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10 December 2006
Fort Ancient best preserved earthwork in America

Fort Ancient remains a mystery. The extensive earthen mounds and walls in southwest Ohio (USA) are unlikely a fortress, although they might have been used for social gatherings and religious ceremonies and astronomical viewings. The site was built 2,000 years ago by ancient Indians that archaeologists call Hopewells.
     The intricate mounds stretch nearly 3.5 miles and enclose about 100 acres atop a promontory. The earthen walls are as high as 23 feet and as wide as 68 feet. The walls are divided by 67 crescent-shaped gateways. There are stone pavements in some places. Some call Fort Ancient Ohio's Stonehenge and it is one of Ohio's top prehistoric sites.
     Fort Ancient State Memorial is the largest and best-preserved prehistoric Indian hilltop earthwork in North America. It is an impressive site although it is difficult to fully gauge what you're seeing. Also, the site is heavily wooded and the mounds are overgrown with trees that make it difficult to assess what you are viewing. There is no evidence that the earthworks were used to bury the dead.
They were built over 200 years and then used for 200 years from 100 CE to 300 CE. There is evidence of a large habitation just outside of the North Fort, suggesting that many people stayed outside the earthworks. But recent excavations indicate that some people also lived within the enclosure.
     Research suggests that the people who built the earthworks might have used them to mark the movement of the sun and the moon. Standing near four stone-covered mounds in the North Fort's northeast corner, researchers have seen how sunrises on the summer and winter solstices and the minimum and maximum northern moon rises align with certain gaps in the mounds. The four inner mounds create a perfect square, 512 feet apart on each side. The moon rises marked by the openings occur 9.3 years apart. There is also evidence of a sacred or ceremonial road leading into the enclosure from the east. It was the last feature added to Fort Ancient.
     There are a number of reasons why archaeologists are reasonably sure that Fort Ancient was not built for defense. Ditches have been found on the inside of the walls, not the outside. There is also little evidence to suggest enough people living at Fort Ancient to defend it. It would be difficult to block the 67 gateways if an enemy approached.
     Last summer, archaeologists from Wright State University recovered flint, small bladelet knives, mica fragments, pottery fragments, a broken ax head, projectile points and flint flakes during their excavations of 10 centimeters or 4 inches of soil at a time. A year earlier, archaeologists had used remote sensing devices to study underground features at Fort Ancient -- without any digging.
The survey of areas within the North Fort found evidence of a previously unknown circular structure nearly 200 feet in diameter and below ground. The survey and later excavating found evidence of possible houses, pits and other ancient activities.
     Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays April and May and September and October. From Memorial Day through Labor Day, the hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays. Admission is $7 for adults and $3 for students. Call 513-932-4421 or 800-283-8904 or see www.ohiohistory.org.

Source: Beacon Journal (10 December 2006)

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