Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks

Date of Submission: 30/01/2008
Criteria: (iii)(vi)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
U.S. Department of the Interior
State, Province or Region:
Ohio
Ref.: 5243
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

Fort Ancient State Memorial  84°5'25.311"W  39°24'27.86"N

Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (5 geographically separate elements): 83°2'33.436"W   39°20'0. 236"N

Mound City Group  83°0'18.814"W   39°22'40.119"N

Hopewell Mound Group  83°5'35.313"W   39°21'40.282"N            

Seip Earthworks  83°13'8.381"W   39°14'13.517"N          

High Bank Earthworks  82°55'8.198"W   39°17'39.395"N

Hopeton Earthworks 82°58'58.467"W   39°23'1.487"N

Newark Earthworks State Memorial  82°27'4.713"W   40°3'36.472"N

This proposed serial nomination includes nine archeological sites of monumental earthworks constructed by the Ohio Hopewell culture during the Woodland Period (1-1000 CE).   They are located within the three above-named archeological preserves in the south-central portion of the State.

These sites are ceremonial centers characterized by large earthwork constructions that feature precise geometric shapes and standard units of measure.  The mounds contain extensive ritual deposits of finely crafted artifacts.  This nomination proposal encompasses the variety in Hopewell earthworks and includes examples from each of the valleys of several principal northern tributaries of the Ohio River. 

Fort Ancient State Memorial is a 310 hectare (766 acre) site located between Cincinnati and Dayton situated on a ridge above the Little Miami River.  It contains the well-preserved walls and mounds of one type of Hopewell earthworks, the hill top enclosure.  The 6,000 meter (20,000 feet) of walls are the best preserved of the Ohio Hopewell earthworks and enclose over 50 hectares (123 acres).  The site also features typical Hopewellian characteristics such as mounds, parallel walls, and the division of the interior into three enclosures.

Each of the five sites included in Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, includes a major (15-45 hectare) earthwork enclosure.  Three (Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group, and Seip Earthworks), contain large ceremonial mounds.  Excavations of these mounds revealed a wide variety of numerous, finely crafted objects, many of materials from other regions such as the Great Lakes basin, the Blue Ridge Mountains, the Caribbean, and the Yellowstone basin, the latter of which is 2,300 km (1,400 miles) distant.

Hopewell Mound Group and Mound City Group are large burial complexes surrounded by irregularly shaped earthen walls.  The smaller Mound City Group has a very high density of mounds (23 in 5.26 hectares).  The mounds and earthen wall at Mound City Group have been reconstructed.  The larger Hopewell Mound Group site contains more than 30 mounds including the largest Hopewell mound and has the added complexity of separate earthworks within the outer walls.  The outer walls of the Hopewell Mound Group enclose an area of 45 hectares (111 acres), larger than 100 football fields.  Within the outer wall are a smaller "D"-shaped earthwork and a circular enclosure.   The Group also features a precise 6.5 hectare (16 acre) square abutting the eastern wall that is a smaller copy of squares that are included in other earthworks.  The combined earthworks at the site would contain three sites the size of the Taj Mahal and its gardens.

Hopeton Earthworks, High Bank Works, and Seip Earthworks represent variations on the more precise geometric earthworks.  Hopeton features a circle and a square enclosing 15.5 hectares.  High Bank Works, whose main earthworks encompass 15.38 hectares, are formed from a circle and an octagon and very likely have several astronomical alignments.  Hopeton and High Bank Works all feature parallel walls that connect the large earthworks to smaller features or to rivers or to both.  Seip is an example of a class of earthworks called "tripartite" that combine portions of three geometric shapes.  Its 3,048 meters of walls enclose about 49 hectares.  The square portion of the Seip Earthworks is a slightly larger version of the square attached to the Hopewell Mound Group, but more significantly is identical to squares in at least five other "tripartite" earthworks which have not survived.  Seip also contains the second largest Hopewell mound. 

The Newark Earthworks in the cities of Newark and Heath is composed of three features that were once connected to each other and to other -- now destroyed -- earthworks by sets of parallel walls.  The three components are the Octagon Earthworks, the Great Circle Earthworks, and the Wright Earthworks.  The preserve of 83 hectares (206 acres) is on a valley terrace above the Licking River.  The Octagon Earthworks include an eight-sided structure with lunar alignments that encloses about 20 hectares.  It is connected to a large circular enclosure by a short neck of parallel walls.  The Great Circle Earthworks encloses about 8 hectares.  The Wright Earthworks preserves a small portion of the walls of a large, square earthwork.  In addition to the geometric forms and apparent use of a standard unit of measure there are other mathematical consistencies in the spacing of the earthworks. 

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

Together, these earthworks are the best preserved examples of the more than 40 monumental earthworks constructed by the Ohio Hopewell culture during the Woodland Period (1-1000 CE), which trace a cultural florescence distinct from other mound-building cultures in Eastern North America.  The earth walls of the enclosures are among the largest earthworks in the world that are not fortifications or defensive structures.  Their scale is imposing by any standard:  the Great Pyramid of Cheops would have fit inside the Wright Earthworks; four structures the size of the Colosseum of Rome would fit in the Octagon; and the circle of monoliths at Stonehenge would fit into one of the small auxiliary earthwork circles adjacent to the Octagon.   The presence of artifacts from far distant sources, especially of materials that were not widely traded 2,000 years ago, indicates that these sites were important ceremonial centers that interacted with communities in much of eastern North America.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

All three preserves have a high degree of authenticity.  The Fort Ancient Earthworks are the best preserved ancient earthwork site in eastern North America.  The Octagon and Great Circle at Newark are also well preserved.  There is some intrusion of discordant elements, such as a golf course at the Octagon Earthworks, but the scale of the Hopewell architecture dwarfs these intrusions and the visual unity of the major surviving remnants remains intact and impressive.  The earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park were preserved later and the earthworks have been somewhat deflated.  The earthworks and mounds at Mound City Group and Seip Earthworks have been reconstructed or partially reconstructed, using historical sources.   The preserved portions of the Newark Earthworks include all of two of the major enclosures and part of a third and are largely original, with some restoration work done to repair damage from earlier public purposes. 

Comparison with other similar properties

The Hopewell Culture, as the climax of what is called the Woodland Period in the most commonly used classification of prehistoric Native American cultures, is distinguished from the earlier Archaic Period and later Mississippian Period, to which the Cahokia World Heritage Site belongs. The Woodland cultures featured hunting and gathering, like those of the Archaic Period, but also practiced agriculture, albeit on a small scale in garden plots, and lived in widely dispersed settlements, unlike their Mississippian successors, who lived in large villages and practiced agriculture on a large scale. 

Within the Woodland period, the Hopewell culture was distinguished from its contemporaries by their construction of exceptionally large (more than 50 hectare) earthworks that included major enclosures, often in exact geometric shapes of a wide variety using a standard unit of measure.  The earthworks were used for ceremonial or community purposes, not for habitation or defense.  Some were precisely aligned for astronomical purposes.  These characteristics distinguish the Ohio mounds from other earthworks, including tumuli (usually burial structures) and hill forts that have been constructed in many places, including Europe, India, and New Zealand.