Category : WHO News

We’re back!

If you’ve tried to access our website over the past couple weeks, you probably noticed it was down. We apologize for the brief hiatus but are happy to say that the problem is fixed, and we’re back online and ready to spread the word about Ohio’s important and unique heritage sites.

Over the past month, we’ve also set up active Facebook and Twitter accounts. Please follow us and share with your friends!

Some people have contacted us asking how they can help us get Ohio’s heritage sites inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here is a short list of things you can do to keep this process moving forward:

  • Get involved with our Friends group, which works on fundraising efforts
  • Donate to the cause. A single nomination process can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars, when accounting not only for staff fees but also management and protection plans and other necessities, and we have three in Ohio. Contact our Friends group for details on how to donate.
  • Send this letter (or something like it) to the Department of the Interior, encouraging the office to invite formal nominations for World Heritage from the U.S. Tentative List — where our 3 nominations are now
  • Write a letter to your senators and representatives in Congress, asking them to support a Limited Waiver that would resolve the issue of the U.S. not paying dues to UNESCO. For more on this issue, see here.

Newark students, city council support WHO

Fifth grade students from Ms. Mary Borgia’s class at William H. McGuffey Elementary in Newark, Ohio, spoke to their city council on April 27 about the UNESCO World Heritage process and what inscription would mean for Newark and Ohio as a whole. The council then voted unanimously to support the Newark Earthworks’ nomination to UNESCO World Heritage. (Minutes 19:00 through 47:50)

Video courtesy Newark City Council.

Watch the WHO luncheon online!

Interested in the World Heritage opportunities for Ohio but weren’t able to attend the April 14 luncheon with George Papagiannis of UNESCO? You can check it out online on the Ohio History Connection’s YouTube channel.

UNESCO rep visits Ohio, discusses World Heritage opportunities

On Wednesday, April 14, the Ohio History Connection played host to a moving conversation about the World Heritage challenges and opportunities for Ohio, as stakeholders met to discuss World Heritage during a public luncheon.

Patrick Terrien of the Columbus Council on World Affairs moderated a panel discussion including Dr. Brad Lepper, Archaeology Curator for the Ohio History Connection, and George Papagiannis, the US spokesman for UNESCO who visited Ohio last week.

The men discussed how the United States was the first signatory to the UNESCO World Heritage program in 1972 and has since gained 22 spots on the list, including Cahokia Mounds near St. Louis (1982), Yellowstone National Park (1978), and the Statue of Liberty (1984). These sites are considered to have “outstanding universal value,” which Papagiannis commented was “a very high bar.” If the three World Heritage Ohio nominations go through, Ohio may have the greatest number of World Heritage Sites of any state in the country.

Most of the conversation was about the most prominent World Heritage Ohio nomination: the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks. Papagiannis said when he toured them during 2014, he considered them transcendental and said he had a “Wow!” moment.

“These people weren’t satisfied by the treetops,” he said, speaking of the scale and cosmological accuracy of the geometry of the sites. “They wanted to see the stars. No matter who you are, these sites can speak to us today about where we come from and where we are going.”

“These sites are evidence of the monumental connection these people were making between themselves and the cosmos,” Lepper added. “They’re comparable to any major architectural site in any culture in the ancient world.”

Papagiannis and Lepper discussed the process for World Heritage nominations, explaining that the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are currently on the U.S. Tentative List, which is managed internally by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The U.S. government presents one nomination each year to the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, who then reviews the nomination and votes on it.

“At this point, it’s not a question of if but when,” Lepper commented of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks’ nomination.

In response to an audience question about how to get Ohioans invested in this nomination, Papagiannis reflected on his own childhood in Greece, telling about how he would climb on the ancient ruins to chase lizards. For him, that was his connection to the history and the buildings.

“Go make these sites your sites!” he encouraged, suggesting people go for picnics or play Frisbee at Fort Ancient, for example.

The conversation then turned to ISIS and the destruction and looting of artifacts in the Middle East. Papagiannis called for everyone around the world to take action against these attacks, as they are violence against our combined cultural heritage and history.

“It’s like ripping our souls out of our chests,” he said, “and it’s a war crime perpetrated on people and their cultural heritage. We need these sites – these waypoints of history – to understand where we are and where we’re going.”

UNESCO is doing its best to protect these sites, he explained, focusing on the problem of looting. ISIS gains a significant part of its income by selling off ancient artifacts looted from historic sites, and preventing the sale of those artifacts will discourage looting.

However, Papagiannis continued, UNESCO is working on a smaller budget than it used to, because the U.S. withdrew its dues – a significant portion of UNESCO’s budget – several years ago as a result of a law about recognition of Palestine. That withdrawal did nothing to hurt Palestine, as the law had been written to do, but has instead harmed both the U.S. and UNESCO. The U.S. lost its voting rights at UNESCO in 2013, which jeopardizes the status of Ohio’s World Heritage nominations.

Having World Heritage sites in Ohio, Papagiannis and Lepper discussed, would be a boon to the state, as such a designation has been demonstrated to have significant effects on tourism to those sites. Cahokia, for example, experienced roughly 30,000 visitors each year before its designation, and now it experiences between 300,000 and 400,000. This creates jobs and a flowing economy in the area.

Papagiannis called for Ohioans to contact their representatives and senators to appeal for a waiver of the law regarding U.S. payment of dues. This, he said, would benefit UNESCO, the U.S., and Ohio.

Support of World Heritage Ohio can be done through this democratic channel or through financial nominations to the nomination process.

The event was also discussed on Twitter as #Unite4Heritage.

Spend your weekend exploring Ohio’s ancient earthworks

This weekend, two of the sites included in our nomination for Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are holding events for individuals and families to enjoy the beauty of Ohio’s ancient heritage.

The Ancient Octagon Earthworks at Newark Ceremonial Earthworks east of Columbus will be holding an open house for the public to explore the earthworks grounds and enjoy activities. The event is free and will run Sunday, April 12, from noon to 4 p.m. and Monday, April 13 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the grounds of Moundbuilders Country Club, 125 N. 33rd Street, Newark.

The Fort Ancient Earthworks north of Cincinnati will have a Wildflower Walk this weekend, where the public can tour and observe the natural beauty of the flora and fauna of southern Ohio in the spring. The event is free and is on Saturday, April 11 at 2 p.m.

How long did it take to build earthworks? 2/3

This is a continuation of “How long did it take to build earthworks?”, the first part of which was published earlier this week. Using the method of architectural energetics, we calculated that Seip Earthworks is a total of roughly 57,726 m3. We will use that number to calculate how long it would take to build Seip.

A group tours Seip Earthworks in 2011. See how small each individual is in comparison to the size of the earthwork.

Now we know how much earth is in the mounds. People would have had to dig those thousands of cubic meters of earth and then carry baskets of it to the construction site. Based on replicative experiments, Bernardini uses figures of 1.9 person-hours to dig a cubic meter of earth and 0.32 person hours to move that cubic meter 10 meters away.

He concludes that it would have taken 148,700 person-hours to build the large circle, 15,300 person-hours for the small circle, and 330,700 person-hours for the square. This means it would have taken almost 500,000 person-hours to build the Seip Earthworks!

Person-hours refer to one hour of labor for one person, so it doesn’t necessarily mean that one person is working for that long. Multiple people would work together when they gathered at these sites at certain times of the year. If 50 people from around the region worked at once, that would mean that each individual would contribute 10,000 hours.

And that wouldn’t be all at once either: archaeologists can tell by the layers left in the earth that the earthworks were built in stages over many years by successive generations. If 50 people worked together each year for 150 years, for example, each year an individual would work for 67 or so hours, or 11 days at 6 hours a day. After those two weeks of ritual, they would head home from the earthwork to resume normal life.

On an individual, yearly scale, the amount of work seems like a lot, and viewed in the context of dozens of people working for more than a century, the amount of labor put into each earthwork is incredibly impressive. There must have been some very compelling reason for people of the Hopewellian period to work so hard year after year; this is one of the reasons why archaeologists believe the ceremonial value of earthworks was in their construction.

Check back next week for another interpretation of how the earthworks were used!

For more information on this topic, see:

Abrams, Elliot and Mary Le Rouge. 2008. “Political Complexity and Mound Construction among the Early and Late Adena of the Hocking Valley, Ohio.” Transitions: Archaic and Early Woodland Research in the Ohio Country, edited by M. Otto and B. Redmond. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Bernardini, Wesley. 2004. “Hopewell geometric earthworks: a case study in the referential and experiential meaning of monuments.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23: 331-356.

How long did it take to build earthworks? 1/3

Because the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks contain the remains of individuals, we might be tempted to think that they were like our modern-day cemeteries for the pre-contact American Indians who built them.

However, archaeologists have shown that the value of these massive monuments may have been more in their construction rather than experiencing the sites after construction; this means that building the earthworks meant more to those people than visiting them once they were complete, as we do with our modern-day cemeteries.

We can infer this from a series of archaeological observations, like by calculating how much time and labor it took to create these geometrically precise mounds.

Hopewell earthworks vary greatly in size and shape, but several of those included in the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks nomination follow what appears to be a standardized series of symbols. A combination of circle and octagon-shaped earthen enclosures (like walls) can be found at Seip Earthworks, Hopeton Earthworks, High Bank Earthworks, and Newark Earthworks.

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.

Using a method called “architectural energetics,” we can figure out how long it would have taken to build Seip Earthworks, for example.

This earthwork has what is known as a “tripartite” design, which means it is comprised of a large circle (1535 meter perimeter), a small circle (945 meter perimeter), and a square (1250 meter perimeter). That’s 14, 8.6, and 11.3 football fields long!

If we use the formula to calculate the volume of a trapezoidal prism (which looks roughly like a long, low wall with a flat top, like the earthworks are), we can take these lengths and the average heights of each part of the earthwork to calculate the overall volume.

Wesley Bernardini, an archaeologist, has already done this. He determined the volume of the large circle is 22,600 m3, the small circle is 2126 m3, and the square is 3,000 m3. A cubic meter is about the size of an end table. That’s a total of 57,726 m3.

Check back later in the week for the calculation of how long it took to build Seip!

For more information on this topic, see:

Abrams, Elliot and Mary Le Rouge. 2008. “Political Complexity and Mound Construction among the Early and Late Adena of the Hocking Valley, Ohio.” Transitions: Archaic and Early Woodland Research in the Ohio Country, edited by M. Otto and B. Redmond. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.

Bernardini, Wesley. 2004. “Hopewell geometric earthworks: a case study in the referential and experiential meaning of monuments.” Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23: 331-356.

Executive committee aims for 2017 nomination

On Friday, March 6, members of the World Heritage Ohio Executive Committee met to discuss developments in the nomination process for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound.

The meeting included representatives from the Ohio History Connection, the University of Cincinnati’s CERHAS, the US National Park Service, and the Newark Earthworks Center at the Ohio State University.

John Hancock of CERHAS explained that he has begun working on a timeline for the remainder of the work for the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks nomination to the UNESCO World Heritage List, using 2017 as the target for completion.

Additional stages in the nomination process include implementing recommendations made by the US National Park Service’s Office of International Affairs in terms of the preservation of the sites. For example, Dean Alexander, Superintendent of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, and George Kane, Director of Facilities for the Ohio History Connection, are working with the State Historic Preservation Office to remove a power line over the Hopewell Mound Group that interferes with the authenticity and preservation of the site.

Representatives from the Ohio History Connection are meeting with tribes in Oklahoma this month to discuss a plan for Serpent Mound’s nomination, which will be further developed in the near future.

The Friends of the Ancient Ohio Earthworks group is organizing a fundraiser for the Cleveland area to be held on April 14 as a way to reach out to the northern parts of the state.

The World Heritage Challenges and Opportunities for Ohio

World Heritage Luncheon invite - April 15 2015-page-001

Not all North American earthworks are alike

You may have seen our recent blog post encouraging the world traveler known as “Mr. UNESCO” to come to Ohio. In that post, we compared Ohio’s Serpent Mound and the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks to the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near St. Louis, noting how these sites are more than “some dirt hills” but are rather the ceremonial centers of vast and developed pre-contact American Indian civilizations.

That’s certainly true from a broad perspective, but actually, the sites and the cultures that constructed these various earthworks are distinctly different from one another.

In addition to Ohio’s own Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks and Serpent Mound, the US boasts two UNESCO World Heritage Sites relating to the genius of pre-contact American Indians: Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site near St. Louis and the recently inscribed Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point in Louisiana.

To the untrained eye, all four of these sets of sites look like the “dirt hills” described by Mr. UNESCO. Through archaeological survey methods, however, archaeologists have been able to piece together the significance of each site and the specific groups of people who once lived, worked, prayed, and thrived there.

Poverty Point was at its peak 3,000 years ago, constructed by the Poverty Point culture (4,000-2,500 years ago in the Lower Mississippi Valley. Notably, it was built by nomadic hunter-fisher-gatherers and is of a scale unsurpassed for the next 2,000 years. The site comprises an integrated complex of earthworks, including large mounds, semi-elliptical ridges, and a central flat plaza.

Cahokia was the center of a city-state that reached across the Midwest roughly 1,000 years ago during the Mississippian period. The archaeological remnants of that city today show that the city itself was nearly 4,000 acres in size and comprised homes and public works, including ceremonial “woodhenges.”

In 1848, Squier and Davis were the first to map Serpent Mound, which is the largest effigy mound in the world.

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks here in Ohio were the focal points of Woodland culture communities 1,500 years ago. Large numbers of people may have traveled from as far away as the Rocky Mountains with exotic gifts to offer in ritual at these sites during distinct times for gathering. The archaeological evidence shows that these sites acted as ceremonial sites, including for mortuary use, but there is no evidence that people lived near the sites for extended periods of time. Additionally, the sites exhibit precise alignments to astronomical events, like the far reaches of the moon’s position over an 18.6 year cycle, which would have taken years of study in preparation.

Serpent Mound, another one of our World Heritage Ohio sites, is a more than 1,200-foot-long earthen effigy of a serpent winding across the top of a hillside. This earthwork also mirrors astronomical alignments and therefore embodies the fundamental cosmological principles of the people who built it. The best dating estimates place its construction roughly 1,000 years ago by the Fort Ancient culture of the Ohio River Valley, although more recent work suggests it may be more than 2,000 years old. iI is the largest effigy mound in the world.

Even though all four of these sites do have in common that they were constructed out of earth by pre-contact American Indians, in reality their particular social and ceremonial functions may have varied widely.

We can liken it to comparing Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey in the United Kingdom, for example. Although the sites are close together and both are made of stone, the time differences between them make it so we say they had different social functions and therefore different “outstanding universal value” from one another.

We can branch out even more: the Ohio River Valley (where Serpent Mound and the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are) is farther from Louisiana, for example, than Stonehenge is from London. Not only are we dealing with time and culture but also with space. Stonehenge and Westminster Abbey also differ from the Great Pyramids of Giza, despite their common material base.

Similarly, Poverty Point, Cahokia, the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, and Serpent Mound all originated in the minds of people in particular cultures at particular historical moments in North America. Rather than building upward with stone, they built outward with earth.

The cultures of indigenous North America vary as much in time and space as do the cultures of any other continent. Even though we can’t know everything about the people of prehistoric times, archaeology provides persuasive evidence that these cultures were very different from one another. The four sites discussed here – two current and two hopeful UNESCO World Heritage sites – represent four distinct cultures and distinct ways of thinking within pre-contact North America.