“How do you think, Reb?” Amos went back to chopping at the dirt. “This was Indian land long before it was ours. How do you reckon arrowheads got here?”
Finding that arrowhead had a powerful effect on me because I had never before thought about Indians living on the same ground where we lived now. …looking at that little gray-colored arrowhead gave me a peculiar feeling.
from Crooked River
by Shelley Pearsall
Random House Children’s Books/Yearling, 2008
I’m sometimes accused of being opposed to progress. If progress means ripping trees out by their roots to plant a one-stop grocery/big box retail store, or finding more uses for plastic, or passing legislation permitting more and more deadly weapons in our towns and cities, I am opposed to progress.
But, what if Ohio becomes home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site? I’d call that progress.
Last month (March, 2022) the National Park Service announced that the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks is being considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's World Heritage Committee as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Earthworks has been on The Tentative List since 2008, and has just received its place in the Nomination File. The site will be reviewed by the Advisory Bodies in 2023, and, if approved, the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks will take their place alongside the Pyramids of Giza, the Great Wall of China, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, Stonehenge, and the Everglades, the Galapagos Islands and the Taj Mahal.
Over 1,000 World Heritage Sites are divided into three categories. Some are cultural, some are natural, and some are a combination of both cultural and natural. UNESCO's website says “[t]o be included on the World Heritage List, sites must be of outstanding universal value and meet at least one out of ten selection criteria … The criteria are regularly revised by the Committee to reflect the evolution of the World Heritage concept itself.” You can find the current list of criteria here. Click here for their list of sites.
In 1972, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) drafted an agreement to document a plan to conserve natural and cultural properties around the world.
The sites are all more than special. They are important markers of human civilization, places of extraordinary natural formations, and homes to unique and in many cases endangered plants and animals.
The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks is really a complex of several locations in central and southwestern Ohio. The nine different locations are now archeological sites. They were originally constructed by the Hopewell people during the Woodland Period (1-1000 CE, in the Common Era). It is believed that the massive, geometrical structures were used for ceremonial purposes. They were probably also a way to calculate astronomical patterns and mark time.
Along the Scioto River near Chillicothe in southwestern Ohio, you’ll find geometric structures made of earth. Over 2,000 years ago, indigenous peoples met here, traded here, used the place for sacred ceremonies. You can see examples of tools the Hopewell made and used, learn which crops they grew, and what kinds of animals they hunted. A wide variety of many types of finely crafted objects have been discovered during excavations of the various mounds.
Southwestern Ohio is also home to Fort Ancient. Here the people used deer and elk shoulder bones, clamshell hoes, and digging sticks to move approximately 550,000 cubic yards of soil to build 18,000 linear feet of earthen walls. It took 19 generations to complete the work. Inside the linear walls, four circular mounds accurately predict the 18.6-year lunar cycle.
Several huge octagon- and circle-shaped earthworks in central Ohio are 1,200 feet in diameter. Their five- to 14-feet high walls surround a moat that is between 8 and 13 feet deep. The Newark Earthworks includes the Octagon Earthworks, a structure of eight 550-foot-long walls which are five to six feet high and enclose 50 acres of land. The Octagon was also used to record the complicated rising and setting cycles of the moon and track the 18.6-year lunar calendar.
The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are the largest earthworks in the world not used as fortifications or defensive structures. As stated in the Newark Earthworks Center blog, “Their extraordinary size, beauty, and precision make them outstanding examples of architectural form, landscape design, and human creative genius.”
The Great Serpent Mound is expected be part of the next group of sites to try for the UNESCO designation. It was built several hundred years after the Hopewell Mounds. Only about three feet high, its 1/4 mile length makes it the largest surviving example of an effigy mound. Although not used for burials, the Serpent may have served as a shrine. A 120 x 60 foot oval at the western edge of the mound has been interpreted as the snake’s head, its eye, or maybe an egg it is holding in its mouth and points directly to the Summer Solstice.
If the Earthworks is selected as a World Heritage Site as expected, archeologists, anthropologists, geologists and tourists will come. And stay. And spend money on hotels, food, and entertainment. It is expected that tourism in the area will at least double in just three years. We current residents of Ohio have the opportunity to showcase the extraordinary cultural contribution made by Native Ohioans.
We can conserve the monuments they built and honor the land we took from them if we are careful not to overbuild those hotels, restaurants, and entertainment venues.
-—stay curious! (and honor your heritage)