The ancestors of American Indians have lived in this land for more than 13,000 years. Hundreds of generations knew these hills and valleys as their home without leaving any obvious traces of their presence beyond the remnants of their camps and a great many scattered flint spear points. When loved ones died, they were cremated or buried in isolated and, as far as we can tell, unmarked graves.

Something important changed around 3,000 years ago. Certain people were buried in earthen monuments. Were these memorials to the personal greatness of particular individuals — like the superficially similar mounds described in the European epics of the Iliad and Beowulf, or were they political statements marking territories by burying the bones of ancestors in prominent locations?

We don’t know.

The Licking River Valley, however, has an unprecedented array of earthworks from the outrageously extravagant geometry of the Newark Earthworks to simple mounds on the tops of the surrounding hills, such as a small one located on Horn’s Hill on Newark’s north side. These earthen structures transformed the landscape from a natural environment inhabited by people to a sacred landscape defined by a people’s vision.

We know very little about Horn’s Hill Mound.

Emerson Greenman, a former curator of archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society, excavated it in 1933 and found — very little. There was virtually nothing in the mound itself, but at the base, Greenman found that a pit had been dug into the floor of the mound and the remains of a single individual had been buried. But that wasn’t the end of the ancient story. Greenman found only a few bones left in the crypt, so he surmised that people had later returned to reclaim the bulk of the remains for reburial elsewhere. At the conclusion of the excavation, Greenman reburied the few bones and the City of Newark erected a memorial on the site bearing the inscription, “Here was buried a patriarch of the prehistoric people.”

Greenman had found no identifiable artifacts in the mound and, in 1933, radiocarbon dating had not yet been discovered, so it was impossible to assign the mound more specifically to any of Ohio’s known ancient cultures.

It could have been built by the Adena, the earliest of Ohio’s mound-builders; or the Hopewell, the builders of the amazing Newark Earthworks in the valley below; or the Fort Ancient culture, builders of the nearby “Alligator” Mound, which is situated on a similar hilltop just a few miles to the west. All of these early peoples built mounds during a period that extended from about 3,000 to 1,000 years ago. Any credible interpretation of the Horn’s Hill Mound depends upon an understanding of its cultural context. It would mean something quite different, for example, if this was one of the first mounds ever built in the region or if it was one of the last.

Regardless of its age, the Horn’s Hill Mound exists as one of the few remaining hilltop mounds that once seem to have graced nearly every hilltop along the valley of Raccoon Creek. It is an important monument to our American Indian heritage and I was honored to represent the Ohio Historical Society at the October 6th re-dedication of a memorial to what, in some ways, is comparable to the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Although we don’t know who this particular person might have been, they can represent all the generations of American Indian peoples that once lived here. And by honoring this person with this memorial, we show respect for all American Indians.

The City of Newark and everyone involved in this re-dedication project should be commended for this symbolic gesture that affirms our community’s commitment to our American Indian heritage.

For an image of the original marker and a history of Horn’s Hill Park, including the mound, read Robert Tharp’s article in the Licking County Historical Society’s Quarterly:

Posted October 7, 2009
Topics: Archaeology

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