Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks in the running to be a World Heritage Site

  • A series of four lectures on the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are planned for the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.
  • Next is April 7 with Brad Lepper of the Ohio History Connection. The first was with OHC’s Jennifer Altman.
  • The earthworks have been proposed for consideration as a World Heritage Site. The review committee will meet in the summer of 2023.
  • The earthworks were designed by Native American Indians and form precise geometric shapes following the cycles of the sun and the patterns of the moon.

COSHOCTON – The Newark Earthworks is set to become part of Ohio’s first World Heritage Site.

The Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum in Roscoe Village presents a four-part series titled “Ohio’s Hopewell Earthworks – Masterpieces of Human Creative Genius”. The next episode will be at 6 p.m. on April 7 with Ohio History Connection (OHC) senior archaeologist Brad Lepper.

About 25 people attended the first lecture presented recently by Jennifer Altman, Director of Historic Sites and Museums at the OHC. She reviewed the basics of earthworks and attempted to have various Native American mounds in Ohio declared a World Heritage Site.

The National Park Service recently announced that the ceremonial earthworks at Hopewell will be reviewed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s World Heritage Committee in the summer of 2023.

The nomination includes Hopewell Culture National Historic Park with Mound City Group, Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks, High Bank Earthworks and Hopeton Earthworks; the Newark Earthworks State Memorial with Octagon Earthworks and Great Circle Earthworks; and the Fort Ancient State Memorial.

The earthworks were constructed during the Middle Forest Period, 1,500 to 2,200 years ago, by American Indians called the Hopewell culture. Built to an enormous scale and using a standard unit of measurement, the earthwork forms precise squares, circles and octagons and has a sculpted top to enclose a vast plaza. Geometric shapes are constantly deployed over great distances and encode alignments with the cycles of the sun and the patterns of the moon.

Aerial view of the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, May 25, 2013.

Altman said the OHC has been working on the nomination for more than 15 years.

It’s a designation that lets people know how important they are,” Altman said. “When this trip was started by some of my colleagues, I think that’s what pushed them. It’s that so few people seemed to know about these places and this feeling that everyone should know about them.”

Jennifer Bush, director of the JH Museum, is a lifelong resident of Licking County and grew up visiting Newark Earthworks. She has worked for three years to establish a series of lectures to educate Coshocton County residents about the nearby landmark.

“They hold a special place in my heart,” Bush said. “Still to this day they are amazing and I am impressed with their size and the hands that went into building them.”

Moonrise at the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, January 2, 2007.

The mission statement of World Heritage is that certain places on earth are of Outstanding Universal Value and should, therefore, be part of the common heritage of mankind. World Heritage sites must meet at least one of the 10 criteria. Altman said it’s actually better to score fewer indicators than more in order to focus the nomination. The Hopewell earthworks were submitted based on two criteria.

Criteria one to represent a masterpiece of human creative genius and criteria three to bear a unique or at least exceptional testimony to a cultural tradition or to a living or vanished civilization.

“It’s not just earthworks, it’s not just mounds,” Altman said. “They are places that connect people, the earth and the cosmos across space and time.”

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