Earthworks: Preserving Ohio’s Ancient History



Not far from the chaos of downtown Columbus stand a series of earthen mounds built by ancient cultures that inhabited this region over 2,000 years ago.  Their exact purpose remains mysterious, but their preservation is essential. This hour we’ll talk about what may have inspired a people to build the largest earthworks in the world, and what threats the sites face today.


  • Dr. Jarrod Burks, Director of Archaeological Geophysics, Ohio Valley Archaeology, Inc.
  • Dr. Bradley Lepper, Curator of Archaeology, Ohio Historical Society
  • Chief Glenna Wallace, Chief of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma


Thursday, October 24th, a symposium titled “Ohio Earthworks: History, Preservation, and Archaeo-tourism” will be  held in conjunction with the Midwest Archaeological Conference. It is open to the public.


Join The Conversation

  • al tonetti

    The Hopewell were not a “tribe”. They were a culture of many groups of indigenous people who shared socio-economic and religious traditions over a large area of the Ohio River Valley.

  • geoffreysea

    The name “Hopewell” is hopelessly outdated and has no current scientific or educational meaning. It describes no category or culture in archaeology, and certainly describes no demographic group. people, or tribe. The unfortunate name comes from the 19th century, when a large cache of grave goods and human remains were looted from the estate of one “Colonel M. C. Hopewell,” near Chillicothe, Ohio, for display at the Columbian Exposition. But Mr. Hopewell was never a real colonel — he had been a guerila fighter for the Confederacy in the hills of West Virginia.

    At the time of naming, it was erroneously believed that there had been two or three different “races” of mound-builders in ancient Ohio, on the racist presupposition that American Indians were not capable of building sophisticated constructions like the complex earthworks. Now we know from genetics, archaeology, and historical linguistics that the major earthworks of the Ohio Valley were built by a single Algonquian civilization between about 1000 BCE and about 500 CE.

    The proper name for this civilization is Adena, a name with deep roots in southern Ohio and with resonance in both Old and New World languages. In the Central Algonquian dialects, “Otan” or “Dodem” means “ancestor.”

    Many archaeologists continue to use the name Hopewell in deference to habit and the budgetary burden of changing signs and displays. But everyone knows that “Hopewell” has to go — it’s nothing but an anti-educational holdover of the racist past. The sooner we start honoring the Adena Civilization, the easier the terminological transition will be.

    • Dan McFist

      “Racist presupposition that American Indians were not capable of building sophisticated constructions…”

      Actually, it was a fairly reasonable conclusion, based on the fact that
      the natives around the time of the early whites didn’t know who built
      the mounds, didn’t seem connected to them, and showed no sign of having the technology or social structure required to build them. Even Chief Glenna acknowledges that her people didn’t build the mounds, and that she hadn’t even known about them! It’s “racist white pigs” like Dr. Lepper and Dr. Burks who are preserving and expanding our knowledge of these ancient people.

      Regarding Hopewell vs. Adena, the only true name is what they called themselves. When you return from your time travels, please let us know what the correct names are. Until then, I see no reason for Dr. Lepper, or others, to revise the nomenclature.