As Europeans moved westward across the North American continent they found a variety of artifacts left behind by earlier cultures. Even more have been discovered in recent times. Think petroglyphs, cliff dwellings, cave art, and totem poles. Throughout the Midwest and stretching south to northern Alabama and Mississippi can be found a variety of earthen mounds. Many of the most striking of these are in Ohio.
Southeastern Ohio boasts Fort Ancient and the Great Serpent Mound (see map below), and a bit farther north you can visit the Great Circle and Octagon Earthworks.
The small city of Newark is home to the latter two structures, which are on the short list to be designated World Heritage Sites.
Early explorers thought these might be burial mounds and dug into them hoping for treasure and ancient bones. We know now that they’re mostly ceremonial, built for gatherings and celebrations.
A thousand years ago the Adena and Hopewell people marked specific lunar events at this site. Modern astronomers and astro-tourists gather here for the periodic alignments. The next one will occur in 2024. Archaeologists and historians are unsure why these events were important to the cultures that built the mounds, but it’s clear they were.
Even if you’re not here for a lunar viewing, there’s plenty to see. The Eagle Mound, in the center of the Great Circle, is interesting, as it the small museum on the grounds. In nearby Granville you can see the Alligator Mound, protected by a traffic circle in the middle of the upscale Bryn Du subdivision. While you’re in the area, take the time to see the site of the first lock on the Ohio & Erie Canalway and tour the Hebron State Fish Hatchery. If you’re especially lucky, your visit will coincide with one of the periodic tours of the unique floating cranberry bog on nearby Buckeye Lake.
Ohio has several other mounds to visit. The Great Serpent, between Columbus and Cincinnati, is the largest effigy mound in the U.S., and features an interesting museum and an elevated viewing platform that’s perfect for photos. Also along I-71, the Fort Ancient Earthworks are interpreted by rangers who convey their vast knowledge with enthusiasm and flair. For true mound junkies, a variety of smaller earthworks cluster in this part of the state, and most are publicly accessible.
Summer can be pretty brutal in the Buckeye state, but spring and fall are frequently delightful. Spring arrives with abundant wildflowers and flowering trees, and fall offers autumn colors to rival New England. Roads are less crowded and the pace more relaxed. Canoeing and rafting are great in the spring, festivals and fairs in the fall. There are numerous boondocking opportunities in the Wayne National Forest and along the Ohio River.
Come for the mounds and you’ll find much more to pique your interest. We’ll be looking for you out there, maybe just over the top of the next mound, off the beaten path.
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