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              Archaeology in Ohio

“Ohio’s rich prehistoric heritage holds a unique place in the cultural history of North America. From the time of the last glacier, the Ohio area was inhabited by a succession of prehistoric people who left a legacy of their passing unparalled anywhere on the continent. Some of the most important cultures of prehistory were formed and reached their apogees in Ohio. Cultural development over the entire eastern United States was influenced by Ohio cultures.

More than 12,000 years ago the Paleo-Americans, early hunters of the Ice Age, wandered into Ohio and hunted Pleistocene animals as the glacial ice retreated. Their passing is marked by distinctive fluted points which occur in Ohio more often than any comparable area in the United States. Numerous campsites of their descendants, the Plano people, can be found across northern Ohio from Pennsylvania to Indiana.

Later, successive groups of Early Archaic people moved into Ohio and left an abundance of evidence over the entire state. During the Middle Archaic period, Midwestern Archaic cultures evolved into societies of great complexity and created stone artifacts of elaborate and unique design, the finest examples of which are found in Ohio. The type sites for the Late Archaic Glacial Kame culture are in northwestern Ohio.

During the Early Woodland period, Adena, the first of the great mound building cultures was formed in Ohio and along the Ohio River valley and spread as far as the Atlantic Coast. The southern half of Ohio is dotted by thousands of Adena mounds.

No prehistoric manifestation of the Middle Woodland period in North America approached Ohio Hopewell in its complexity, splendor or influence. The center of the Hopewell Universe was in southern Ohio where this, the most sophisticated of all prehistoric cultures, reached its climax. It is in Ohio where most of the gigantic Hopewell earthworks occur. The largest Hopewell monuments in North America, the Newark Earthworks and Fort Ancient, are in Ohio.

The Late Woodland Intrusive Mound culture may have reached its peak in Ohio where it left a widespread tradition of occupation. Many sites of the powerful Fort Ancient people of the late prehistoric Mississippian period lie along the Ohio River, and the largest Fort Ancient village, Madisonville, is in southern Ohio. Related Monongahela, Whittlesey and Sandusky culture villages abound in eastern Ohio and along the shores of Lake Erie.”

from The Archaeology of Ohio by Robert N. Converse


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 Glacial Kame people of the Late Archaic Period (5000 to 2500 years before present) produces beautiful and remarkable objects such as birdstones 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 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.


Links to Archaeological sites in Ohio


The Serpent Mound

Newark Earthworks

Fort Ancient Earthworks

Flint Ridge


Hopewell Mound Group

The Alligator Mound


Miamisburg Mound

Sun Watch Village

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