From: Ohio HistorE-News — January 2010

Ancient Ohio Trail Promotes Tourism

Ohio’s story began long before its 1803 founding and even before the 1772 establishment of Schoenbrunn as the earliest European settlement in the state. American Indians had made this land their home more than 12 millennia before even Leif Erikson had braved the waters of the North Atlantic to “discover” the so-called “New” World.

“The indigenous peoples of Ohio have an incredibly rich history expressed, in part, in monumental earthworks built by a series of distinctive American Indian cultures given various names by the archaeologists who’ve studied them,” says Ohio Historical Society Curator of Archaeology Brad Lepper. “Now, the most spectacular surviving remnants of these ancient civilizations are being considered for inclusion on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) World Heritage List.”

Ohio’s World-Class Prehistoric Sites

Ohio has two nominations for prehistoric sites on the U.S. Department of the Interior’s short-list of sites to be submitted for UNESCO’s consideration: the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound.

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks nomination encompasses seven separate but related sites built by the Hopewell culture between 100 B.C. and A.D. 400: the Fort Ancient Earthworks, Newark Earthworks, and five sites that belong to Hopewell Culture National Historical Park: Mound City, Seip Earthworks, High Bank Works, Hopeton Earthworks, and Hopewell Mound Group. The Fort Ancient Earthworks include three-and-a-half miles of earthen embankments surrounding a prominent hilltop in southern Ohio. The Newark Earthworks include the Octagon Earthworks and the Great Circle, components of the largest complex of geometric earthworks ever built. Serpent Mound in Adams County is the largest prehistoric effigy mound in the world. It is a sinuous earthen embankment more than 1400 feet long, which makes it more than 300 feet longer than the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, the longest naval vessel in the world. The best available evidence indicates that Serpent Mound was built by the Fort Ancient culture at approximately A.D. 1120.

World Heritage Designation Attracts Tourists

Having a site included on the World Heritage List does not result in any loss of local control over the site. Inclusion on the list is an honor recognizing that Ohio’s American Indian earthworks are every bit as worthy of the world’s respect as Egypt’s pyramids, England’s Stonehenge, or China’s Great Wall. Sites on the World Heritage List attract tourists from around the world, which can be of great benefit to local economies.

Travel the Ancient Ohio Trail

In anticipation of an increase in heritage tourism if these eight sites are accepted for the World Heritage List, a number of partners are working collaboratively to produce a comprehensive online travel guide to them as well as many other sites with a similar theme. The Ancient Ohio Trail will provide background information to complement the interpretation provided at the sites. In addition, it will include driving directions to the sites and offer recommendations for nearby places to eat and stay overnight.

Ohio State University at Newark’s Newark Earthworks Center and the University of Cincinnati’s Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites are leading the partnership, which also includes the National Park Service, Ohio Historical Society and Convention and Visitors’ Bureaus of Licking, Ross and Warren counties.

Wonders of the Ancient World

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound embody a sophisticated knowledge of geometry and astronomy in their designs. Their vast scale challenges our imagination to grasp the achievement of their ancient American Indian builders. They’re also acknowledged to be monumental works of art. Abstract expressionist painter Barnett Newman believed that “here in the seductive Ohio Valley are perhaps the greatest art monuments in the world.” Is it any wonder they are being considered for the World Heritage List?

For more on the Ancient Ohio Trail, visit

Posted January 22, 2010
Topics: Archaeology

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