Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve

Location: Oregonia, Ohio

Webpage: Ohio State Park

General Description:  The Fort Ancient Earthworks was built by the Hopewell culture from the 1st century BC to the 6th century AD.  Over this 400 year period, the site was constructed in three phases using primitive tools of stone, wood, and bone to dig up earth to be moved one basket full at a time.  Located on the eastern shore of the Little Miami River, this was a ceremonial site that was also a trading center for the Hopewell Indians.  While mistakenly called a fort, the earthen walls are obviously not for defensive purposes.  The walls are constructed with multiple breaks in the wall and the ditches are inside the wall instead of outside and were either lined with limestone or had pond mud installed for the growing of plants.  There is also evidence that the Southern Gate had a limestone pavement leading down to the river.  This is the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the US encompassing over 100 acres within earthen walls running 3.5 miles.  Within the enclosure and numerous limestone rings and evidence of other small structures.  Within the latest addition to the north are four limestone mounds in a perfect square that were used as the base of large bonfires over many years.   There is also evidence that these mounds along with a wooden circle of posts were used for astronomical alignment of the sun and moon.  The site was surveyed by John Lock in 1843 and first excavated in 1887 by Warren Moorehead.  Based on archeological evidence from an Indian village on the site, the culture was named Fort Ancient, although it turned out the earthworks predated the Fort Ancient culture by a thousand years.  The Fort Ancient Indians simply used this old site for their village.



1) The Museum at the site is one of the best museum for the midwestern Indian culture that I have ever seen.  It tracks their culture from the time of the last ice age through the forced movement of the Indians in the 1800s.  Of course, the Adeena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient cultures are also well represented in the museum.  There are many exhibits, artifacts, and information about each period of history.  Plan on spending some time in the museum if you visit the site.

2) There are 4 main trails at the site.  Be sure not to miss the Stone Circle Trail which is a 1/4 mile loop trail behind the museum.  This trail takes you to some limestone circles that are outside the enclosure.  Their purpose is not known.


3) You can drive through the center of the site which takes you through the three sections of the enclosure and even through the main gate where you can park the car.  There are places to pull off along the road to explore the different parts of the enclosure.


4) The Earthworks Trail is a mile long loop trail that follows the interior of the earthen walls in the oldest southern section of the site.  Along with some amazing views of the earthworks there are also two overlooks built by the CCC in the 1930 that give views of the Little Miami River and valley.