Ohio earthworks tour covers all the bases of mysterious ancient cultures

COLUMBUS — The history of Ohio began long before it became the 17th state in 1803 — even way well before Western settlers came to this land.

Thousands of years ago, native Ohioans populated the landscape with mounds and massive earthworks. Today, southern Ohio is a living history experience with evidence of these complex, interconnected structures that held great practical and ceremonial significance for their creators.

“Ohio’s earthworks are unique in the world,” said Dean Alexander, superintendent of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.

“These ancient structures, several of which are being considered for World Heritage status, are representative of the rich cultural heritage of Ohio’s early Native Americans.”

Driving tour

The Earthworks of Southern Ohio: Ancient Monuments of the Eastern Woodlands is a driving tour that focuses on three of the most sophisticated and talented mound-building cultures in Ohio — the Adena, the Hopewell and the Fort Ancient.

It features 10 sites that are considered by experts to be among the most significant American Indian earthworks in the United States.

Mound City is the recommended first stop and is in the Chillicothe area. It contains one of the largest concentrations of Hopewell burial mounds ever discovered. It encompasses roughly 15 acres and is surrounded by over 2,000 feet of earthwork walls.

Mound City is located north of Chillicothe on the east side of state Route 104.

Story Continues Below Photos

Story Mound is more than a 1,000 years old and was a significant architectural creation of the Adena culture. It was excavated in 1897. Discovered inside were the remains of a circular Adena timber building.
Story Mound is on Delano Avenue in Chillicothe, just a few blocks from state Route 104/High Street.

Adena Mound

Adena Mound is representative of Adena culture. Because the field was to be used for agriculture, the mound was completely excavated and has not been restored.

Visitors can tour the grounds of the Adena Mansion and Gardens and view the Logan Range. The site where the Adena Mound once stood is on the north side of Chillicothe, near the intersection of U.S. Route 23 and U.S. Route 35.

“These ancient structures, several of which are being considered for World Heritage status, are representative of the rich cultural heritage of Ohio’s early Native Americans.”
Dean Alexander
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park superintendent

The Hopewell Mound Group was one of the largest and most complex earthwork systems ever created by the Hopewell culture.

The largest mound at the site was 20 feet high and 550 feet in length. On this tour, visitors have the ability to follow a paved trail around the site and view the remains of earthworks more than 2,000 years old. The Hopewell Mound Group is just north of U.S. Route 50 near Chillicothe.

Seip Mound is one of the few pieces left of what was once a major Hopewell earthwork complex. When originally constructed, the complex covered 121 acres.

The mound stands 30 feet tall, 240 feet long and 240 feet wide and is one of the largest mounds ever built by the Hopewell culture.

Seip Mound is 17 miles west of Chillicothe on U.S. Route 50.

Serpent Mound

Perhaps the most famous ancient mound, Serpent Mound is the largest known ancient serpent effigy in the world. It was constructed on the ridge of a geologically ancient meteoric impact crater approximately 8 kilometers in diameter. Natural rock formations at the end of this finger-like ridge are suggestive of a reptilian head.

Serpent Mound is on state Route 73, 6 miles north of state Route 32 and 20 miles south of Bainbridge in Adams County.

Fort Hill is a hilltop enclosure located inside a 1,200-acre park and nature preserve. Scientific study of the walls of Fort Hill reveals that they were built in stages of earth and stone covered with slabs of tightly fitting sandstone.

Fort Hill is on the east side of Highland County, 11 miles south of U.S. Route 50 on state Route 41.

Piketon Mound is located in Mound Cemetery. Visitors exploring this site will get a greater understanding of how cultures reuse space and how that repurposing affects the people and cultures that came before. Mound Cemetery is in Pike County near state Route 124, just south of Piketon.

Tremper Mound

Tremper Mound is a culturally mysterious site. Discoveries made at Tremper give insight into the Hopewell culture but leave scientists with many new questions.

During the excavation of Tremper Mound in 1915, 600 postmolds were discovered. Postmolds are stains in the soil that mark the former locations of wooden posts. These outlined a multiroom building roughly 100 feet wide and 200 feet long.

Tremper Mound is located north of Portsmouth where state Route 73 and state Route 104 converge.

Portsmouth Mound, part of Portsmouth Earthworks, stretched across the Ohio River and was refashioned and reused by different cultures over time. Portsmouth Mound is in Mound Park on Hutchins Avenue, just north of U.S. Route 52, in the heart of Portsmouth.

Tours

Tours are available for download by individual podcasts for a specific site or all 10 sites together. This self-guided interpretative tour includes directions, maps and historical and archaeological site information.

Audio tours are available for download at 99 cents per site or $7 for all. Video tours are available for download at $1.99 per site or $15 for all.

In addition, the entire tour can be purchased on CD for $12.95 and on DVD for $18.95. All information is available at www.ohiohistorytours.org or by contacting the Ohio Historical Society at 614-297-2300 or 800-686-6124.

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