Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks has officially become a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural (UNESCO) World Heritage Site! This is the first designation within Ohio and features eight sites in central and southern Ohio.
Five of the eight sites are in Chillicothe (Ross County) and managed by Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. National Park sites include Mound City Group, which offers a Ranger staffed visitor center, Hopeton Earthworks, Hopewell Mound Group, and Seip Earthworks. The fifth location, High Bank Works, is not open to the public as it is used for archaeological research. Ohio History Connection operates the other three sites. Two are in Licking County, the Great Circle Earthworks in Heath and the nearby Octagon Earthworks in Newark. The Great Circle Earthworks offers a visitor center, and the park is open to explore; however, the Great Circle Earthworks is not currently publicly accessible. There is an observation deck that will provide a bird’s eye view of the earthworks. The final site, located in Oregonia (Warren County), is called Fort Ancient. This site is unique as it is the largest and best-preserved hilltop enclosure.
Upon arrival at the sites, you may feel a sense of calm and peace settle over you as you stand before these prehistoric earthworks. Constructed more than 2,000 years ago, these earthworks reflect the intelligence of these early Native Americans and how advanced their skills were for their time. Take a moment to think about how these ancestors constructed these monumental structures. They used pointed sticks, clam shell hoes, and shoulder blades of deer and elk to create hoes for digging into the earth. They carried soil one basketful at a time to move the earth to create these magnificent earthworks. These individuals were expert engineers as they created precise geometrical shapes such as squares, circles, and octagons to enclose their sacred spaces and replicated these designs throughout the southern and central Ohio region to construct numerous complexes.
If that alone isn’t impressive, their exceptional knowledge of astronomy to build lunar and solar alignments into their construction is astounding. Many sites have special alignments throughout the year, with some locations aligning with the summer solstice, others with the winter solstice, and at least one site that aligns with the complex 18.6-year lunar cycle. Using modern technology to map and precisely integrate these alignments into a construction would be an astonishing feat. However, these ancestors created these points by utilizing only the tools of their time and their understanding of astronomical events.
Take a moment to reflect on your journey to each of the eight sites as you travel by vehicle. These early Native Americans traveled similar distances without using motorized vehicles, the modern-day highway system, and GPS navigation. It will give you a sense of the distances that these ancestors traveled to attend ceremonial gatherings. Much like today, they gathered for celebrations as we do today when traveling for weddings, funerals, and other life occurrences.
The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthwork is truly an exemplary site that upholds the values of a World Heritage site with its universal value to humanity and its cultural significance. UNESCO made the inscription official for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthwork on September 19, 2023. They are part of the prestigious list that includes iconic global sites such as the Pyramid of Giza in Egypt, Machu Picchu in Peru, Stonehenge in England, and the Grand Canyon, to name a few. This inscription marks the twenty-fifth World Heritage site in the United States of America and the first in Ohio.
Learn more about this designation and these sites by visiting the Ross-Chillicothe Convention & Visitors Bureau at VisitChillicotheOhio.com.