Ohio’s Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks mark UNESCO World Heritage designation

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CHILLICOTHE, Ohio (AP) — For 400 years, Indigenous North Americans flocked to a group of ceremonial sites in what is present-day Ohio to celebrate their culture and honor their dead. On Saturday, the sheer magnitude of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks was lifted up as enticement to a new set of visitors from around the world.

“We stand upon the shoulders of geniuses, uncommon geniuses who have gone before us. That’s what we are here about today,” Chief Glenna Wallace, of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, told a crowd gathered at the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park to dedicate eight sites there and elsewhere in southern Ohio that became UNESCO World Heritage sites last month.

She said the honor means that the world now knows of the genius of the Native Americans, whom the 84-year-old grew up seeing histories, textbooks and popular media call “savages.”

Wallace commended the innumerable tribal figures, government officials and local advocates who made the designation possible, including late author, teacher and local park ranger Bruce Lombardo, who once said, “If Julius Caesar had brought a delegation to North America, they would have gone to Chillicothe.”

“That means that this place was the center of North America, the center of culture, the center of happenings, the center for Native Americans, the center for religion, the center for spirituality, the center for love, the center for peace,” Wallace said. “Here, in Chillicothe. And that is what Chillicothe represents today.”

The Central Mound, the largest mound of the Mound City Group, is seen at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe
The Central Mound, the largest mound of the Mound City Group, is seen at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, Ohio, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023, before the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks UNESCO World Heritage Inscription Commemoration ceremony. A network of ancient American Indian ceremonial and burial mounds in Ohio noted for their good condition, distinct style and cultural significance, including Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, was added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. [Carolyn Kaster | AP]
The massive Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks — described as “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory” — comprise ancient sites spread across 90 miles (150 kilometers) south and east of Columbus, including one located on the grounds of a private golf course and country club. The designation puts the network of mounds and earthen structures in the same category as wonders of the world including Greece’s Acropolis, Peru’s Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.

The presence of materials such as obsidian, mica, seashells and shark teeth made clear to archaeologists that ceremonies held at the sites some 2,000 to 1,600 years ago attracted Indigenous peoples from across the continent.

The inscription ceremony took place against the backdrop of Mound City, a sacred gathering place and burial ground that sits just steps from the Scioto River. Four other sites within the historical park — Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks, Highbank Park Earthworks and Hopeton Earthworks — join Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve in Oregonia and Great Circle Earthworks in Heath to comprise the network.

“My wish on this day is that the people who come here from all over the world, and from Ross County, all over Ohio, all the United States — wherever they come from — my wish is that they will be inspired, inspired by the genius that created these, and the perseverance and the long, long work that it took to create them,” Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said. “They’re awe-inspiring.”

Nita Battise, tribal council vice chair of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, said she worked at the Hopewell historical park 36 years ago — when they had to beg people to come visit. She said many battles have been won since then.

“Now is the time, and to have our traditional, our ancestral sites acknowledged on a world scale is phenomenal,” she said. “We always have to remember where we came from, because if you don’t remember, it reminds you.”

Kathy Hoagland, whose family has lived in nearby Frankfort, Ohio, since the 1950s, said the local community “needs this,” too.

“We need it culturally, we need it economically, we need it socially,” she said. “We need it in every way.”

Hoagland said having the eyes of the world on them will help local residents “make friends with our past,” boost their businesses and smooth over political divisions.

“It’s here. You can’t take this away, and so, therefore, it draws us all together in a very unique way,” she said. “So, that’s the beauty of it. Everyone lays all of that aside, and we come together.”

National Park Service Director Chuck Sams, the first Native American to hold that job, said holding up the accomplishments of the ancient Hopewells for a world audience will “help us tell the world the whole story of America and the remarkable diversity of our cultural heritage.”