If you’ve ever found yourself driving along Ohio State Route 350 near the Little Miami River bridge, then you’ve probably noticed the National Historic Landmark sign as well as several hills along the roadside. In fact, you may have seen them as you visited Ozone Zipline Adventures or Morgan’s Canoe Livery. Feeling curious and adventurous, I decided to check out this Historic Landmark for myself known as Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve. If you enjoy learning about early exploration, cultures, and artifacts, Fort Ancient is right up your alley! Although the mounds and earthworks alone are enough to impress any passerby, the museum’s preserved artifacts and visuals tell an unbelievable story of the early settlers who claimed the Little Miami Valley as their home. So, the million dollar question on my mind was simply: who were these people and how did they construct the enormous amount of earth in the walls surrounding the plateau? The answers would be unveiled inside the 9,000-square-foot museum facility as well as the 2,000-year-old, man-made earthen walls that stretch for miles atop the Little Miami River Valley.
Touring the Museum
As I began my educational tour through the museum, I noticed the exhibit was divided into three major themes: The First Ohioans (the initial arrival of the earliest Native Americans who followed the movement of big game into the Ohio area and the hunters and gatherers who followed), Tillers of the Soil (the transition from hunting and gathering to farming), and When Worlds Collide (first contact with Europeans). Each segment provides artifacts and exhibits to help bring the stories to life. I was very impressed with the amount of detail and information that has been preserved over the course of 1,000-2,000 years! Not only does the facility house the Hopewell Exhibit, but it also has a “hands-on” classroom where kids and adults alike can handle many reproduced and several authentic artifacts as well as test their knowledge of the ancient Hopewell culture. In fact, many educational programs and summer programs are available each year allowing students the ability to explore Native American history, heritage and culture, as well as understand principles of archaeology and anthropology. Each program is designed to compliment classroom and home school curriculum guidelines and Ohio Academic Testing standards. For more information on summer programs as well as special events at Fort Ancient, click here.
After walking through the complete indoor exhibit, I made my way outside to see the man-made earthworks with my own eyes. Before wandering too far, I came upon an enclosed garden area with a reconstructed Hopewell structure and a giant dome-like structure, referred to as an 18th Century Shawnee hunters lodge, that were just waiting to be explored. As I got a little closer, I realized that the largest structure was a reproduction of an actual living quarters that the Hopewell culture would have constructed for shelter. Each structure was amazingly built with similar materials and in very similar fashion. The attention to detail was incredible and each shelter was strong enough to withstand the elements of today’s weather. I was even able to walk inside each shelter and imagine what life would have been like without all the bells and whistles that are available to us today. There’s truly something to be said about the work ethic displayed in the prehistoric architecture!
Discovering the Earthworks
Reading about the Hopewell culture is one thing, seeing their man-made earthworks in person is a whole different experience! Archaeologists believe that these mounds took approximately 400 years to construct. There’s nothing that intrigues me more than seeing history preserved over the course of thousands of years. One of the original interpretations, documented in the early 1800’s, was that each mound surrounding the plateau served as a fortress wall against foreign enemies. However, after learning more about the mounds, archaeologists now believe that the mounds were instead used as a means of tracking time – similar to a calendar. But how did these earthworks serve as an ancient calendar? Four small, circular stone covered mounds exist within the earthen walls that lie exactly 512 ft. apart from each other forming a square. When standing behind or in front of one of these circular mounds and lining up directly across from a specific earthen wall opening, the sun and moon can be seen rising directly between the two mounds. The process would be repeated with the next mound allowing the Hopewell people to schedule events and track time. It’s truly a spectacular sight when you realize just how precise and intelligent the Hopewell culture really was! Each year, Fort Ancient holds a summer and winter solstice event at sunrise to carry on this important tradition that somewhat defined their culture. The picture on the left shows a beautiful winter solstice sunrise a few years ago at Fort Ancient. For an interactive video of Fort Ancient as it would have appeared 1-2 thousand years ago, click here.
Exploring the Trails
After touring the museum and seeing some of the earthworks, it was time to explore the rest of the plateau. With more than 750 acres of land going from the hilltop down to the gorge of the Little Miami Scenic River, Fort Ancient offers plenty of opportunities to enjoy the beautiful natural characteristics of the Little Miami Valley. The wooded hillsides and fall foliage make Fort Ancient a must-see during the fall season. One of my favorite things to do when visiting is to take the trail up to the scenic overlook that provides an unrivaled view of the Little Miami Valley below. Picnic shelters and parking are also available for large groups inside the park. Visit here for more information on reserving these picnic shelters and for group events.
So next time you’re in Warren County, stop in and impress your friends and family on how much you know about the history of the Hopewell culture and Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve!
For more information on Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve, visit the links below!