Moonrise Event Shows Complexity of Newark Earthworks

N/A(Photo: Aerial photo by Richard Pirko, 1994 (Youngstown State University))
N/A(Photo: Aerial photo by Richard Pirko, 1994 (Youngstown State University))

Historians, archaeologists and other “mound buffs” are hoping for clear skies Monday night. This will be the last chance for nearly two decades to view the northern -most moonrise using an ancient Octagon mound. And, by the time this event comes around again, it’s likely that mound and others in Ohio will have achieved worldwide recognition

The moon has an important role in many stories from ancient Native lore just as it does in this tale by Lenape storyteller Hitakonanu’ laxk:

“Nipahuma – our mother who goes by night – the first mother nurtured her children. She continues to watch over us at night as the moon!”

It is thought that the Hopewell people built Newark’s Octagon Mound 2,000 years ago to track the movements of the moon. Curator of Archaeology for the Ohio Historical Society Bradley Lepper says the mound’s openings offer eight different views of the moon’s four risings and four settings.

“The rising and setting of the moon is according to a very complicated cycle,” says Lepper. “And only about every 18.6 years does it reach this northernmost alignment which defines the axis of the Octagon here.”

Lepper says about one thousand mounds and earthworks remain in Ohio, perhaps one-fifth of the original number, but few are preserved in tact. Lepper calls the Octagon one of the most majestic.

So much of this earthwork remains that scientists, historians and others have wondered at its builders’ knowledge of astronomy and engineering. The Octagon is one-half mile across, exactly level and precise in measurements between openings. Unlike the pyramids, this earthwork is not the lasting mark of one or two ancient leaders. Likely, generations of Hopewell were involved in its construction.

The Octagon Mound and the Great Circle Mound in Newark along with other mound sites in Ohio are receiving wider recognition. Ohio State-Newark History Professor Richard Shiels is director of the Newark Earthworks Center. He says the National Park Service recently released a list of 19 locations nominated for the designation of “World Heritage Site.” The Newark Earthworks, Fort Ancient and the Hopewell National Park in Chillicothe together form one of the 19 nominees from the U-S.

Shiels says the nominations go to the United Nations in January. If the Ohio mounds make the cut, they are in good company.

“The Grand Canyon is up there,” says Shiels. ” We’re on a list with Grand Canyon. Stonehenge is a world heritage site. The pyramids of Giza are a world heritage site.”

Near the Octagon Mound, a flint napper is tapping away as history students from Ohio State – Newark arrive for a tour of the earthworks. This is one of four days per year when the public is welcome to visit the site which is home to Moundbuilders Country Club. The club’s golf course covers the ancient earthworks. That frustrates senior history major Chris Keck.

“I kinda see it like if people were playing golf in Mecca in Saudi Arabia ’cause this used to be a pilgrimage site,” says Keck.

Monday night’s moonrise is expected shortly after 10 o’clock. Those planning to gather at the octagon Mound expect quite a show .weather permitting.

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