Ancient Mounds in Ohio Join Ranks of World Gems

UNESCO recognizes earthworks by Native Americans as a World Heritage Site
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 19, 2023 2:20 PM CDT
Ancient Mounds in Ohio Join Ranks of World Gems
A mound at Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia, Ohio. Fort Ancient is part of a network of ancient American Indian ceremonial and burial mounds around Ohio that were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites.   (AP Photo/Joshua A. Bickel)

A network of ancient Native American ceremonial and burial mounds in Ohio described as "part cathedral, part cemetery, and part astronomical observatory" was added Tuesday to the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Preservationists, led by the Ohio History Connection, and Indigenous tribes, many with ancestral ties to the state, pushed to recognize the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks for their good condition, distinct style, and cultural significance—describing them as "masterpieces of human genius," per the AP. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee approved the application during a meeting in Saudi Arabia. The massive earthworks join a list of famed sites that includes Greece's Acropolis, Peru's Machu Picchu, and the Great Wall of China.

Constructed by Native Americans between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago along central tributaries of the Ohio River, the earthworks were host to ceremonies that drew people from across the continent, based on archaeological discoveries of raw materials brought from as far as the Rocky Mountains. Elaborate ceremonialism linked to "the order and rhythms of the cosmos" is evident in the "beautiful ritual objects, spectacular offerings of religious icons, and regalia" found at the sites, the application said.

The eight sites comprising the earthworks are spread across 90 miles of southern Ohio. They are noteworthy for their enormous scale, geometric precision, and astronomical breadth and accuracy, such as encoding all eight lunar standstills over an 18.6-year cycle. UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay said the earthworks' inclusion on the list "will make this important part of American history known around the world."

(More UNESCO stories.)

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