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Visiting Ohio’s Indian mounds

Last week I talked about traveling back 200 years into early Ohio history by visiting the Fair at New Boston (www.fairatnewboston.org).

Now imagine being able to venture back over two thousand years to when Native Americans inhabited the Ohio River Valley region.

These early Ohioans filled our area with a vast number of very precise earthen monuments. Many have fallen prey to time and modern developments but there still are some unbelievable treasures to visit and explore.

Today you can tour their spectacular ceremonial centers and discover the architecture and artifacts of these remarkable peoples and cultures. Perhaps you’ll uncover the meanings behind some of these works.

The Ancient Ohio trail (www.ancientohiotrail.org) links you to all of Ohio’s major earth works.

The route links Newark’s Octagon and Great Circle with Chillicothe’s Hopewell’s Mound city group and nearby Serpent Mound then ends at Ft Ancient near Dayton.

I’ve done the trail in one day increments but believe that it would make a nice weekend journey in the spring or fall.

Combine plenty of history the colors of the seasons and the unique of a few of Ohio’s quaint cities and towns and you’ve crafted a nice getaway.

Starting near Newark, the Great Circle Earthworks, formerly known as Moundbuilders State Memorial, was built by the Hopewell culture approximately 2000 years ago. The circle is nearly 1200 feet in diameter and was used as a vast ceremonial center by its builders.

The Great Circle is one part of the Newark Earthworks State Memorial, the largest system of connected geometric earthworks built anywhere in the world.

Octagon Earthworks and Wright Earthworks are both additional local sites that preserve other features of this majestic remnant of prehistoric Ohio.

Now open in Heath, is the Great Circle Earthworks Museum. Here you’re invited to watch an interactive video explaining the significance of the site and tour a 1,000-square-foot exhibit that includes a timeline of Ohio’s ancient cultures and an explanation of why American Indians regard the Newark Earthworks as a sacred site.

The exhibit also details how the earthworks align with the rising and setting of the moon.

A short distance from the Great Circle group situated on a hilltop in a modern subdivision called Bryn Du Woods just off the Newark-Granville road stands Ohio’s second great Fort Ancient-era effigy, the so-called “Alligator”.

This is best seen when early or late day shadows show off its curling tail and rounded feet to full advantage.

Chillicothe is home to the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. Here a visitors center offers a fine artifact collection and orientation programs. Outside you can walk among the 23 assembled mounds: each covers the remains of a funerary building.

Some held spectacular collections such as effigy smoking pipes or shimmering blankets of mica. After browsing the awesome grounds it’s time to either proceed to the Great Serpent Mound or check in to a local hotel and rest up for another day of touring.

The most famous effigy in the world, Serpent Mound State Memorial, is best visited early or late in the day when the shadows are deep.

Site interpretation is much enhanced by the small museum, and by the old iron tower allowing visitors to get an overhead view of the sprawling creature.

Most beautiful are the snake’s spiraling tail, the three main coils (which some claim offer astronomical alignments), and the head (or egg, or eye, or the sun) which faces the summer solstice sunset during celebrations every June 21.

A large Adena-era mound has stood nearby since long before the Fort Ancient culture created the effigy in about AD 1100.

A trail to the right near the neck leads down to the creek below, revealing how the serpent’s designers seem to have mimicked the pronounced head-like formation of the cliff itself, and the undulating curves of the bluff behind it.

From the Serpent Mound you then travel over to Fort Ancient located near Lebanon.

Fort Ancient is the most spectacular and well-preserved of the Hopewell-era hilltop enclosures.

Today the Fort Ancient State Memorial encloses over 100 acres, high above a narrow gorge of the Little Miami River.

The broad North Fort contains a new museum and period garden with a reconstructed Hopewell house, plus the site’s highest walls (east) and deepest walled ravines (west).

Four stone-covered mounds form a perfect square, with astronomical alignments that inspire a sunrise festival here every June 21.

Entry to the older South Fort is marked by an impressive narrow gateway, with nearby mounds, crescents, and pavements.

The site’s most dramatic feature is the monumental South Gate, reached by a forested pathway. Remains of an almost-continuous necklace of ancient, clay-lined ponds are visible inside the walls and between the gateways.

The Ancient Ohio Trail is a collaboration of the primary owners, curators and interpreters of the Ancient Ohio sites for additional travel planning and destination information visit their Web sites at www.ancientohiotrails.org, www.ohiohistory.org, www.nps.gov/hocu and http://consumer.discoverohio.com.