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Ohio Archaeology
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Many Ohioans are not aware of our state's rich archaeological traditions.  Ohio is home to many prehistoric sites, sites that in some cases are quite ancient (more than 10,000 years), and others that were so grand in their scope and vision that they are in the same league as any of the wonders of the ancient world. Ohio has preserved much of Flint Ridge, a unique site where Native American Cultures over many millennia quarried this precious stone to make tools and knives. A detailed overview of archaeological sites in the state can be found in Robert N. Converse’s comprehensive work The Archaeology of Ohio.

Early Sites

There are many early sites throughout the state, but these are not apparent to the eye.  Often they have been discovered under plowed fields; nevertheless, some are important as researchers try to piece together the story of these first Americans. Sites such as the Welling Site in Coshocton County, Nobles Pond Site in Stark County, Sandy Springs in Adams County, Paleo Crossing in Medina County go as far as 10,000 or more years back into antiquity. At Sheriden Cave in Ohio’s Wyandot County biologists found the remains of Pleistocene animal bones along with flint artifacts.  This important site has been radio carbon dated to between 10,500 and 11,000 years before present.

Additionally there are numerous sites, such as the Stephan Site in Darke County, and the Bowman Site in Montgomery County, that date to Archaic Period within the state. We know most of these early groups through their magnificent—and even artfully made—flint blades and tools they produced. The Ohio Dovetail is among the most admired.  These “arrowheads” (often really worn and re-sharpened knives) took on many shapes and hafting configurations, and have been found in Ohio fields since the time of the settlers—and continue to be found today (see Ohio Archaeologist magazine for reports of recent finds and Converse’s book Ohio Flint Types as an identification guide.)

Some cultures like the Glacian Kame people of the Late Archaic Period (5000 to 2500 years before present) produces beautiful and remarkable objects such as birds stone (pictured here) out of banded slate.

Spectacular Sites

Ohio’s most spectacular sites are the great earth works from the Adena and Hopewell Cultures, which date back about 2,000 years. Many books on ancient America note the famous and incredibly conceived Serpent Mound in Adams County.  This effigy extends 1,330 feet in length on a plateau above Brush Creek.  Another remarkable earthwork is the great Octagon and Circle in Newark, Ohio. It is so extensive that it covers the area of a golf course . Grand in their complexity, scope and scale, this ancient wonder dwarfs England's famous Stonehenge.  You could fit Stonehenge in one corner of the just the Octagon portion at Newark. It has been the subject of many studies that show precise lunar alignments in its construction, and stands as testimony to the genius of the early cultures that created them.  A few other sites that can still be seen are Fort Ancient in Warren County, and what remains of the Pyramid and Sacra Via at Marietta, Ohio. These great works stand as testimony to the genius of the early cultures that created them.

Historians and antiquarians of early America recognized the genius of these extensive earthen creations. The Ohio earthworks were the subject of the very first book published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. This book contained surveys of many Ohio earthworks as well as drawings of some of the remarkable artifacts discovered by the early Archaeologists Ephraim G. Squier and Edwin H. Davis.

Ohio earth works continue to be the subjects of many archaeological studies, and some amazing discoveries.  William F. Romain’s Mysteries of the Hopewell presents a case showing that these Ohio Cultures had a working knowledge of complex geometry, and possibly even a standard unit of measurement. Studies, such as that of archaeologist Bradley Lepper provide evidence of a “The Great Hopewell Road” has also suggested that the Hopewell may have actually connected the great ceremonial complexes of Newark and Chillicothe.

The Ohio Historical Society, a private non-profit organization, and the National Park Service operate a statewide network of archaeological sites, many of which are open to the public. The Ohio Historical Society Museum in Columbus Ohio houses what may be the greatest collection of prehistoric material in North America. However, despite its preeminent collections of archaeological material, the archaeological display is, sadly, very limited. Information on Ohio Historical Society sites including locations, hours, and costs is available at www.ohiohistory.org The National Parks Service operates the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe Ohio. Information regarding the Hopewell Culture National Park can be found through the National Parks Service website at www.nps.gov.

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