A network of Native American burial mounds and ceremonies in southern Ohio has been added to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites. The move places what the organization describes as “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory” on the same cultural plane as the Acropolis, Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and the Great Wall. from China.
Recognition of the Hopewell ceremonial earthworks was announced by the UNESCO World Heritage Committee at a meeting in Saudi Arabia.
The US Department of the Interior proposed adding the earthworks to the list of world heritage sites last year after a long campaign by indigenous tribes – many of whom have ancestral ties to the state – and preservationists.
The Ohio History Connection, a state agency, said the earthworks were exceptional in their “enormous scale, geometric precision and astronomical alignments” and described them as “masterpieces of human engineering “. They encompass eight sites spread over 90 miles (145 km) in southern Ohio.
Two years ago, the state Supreme Court heard a challenge over access to part of the earthworks — a 2,000-year-old set of octagonal mounds — after an earlier ruling that the connection Historic Ohio could salvage the site of a local golf club.
Chief Glenna Wallace, of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma, said she greeted the UNESCO designation of the mounds with “pure excitement and elation.”
“Tears came to my eyes and elation turned to reflection, knowing that the world will now see and recognize the commitment, spirituality, imaginative art and knowledge of complex architecture to produce magnificent earthworks,” she said in a statement.
“Our ancestors were not just geniuses, they were extraordinary geniuses,” she added.
The Hopewell Site, near Newark, Ohio, is one of eight large earthen enclosures built in a central and southern area of the state between approximately AD1 and AD400. They are considered the largest set of geometric speakers in the world.
Other sites included in the new designation are the Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia and the Great Circle Earthworks in Heath and five sites in Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe: the Mound City Group, the Mound City Group, Hopewell, the Seip Earthworks, the High Bank Earthworks and Hopeton Earthworks.
“Inscription on the World Heritage List will bring international attention to these treasures long known to Ohioans,” said Megan Wood, executive director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, in a statement to the Columbus Dispatch.
The Octagon earthworks are believed to follow an 18.6 year lunar cycle, with the central axis of the earthworks aligning with the northernmost rising of the moon and the other walls aligning with different moonrises .
In the 1970s, Ray Hively and Robert Horn, two professors at Earlham College in Ohio, rediscovered the alignments and declared that the walls of the Octagon “define the most precise astronomical alignments known to the prehistoric world.”
The earthworks are believed to have been the scene of ceremonies that attracted people from across the United States, based on archaeological discoveries of raw materials from as far west as the Rocky Mountains.
Earlier this year, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine called the anticipated UNESCO designation a “big deal.”
People, he said, “will recognize that Ohioans – even in ancient times – played a central role in transforming what is now Ohio into a sophisticated and commercial center important “.
Audrey Azoulay, director general of UNESCO, said listing the earthworks “will make this important part of American history known around the world.”
Hopewell’s arrival comes just three months after the United States returned to UNESCO. Azoulay said the United States now has 25 world heritage sites on the world heritage list, “which illustrates the richness and diversity of the country’s cultural and natural heritage.”