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Hopewell Earthworks, including Fort Ancient, is Ohio's first World Heritage Site

Fort Ancient North Gate wTwin Mound.jpg
Posted at 11:52 AM, Sep 19, 2023

WARREN COUNTY, Ohio — The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which span across three Ohio counties including Warren County, has joined the list of just 25 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the US.

It's the first time the honor has been granted to any location in Ohio.

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) committee voted in favor of the designation Tuesday morning in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

"Upon hearing that eight mounds in Ohio built by our Native American ancestors some 2,000 years ago have now been officially designated World Heritage sites, my immediate reaction was pure excitement and exhilaration," said Chief Glenna Wallace, of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, in a press release. "Tears came to my eyes, and exhilaration turned into reflection, knowing that the world will now see and recognize the commitment, spirituality, imaginative artistry and knowledge of complex architecture to produce magnificent earthworks. Our ancestors were true geniuses."

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are complex earthen monuments created by Native Americans in the region between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago. The name is a collective one that encompasses eight different monumental sites in Licking, Ross and Warren Counties:

  • Great Circle Earthworks in Heath, Ohio
  • Octagon Earthworks in Newark, Ohio
  • Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia, Ohio
  • Mound City Group in Chillicothe, Ohio
  • Hopewell Mound Group in Chillicothe
  • Seip Earthworks in Chillicothe
  • High Bank Works in Chillicothe
  • Hopeton Earthworks in Chillicothe

"Inscription on the World Heritage List will call international attention to these treasures long known to Ohioans," said Megan Wood, executive director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, in a press release.
The Hopewell earthworks were nominated to the UNESCO World Heritage Site back in January 2022, but the vote wasn't officially made to include it among the likes of Stonehenge, Machu Picchu and the Great Pyramid of Giza until Tuesday.

What makes the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks so special?

Located about 40 miles north of Cincinnati, Fort Ancient draws about 20,000 to 25,000 visitors yearly. Archaeologists around the world compare the 2,000-year-old earthworks, which took 400 years to build and perfectly align with annual summer and winter solstices, to marvels like Stonehenge and Easter Island.

Traveling by foot, ancient Americans brought treasures from across the country to the site to bury with their dead, including:

  • Obsidian from Yellowstone Park
  • Silver from Ontario
  • Copper from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
  • Alligator teeth from Louisiana
  • Shark teeth from the Atlantic coast
  • Mica from North Carolina
  • Calcined flint from North Dakota

The mounds at Fort Ancient were built over at least 19 generations by the Hopewell culture, starting around 100 B.C. through A.D. 290.
Fort Ancient contains 3½ miles of earthen embankments that were meticulously constructed. A single gap, for example, marks exactly where the sun rises during the summer solstice.

"Fort Ancient has always been a popular stop both for locals and visitors alike here in Warren County, but it has also long deserved an even larger, more significant spotlight," said Scott Hutchinson, director of marketing and communications for the Warren County Convention & Visitors Bureau. "It’s an incredible place with an amazing story to tell, and we’re thrilled that through this World Heritage inscription we'll now get a chance to share that story with an even wider audience."

At the Octagon Earthworks near Newark, Ohio, the same Hopewell culture built an octagon that accurately tracked an 18.6-year lunar cycle, using nothing but their own observations and oral history to make the calculations.

The vast octagon includes eight 550-foot walls that are five to six feet tall. The walls “are aligned to the four moonrises and four moonsets that mark the limits of a complicated 18.6-year-long cycles,” according to the Newark Earthworks website.

The National Park Service and the Ohio History Connection are planning multiple free events in October to commemorate and celebrate the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks' debut on the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

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