head, and a sheet of hammered native copper near the head. Holes found at the base of the mound suggest that the bodies at the base had been enclosed in a wooden vault.

The Criel Mound is part of the second-largest known concentration of Adena mounds and circular enclosures. This area extends for eight miles (13 km) along the upper terraces of the Kanawha River floodplain, in the vicinity of present-day Charleston. In 1894, Cyrus Thomas reported 50 mounds in this area, ranging from 3’ to 35’ in height and from 35’ to 200’ in diameter. He also reported finding eight to ten circular earthworks, enclosing from 1 to 30 acres (120,000 m2). Stone mounds dotted the bluffs above the floodplain.

While many of the original Adena mounds were destroyed during later development of the area, a few remain. The Wilson Mound is in a private cemetery in South Charleston. The Shawnee Reservation Mound still exists in Institute, West Virginia.

Today, the Criel Mound is the centerpiece of Staunton Park, a small municipal park maintained by the city of South Charleston. It is a gathering place for community activities, such as arts and crafts fairs, revivals, memorial services, sunrise services, and town carnivals.

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