“Walk with me. We lived here long ago. Large ceremonies with many people were held here.” This was the feeling that permeated the atmosphere while walking over and around the large mounds called Newark Earthworks built by the Hopewell culture at Newark, Ohio. There are three sections to these earthworks: The Great Circle, The Octagon, and The Wright Earthworks, which were not visited on this road trip.
Surrounded by fields of wild strawberries and gigantic trees, these mounds take your mind and spirit back many years to somewhere between 100 BC and 500 AD. The Great Circle, representing the circle of life, is located in Heath and has eight foot high walls, which surround a five feet deep moat. In the center of the Great Circle are some smaller mounds, one called the Eagle Mound, which covers the remains of an old ceremonial longhouse of the Hopewells.
An ancient artifact that is known to have come from these mounds is a small stone sculpture. No one is certain whether it is a person, who was a hero in one of their stories, or perhaps a spiritual being. Some even think it could be a shaman wearing bear regalia. Many, however, also believe the Holy Stones were truly from the mound as well, while some feel they are not authentic. These Holy Stones can be viewed in Coshocton at the Johnson-Humrickhouse Museum.
During the 1850s, the Great Circle provided a home for the Licking County Fairgrounds. Later use varied from horse racing track to military drill field. The Ohio National Guard has held encampments at this location.
The Welcome Center contains an excellent interactive video that takes you on an exploration of the largest geometric earthworks in the world from the comfort of an air-conditioned area. Guides there provide answers to most of your questions as they are very well informed.
Archaeological surveys report that the Newark Earthworks were connected to the Hopewell Culture Historical National Park in Chillicothe, Ohio by a hand built road. The road was sixty miles long and ten feet wide and paved with crushed shells. Called the Great Hopewell Road, today hiking groups still walk that pathway every year.
On to the Octagon Earthworks! Something seems amiss here as these are located on a golf course, or a golf course is located on them. Yes, signs guide you to the Moundbuilders Country Club, where visitors are not permitted on the mounds as they might interrupt someone’s golf game. There is an observation platform so you can see the general outline of the mounds, but walking must follow a strict schedule around golf events. The Country Club keeps the Octagon beautifully maintained and provides time each year, for those interested, to actually walk where the ancients walked.
These are by no means small formations as the Great Circle contains 40 acres, while the Octagon surrounds 80. The video at the Welcome Center proclaimed the Newark Mounds as the largest geometric complex in the world…four square miles total.
However, just standing at their edge gave a feeling of connection to those ancient people. Researchers believe the earthworks were used for ancient burial places, ceremonies and astronomical viewings, especially the lunar solstices.
Many of the mounds at this complex have been destroyed as it lies within the cities of Newark and Heath. Over the years farming, construction of roads, and development of the city, have changed the face of the earth. But parts of the original complex are being preserved by the Ohio Historical Society with help from Moundbuilders Country Club.
There are usually about three or four days a year that you can freely walk these historic mounds without playing a round of golf. Make plans to visit during the Octagon Mound’s next Open House, which is October 11, 2015. You will enjoy the connection!
Newark Mound Earthworks can be found just off I-70 east of Columbus, Ohio at Exit 129. Take Route 79 to Health to stop first at the Welcome Center at 455 Hebron Road, Heath.