Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks


Here we provide images and brief introductions to the sites included in the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks nomination. More visual and descriptive information about these amazing places is available from The Ancient Ohio Trail , or at Ohio History Central and National Park Service, or among the draft nomination documents linked below.

Human Creative Genius.

The UNESCO World Heritage criteria for cultural sites include the clear manifestations of “outstanding universal value” and “human creative genius”. Ohio’s Hopewell earthworks are the pre-eminent examples, and the largest concentration in the world, of prehistoric monumental landscape architecture. They display a truly astonishing scope, beauty, and precision in form, intent, and execution. Even those in ruins today still contain important archaeological evidence of the remarkable culture that lived here two millennia ago.


The Earthworks at Newark Ohio

(built by the Ohio Hopewell Culture between ca. 100 BC and AD 300) include the 1200-foot-diameter Great Circle with its steep inner ditch and monumental framed gateway, plus the Octagon Earthworks – a perfect circle and adjoining octagon over a half-mile across – whose perfectly formed, eye-level embankments align with all eight of the key rise- and set-points of the moon during its 18.6-year cycle, within a smaller margin of error than that at Stonehenge. Another surviving piece of the once-vast Newark complex is a corner of the square, now the Wright Earthworks.


The Fort Ancient Hilltop Enclosure

Three-and-a-half miles of sinuous earthen embankments are accompanied by a continuous necklace of clay-lined ponds. The enclosure has 67 gateways, a few of which must have been more important than others, such as the northeastern entrance that is framed on the outside by two large, conical mounds. Within the northern enclosure, the so-called North Fort, four stone-covered mounds form a perfect square. From one of these mounds there are alignments though particular gateways to important solar and lunar events.


Hopewell Culture National Historical Park

includes geometric enclosures near Chillicothe Ohio (headquarters at Mound City) that are the most spectacular concentration of such sites, and illustrate subtle spatial variations of the arrangement of mounds and enclosing squares and circles. They’ve also yielded dazzling archaeological discoveries and artifacts – among the most outstanding art objects produced in pre-Columbian North America – made with raw materials (such as mica and obsidian) brought to Ohio from very far away, and indicating that these sites were important ceremonial centers in communication with much of the continent.


Mound City

is the best preserved “necropolis” of the Hopewell culture, a collection of two dozen mounds covering the remains of funerary buildings, and enclosed by a low wall in the shape of a square with rounded corners.


Hopewell Mound Group

was excavated in the 1890s, and as it yielded the most spectacular artifacts from its several mounds it became the “type” site and gave its owner’s name to the whole culture.


Seip Earthworks

was one of five complex geometric enclosures in the area, its “tripartite” design reflecting the most advanced and sophisticated period of Hopewell architecture. A large mound covered the remains of a precisely-gridded, timber ceremonial building.


Hopeton Earthworks

stands directly across the Scioto River from Mound City, and is comprised of a similar irregular square, combined with a large circle similar to the Shriver Circle that once accompanied Mound City.


High Bank Earthworks

is the only other circle-octagon combination built by the Hopewell, besides Newark. As at Newark, rise and set points of the moon are marked by key alignments, although here the sun’s cycles are also encoded.

Summary Comparative Analysis.

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks share certain characteristics with other monumental sites built substantially from earth, such as Poverty Point, Cahokia Mounds, Effigy Mounds National Monument, Amazonian geoglyphs, Stonehenge, Avebury and Associated sites, but they are unique in their combination of vast scale, geometrical precision, incorporation of astronomical alignments, and broad geographic distribution. To have accomplished this with a predominantly hunting and gathering economy only supplemented by a suite of locally domesticated plants and with a fundamentally egalitarian society is unprecedented in world history.

The repetition of monumental earthwork forms across a large area, built to a similar scale, using a common unit of measure, and incorporating a similar series of astronomical alignments into that architecture, demonstrates a level of integration between otherwise disparate cultural groups that is unexpected and unprecedented for societies without more complex social organizations. This cultural integration was reinforced by an interregional network of raw material acquisition and craft production emphasizing a shared iconography. These earthworks, as a set, bear witness to a remarkable non-urban, non-hierarchical civilization that persisted for three to four centuries and exerted an influence that extended across much of eastern North America.

These Ancient Ohio monuments are the largest earthworks in the world that are not fortifications or defensive structures. Together these earthwork sites present the climax of the Woodland Period cultures of North America. Their extraordinary size, beauty, and precision make them outstanding examples of architectural form, landscape design, and human creative genius, worthy of inscription on the UNESCO World Heritage List.