Location: The ancient Newark Earthworks in Newark, Ohio
Expert: Lucy Murphy, Professor of History at Ohio State University
Why It’s Worth a Visit
In the grassy hills of Newark, Ohio, you could almost walk by one of the American continent’s ancient wonders—if you didn’t know what you were looking for. More than 30 acres of land are blanketed by geometrically shaped and skillfully built earthen mounds rising 15 feet high. This astonishing site was constructed about 2,000 years ago by people of the Hopewell culture, which flourished in the Midwest. Newark is home to two highlights of this early feat of engineering: a 25-acre large circular ridge called the Observatory Circle, which connects via an earthen pathway to a geometrically precise 1,054-foot-wide octagon.
While several mound cultures existed in Pre-Columbian America, “the Newark Earthworks are unusual in a number of respects,” says Lucy Murphy, Professor of History at Ohio State University. “The octagon is a lunar observatory. The walls of it record the motions of the moon over a 18.6 year cycle, and if you stand near the ends of the wall you can see where the moon will rise or set at different times during that cycle. It is amazing.”
The earthworks were likely created by people seeking to establish a site for ceremony, ritual, and astronomy, but the earthworks are also evidence of exceptional engineering and math skills, including an early standard unit of measure. Many areas of the site are exactly 1,054 feet long, and some match at a 90-degree angle to a square mound 60 miles away.
While the creation of the city destroyed an oval burial area and many pathways that connected various sites and monuments of the ancient Hopewell world, these features indicated that “likely this was a pilgrimage site that people came to from hundreds and hundreds of miles away,” says Murphy. “If you wanted to attend some particularly important ceremonies 2,000 years ago, you might want to go to Newark.”
How to Get to the Newark Earthworks:
Today the site is partially located on a golf course, but is owned by the Ohio Historical Society; visitors are welcome to visit the area for free year-round. The site and its visitor’s center is a short trip from Newark, Ohio town center. Ohio State University Newark Earthworks Center maintains the site with support from the NEH and the Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites.
This story is the first in a series about amazing historical travel destinations in America.