Earthworks Open House in Newark focused on fall moon rises

Get ready. It’s the moon again. The moon is doing what it has always done, and the Newark Earthworks are doing what their builders intended 2,000 years ago.

The Newark Octagon, built by ancestors of today’s American Indians, aligns with the 18.6 year cycle of the moon. The entire figure (an octagon with two parallel walls that connect it to a circle) points to the northernmost rising of the moon.

I saw the moon rise in alignment with the central axis of the octagon several times in 2005 and 2006, and so did several hundred of us. There is only one northernmost moonrise every 18.6 years, but there are several times when it is very close.

Clearly, the creators of the Newark Earthworks understood the lunar cycle. They must have considered the northernmost rising to be a very important event. It must have been important to be there when the moon was in just the right place.

Archaeologists believe it is likely that people came from great distances for those occasions. We can imagine important events: ceremonies and/or games, reunions, celebrations of life and death, family and community.

The alignment of these earthen walls with the northernmost rising of the moon was very likely known to many people two millennia ago. At some point it may have been forgotten, however, or at least it was no longer widely known.

Two Earlham College professors, Ray Hively and Robert Horn, rediscovered it about 1980. Brad Lepper, an archaeologist at the Ohio History Connection, and a group of us associated with the Ohio State University at Newark (Marti Chaatsmith, Jeff Gill, Lucy Murphy and others) have been teaching about this phenomenon for the past twenty years.

In 2005 and 2006, several hundred of us witnessed the northernmost moonrise at the octagon, including former Gov. Bob Taft and his wife, Hope. Quite literally, heaven and earth were aligned.

We do not have to wait to 2023 for the next alignment.

The northernmost rising of the moon is only one of eight “standstill points” in the 18.6 lunar cycle. Ancient people knew that every month the moonrise moves south for roughly 14 nights and then returns again. Further, the distance it moves between the first and 14th night grows greater every month for 9.3 years and then shrinks again until it is once again what it had been at the beginning. Ancient people could identify not only the northernmost moonrise but also the southernmost, the northern minimum and the southern minimum.

Further, they identified another four “standstill points” when they observed the moonsets: the northern and southernmost, the northern and southern minimum. The octagon built 2000 years ago in what is today Newark and the octagon built in Chillicothe about the same time both align with all eight of these lunar standstills.

This fall, the moon is at roughly the halfway point of the 18.6 year cycle. The northern and southern maximum alignments occurred at the beginning of the cycle, in 2005 and 2006. The minimums are occurring this fall.

The Ohio History Connection and Ohio State’s Newark Earthworks Center are partnering once again to teach the public about these amazing earthworks and the brilliance of the ancient ancestors of American Indians who built them.

We invite you to the Octagon Open House on the afternoon of Oct. 11, when we will provide information and guided tours about the alignments that will occur over the next two months. We will provide tours and a variety of family activities from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. for free.

Note: This article was originally posted on the Newark Advocate’s website here.