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    The name “Hopewell” is hopelessly outdated and has no current scientific or educational meaning.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.

    • Cliff Fiscal

      So you will just continue to ignore the fact of all of the articles in the newspapers from all over Ohio of the recorded, witnessed and notarized accounts of the recovery of skeletons that measured from 7-9ft in length and even written about in the New York times and the Smithsonian. Of course it is much easier to simply dismiss these large skeletons apparently including ones with double rows of teeth and remaining tufts of red hair. Yes, it is easier just to attribute all of the mounds and earthworks to an unknown or known Algonquian tribe, rather admitting and being forced to explain perhaps another race of humans altogether so the defensive line was taken to merely remove all of these skeletons from anyone’s view and simply say that those folks back in the late 1800′s didn’t know how to measure an didn’t use the right picks and brushes while excavating different sites, including the ancient gravel pits. So exactly which single Algonquian civilization or tribe had individuals that were 7-9 feet tall, with apparently pale skin, red hair and double rows of teeth both upper and lower? I would be happy to accept the truth whatever the real truth is, but all of these large skeletons taken mostly out of conical mounds completely prevents this. Where are the skeletons? Why the need for mystery, conjecture? Just show the ones that were recovered to the public and attempt to extract DNA from the skeletons to finally and truthfully identify the Mound Builders… at Seip Mound it is clearly posted that 4 full skeletons were recovered. Where did they go? Why are hidden from public view at all of these places, what did the Smithsonian do with them? This would be like hiding Ramses, so clearly something is wrong here.