‘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

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