Seip Earthworks will be nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List


One of the wonders of the ancient world is just 12 miles west of Chillicothe, Ohio. Seip Earthworks is one of five Native American earthworks monumental complexes included in Hopewell Culture National Historic Park. These national park sites are nominated for inscription on the World Heritage List as “Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks” alongside three other earthworks managed by the Ohio History Connection: the Octagon Earthworks and the Great Circle in the Licking County; and the Fort Ancient earthworks in Warren County.

There are only 24 World Heritage sites in the United States and just over 1,000 worldwide. The international community recognizes them as places of such exceptional universal value that all humanity has an interest in preserving them. The United States was the first nation to come up with the idea of ​​an international treaty to protect natural and cultural heritage sites of global significance. This idea originated in 1972 when the United States was the first nation to ratify the World Heritage Convention. It was the 100th anniversary of Yellowstone becoming the world’s first national park. It was no accident: the World Heritage List was conceived as an international version of the idea of ​​the American national park.

The Seip Earthworks deserves a place among the wonders of the world because it is a masterpiece of human creative genius. The Native Americans designed and built the complex nearly 2,000 years ago, and its shape and size testify to their sophisticated knowledge of geometry and astronomy. They built nearly 2.5 miles of earthen embankments to form three geometric figures: a large circle encircling 40 acres; a smaller circle surrounding about 18 acres; and a specific square of 27 acres. Remarkably, the builders constructed four more of these “tripartite” enclosure complexes within 20 miles of the Seip earthworks, each using circles and squares of the same size. Indigenous peoples’ knowledge of astronomical cycles is illustrated by the alignment of the square enclosure: the diagonal of the square points to the rising sun at the winter solstice. Two gigantic mounds of earth were built near the center of the complex. The largest is a bread-shaped mound over 240 feet long, 160 feet wide, and over 30 feet high. At ten cubic meters of earth per load, it would take almost 2,000 dump trucks to build a single mound!

Bret Ruby, archaeologist from Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, at the Hopewell Mound Group near Chillicothe, Ohio on Wednesday July 2, 2014.

What could have motivated the Native Americans to invest so much knowledge, work and care in this masterpiece of landscape architecture? Clues can be found under the huge mounds. Huge half-timbered and half-timbered buildings once stood here. These buildings housed tombs where the honored dead rested, as well as shrines, altars and special spaces where ceremonial badges and religious material were taken out of service and deposited. Artifacts skillfully crafted from materials from distant places such as copper, sea shells, obsidian, and mica suggest that these great religious centers were known to Indigenous nations across eastern North America. .

A recent partnership between the National Park Service and the German Archaeological Institute resulted in a high-resolution magnetic scan of the entire site. Today we use the magnetic map as a guide to mow a specific pattern in the grass to highlight earthworks. Visitors are invited to respectfully stroll through these vast sacred spaces and marvel at these Indigenous designed masterpieces. Plan your visit to www.nps.gov/hocu.

Dr. Bret J. Ruby is an archaeologist with the National Park Service and chief of resource management at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, Ohio.


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