Moorehead Circle Reveals New Secrets

Fort Ancient CERHAS image

Recreation of the Fort Ancient complex.

The ceremonial life of Native American civilizations before the arrival of Europeans was far more complicated than the simplistic notion of powwows and dreamcatchers as presented by countless Hollywood movies. The Moorehead Circle, part of the Fort Ancient complex in Ohio, is one case-in-point. New research has shown that this structure was more than just a circular embankment of earth (which is quite impressive in and of itself.) This research shows the circle was surrounded by a ring of posts (200 in all) aligned with the summer solstice and the earth in the central firepit was brought to the site from some other location.  Special seating or standing areas for specific clans were also thought to be part of this structure. Read more at the article below:

The Moorehead Circle, located at the head of one of the major ravines leading up from the Little Miami River, was a triple ring of large, wooden posts surrounding a central pit filled with red earth. A 40 by 50 ft rectangular structure was located adjacent to this central altar. An arc of alternating trenches and prepared floors on the southern half of the circle may have been something like bleachers, though Riordan doesn’t think it necessarily had wooden seats. In an e-mail, he suggested to me that these floors could have been places where “particular social groups, like members of clans, were supposed to watch the rites that occurred at the Circle’s center.”

Read the full story here:

Ancient Earthworks Electronically Rebuilt, To Become A Traveling Exhibit

Native American cultures that once flourished in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia constructed geometric and animal-shaped earth works that often rivaled Stonehenge in their astronomical accuracy.

A few are still extant – Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio, for example – but most of the region’s ancient architecture was all but squandered. Earthworks, from as early as 600 BC that stretched over miles and rose to heights of 15 feet or more, were either gouged out or plowed under in the 19th century or paved over for development in the 20th.

But now, this lost heritage from the Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures is returning in the form of a traveling exhibit that will include virtual reconstructions of earthworks from 39 sites. The electronic recreations represent nearly ten years of work by an extensive team of architects, archaeologists, historians, technical experts and Native Americans. Project director is John Hancock, professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, working in partnership with the Center for the Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at the University of Cincinnati. The title of the project and the coming traveling exhibit is: “EarthWorks: Virtual Explorations of the Ancient Ohio Valley.”

The “EarthWorks” reconstructions will be the centerpiece within a 500-square-foot traveling exhibit which will also include a graphic timeline wall with cross cultural comparisons; a giant map wall of the Ohio River Valley (from the approximate location of Pittsburgh to Louisville) indicating placement of Native American earthworks; panels with diagrams, photos and text; and 3-D topographic models of five earthwork sites. The exhibit opens June 20, 2006, at the Cincinnati Museum Center. It remains at the museum center till Sept. 7, 2006. Later venues include the Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, opening on Sept. 30, 2006. Discussion are now underway for later exhibits in the state and nation.

Set amid the physical elements of the exhibit, the 3-D virtual reconstructions by Hancock and his team recreate the earthworks for school children and scholars alike. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a large screen on which the 3-D explorations of “EarthWorks” by a user at the touch-screen computer can be shared with a larger audience. Virtual exploration of a gallery of period artifacts is also possible at two stand-alone kiosk stations.

The project is built upon archaeological data gleaned from such modern technology as sensing devices and aerial photography as well as frontier maps and other aids provided by archaeologists to re-establish the location, size, shape and appearance of many of the region’s earthworks. Then, using architectural software and high-resolution computer modeling and animation, the UC-led team virtually rebuilt these massive structures and further created animated, interactive, narrated “tours” among them..

Funding for the traveling exhibit has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In all, the NEH has provided close to $500,000 for the project. Additional development support over the years has come from the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Humanities Council, the Ohio Arts Council, the George Fund Foundation, and in-kind donations from the University of Cincinnati. Add up all funding and in-kind donations, and project support totals around $1.5 million.

Shawnee Lookout Oldest Hilltop Settlement?

“Shawnee Lookout (2005),” Oil on Canvas by Mary Louise Holt. Click image to purchase at

The Shawnee are one of the most important Native American groups in North America due to their long standing and far flung trade networks. They had trading outposts throughout eastern North America from the Great Lakes to Florida. One site known as Shawnee Lookout in Ohio appears to have been continuously occupied by the Shawnee for over 2,000 years. It is also much larger than the original 1960 archaeological investigations revealed. Read an excerpt from the news report here:

The discoveries continue to surprise for a team of UC students digging in Shawnee Lookout Park, with a major new mound being located and a rare kiln used to fire pottery excavated in recent weeks, along with even more evidence emerging to support the theory that the site could be the largest continuously occupied hilltop Native American site in the United States.

But perhaps most importantly from this year’s work, evidence was also found to bolster the theory that Shawnee Lookout was the largest continuously occupied hilltop settlement established by any Native American group. The dating of recent evidence found argues for cultural continuity at the site, meaning the Hopewell who lived at Shawnee Lookout up to 2,000 years ago are showing direct links to the Shawnee people who were living on the site less than 300 years ago.

Work this summer was conducted by a group of more than 20 students working in the Hamilton County Park District property in southwestern Ohio as part of UC’s Ohio Valley Archaeology Field School. Much of the summer was devoted to excavating the remains of structures, dwellings about the size of a modern-day ranch house, says UC Assistant Professor of Anthropology Ken Tankersley, who oversaw work at the site this summer.

“The site we were working at had been previously looked at back in the 1960s and was considered a small village site,” Tankersley says. “This summer we did an extensive survey of the site, and it is so densely vegetated, you can understand how there were features that were missed. We found a number of mounds at other sites around the park. While it had always been thought that there were about 40 archaeological sites in Shawnee Lookout, it now looks like there are many, many more.”


Large Hopewell site unearthed in Ohio

A huge archaeological site has been unearthed in Ohio dating to the Hopewell time period. From the news report:

Five weeks of digging this summer by professional and amateur archaeologists from the Cleveland Museum and the Firelands Archaeological Research Center, guided by the magnetic readings, have confirmed the presence of a major occupation, and have begun to reveal some tantalizing details about the encampment and its inhabitants.

It’s one of the earliest, largest and most sophisticated Native American settlements in northern Ohio, Redmond said.

Artifacts such as sherds of pottery and razor-sharp flint tools called bladelets indicate that three distinct prehistoric groups occupied the settlement off and on, beginning as early as 2,500 years ago, at the same time the Roman Republic was rising. They remained until shortly before European explorers arrived in the area in the 1600s.

Evidence suggests the site may have, over time, served multiple purposes: a ceremonial spot, a wintering shelter, a defensible village and a trading hub. Its plentiful artifacts are in the same style as those made by the mound-building Hopewell people in southern and central Ohio, but it’s not clear whether those items were imported, or crafted by locals imitating the Hopewell traditions.

Read the full article here: Cleveland Museum of Natural History researchers uncovering prehistoric American Indian settlement in Huron County

Virtual First Ohioans

The Ohio Historical Society has a new online exhibit entitled Virtual First Ohioans which includes videos and photos of artifacts found at many of Ohio’s most important archaeological sites. The site covers every archaeological period in Ohio from the Archaic to the Woodland to the Mississippian. The exhibit includes extensive information on the most important cultures to have lived in Ohio including the Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian cultures.

Visit the Virtual First Ohioans exhibit.

Researchers unearth glimpse of Adena hunter-to-farmer shift

Ohio’s Adena culture represents a turning point in state history. Situated between the nomadic hunting and gathering cultures of the Archaic period and the more settled farming cultures of the later Woodland period, the Adena culture represented the dawn of a new way of life for Ohio’s ancient people.

Archaeologists now are fleshing out the details of the daily lives of Ohio’s first farmers, who were known mostly for their mortuary and ritual sites, such as Chillicothe’s Adena Mound, for which the culture is named.

Archaeologists Craig Keener and Kevin Nye, with the Professional Archaeological Services Team in Plain City, investigated three Adena encampments in central Ohio that show strong continuities with the earlier hunting and gathering way of life as well as hints of the changes that, in Asia, are described as the Neolithic Revolution.

Their results are reported in the current issue of the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology.

The three sites are situated in the uplands and likely represent autumn camps focused on gathering and processing nuts — especially hickory nuts. Before this work, most known Adena habitation sites and camps were located along rivers. The upland setting and the focus on nut collecting are more what we would expect for Archaic period camps.

New developments are revealed by the presence of broken pots and, in one pit, a handful of seeds representing the earliest domesticated plants in Ohio: goosefoot, sumpweed and maygrass.

The pottery suggests a less nomadic way of life, because the large pots of the Adena were both heavy and fragile. The seeds indicate an increasing commitment to food production rather than simply collection of Ohio’s natural bounty.

The sites that Keener and Nye studied capture a glimpse of groups on the cusp of change — no longer simply hunter-gatherers and not yet fully committed farmers. Such sites will provide the clues to understanding how small steps led to a giant leap for humankind.

Read the story here.

‘Woodhenge’ at Fort Ancient raises interest in ritual past

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 3:25 AM

During a remote-sensing survey of the Fort Ancient Earthworks in 2005,
Jarrod Burks of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants discovered a
circular pattern in the soil that stretched nearly 200 feet in diameter.
Fort Ancient is a massive earthwork in Warren County that was built more
than 2,000 years ago by the Hopewell culture. Robert Riordan, an
anthropology professor at Wright State University, directed excavations
there in 2006 and last month completed a report on his initial
explorations of the circles. Dubbed the “Moorehead Circle” by Riordan in
honor of pioneering archaeologist Warren K. Moorehead, the area was a
“woodhenge,” defined by a double ring of posts.
The outer ring consisted of large posts about 9 inches in diameter set
about 30 inches apart in slip trenches filled with rock. The inner ring
had similar-size posts set about 15 feet inside the outer ring.
Riordan estimates that the outer ring would have held more than 200
posts, each 10 to 15 feet tall. Inner posts likely were shorter. At the
center of the circle was a
2.5-foot-deep pit that was 15 feet long by 13 feet wide and filled with
red, burned soil. The pit was ringed by a shallow trough in which large
timbers of red oak had been burned. Excavators found little ash, so the
burned soil must have been brought in. A radiocarbon date on charcoal
from a remnant trace of a post suggests it was built between 40 BC and
AD 130. Burned timber fragments from the pit were dated AD 250 to AD
420. The different ages suggest to Riordan that a “sequence of
ceremonial events” took place at this location. The two rings of posts
and the pit might be related, or they might represent three separate
rituals. With less than 5 percent of the circle investigated, Riordan
warns, our understanding of it remains tentative. “We avidly look
forward to subsequent field seasons, new data and altered perspectives,”
he wrote.
More information about the
excavation of the Moorehead Circle can be found on the Ohio Historical
Society’s archaeology blog:

Bradley T. Lepper is curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical

Octagon Earthworks’ alignment with moon likely is no accident

February 13, 2007
Columbus Dispatch
The Octagon Earthworks in Newark is one remnant of the Newark
Earthworks, recently listed by The Dispatch as one of the Seven Wonders
of Ohio. Earlham College professors Ray Hively and Robert Horn demonstrated in
1982 that the walls of this 2,000-yearold circle and octagon were aligned to the points on the horizon, marking the limits of the rising and setting of the moon during an 18.6-year cycle. The implications of this argument for our understanding of the knowledge and abilities of the ancient American Indian builders of the earthworks are astounding. But how can we know whether they deliberately lined the walls up with the moon or whether the series of alignments is just an odd coincidence?

In the current issue of the Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, Hively and Horn use statistics to address this question.

And while they acknowledge that they cannot provide a definitive answer, their analyses certainly offer compelling evidence to support their idea that the sites are among the world?s earliest astronomical observatories.

Hively and Horn focused on five alignments. These are the main axis of the site, which points toward the maximum northerly rise point of the moon, and the orientation of four of the octagon?s eight walls, which align variously with the moon?s maximum southern rise point, the minimum northern rise point, the maximum northern set point and the minimum southern set point.

They performed a “Monte Carlo” analysis in which a computer randomly generates more than 10 billion equilateral octagons, randomly aligned them to a compass bearing and then checked how many astronomically significant alignments resulted.

They determined that, even “making the most generous plausible combination of assumptions favoring chance alignments,” the odds that the alignments at Newark are merely accidental are about one in a thousand. Using more reasonable assumptions, the odds are more like one in 40 million.

[Read the full article here:]