Moorehead Circle, a woodhenge at the Fort Ancient Earthworks, is slowly giving up its secrets. In my December column in
the Columbus Dispatch, I provide an update on what Robert Riordan and his team
of students and volunteers have learned after seven field seasons of patient
and meticulous excavation.
Moorehead Circle is an amazingly
complicated site. Every shovelful of earth has seemed to reveal more puzzles than answers. Now, however, thanks to Riordan's persistence, a general picture
is coming into focus.
Moorehead Circle, located at the head of
one of the major ravines leading up from the Little Miami River, was a triple
ring of large, wooden posts surrounding a central pit filled with red
earth. A 40 by 50 ft rectangular structure was located adjacent to this central
altar. An arc of alternating trenches and prepared floors on the southern half
of the circle may have been something like bleachers, though Riordan doesn't think
it necessarily had wooden seats. In an e-mail, he suggested to me that these
floors could have been places where "particular
social groups, like members of clans, were supposed to watch the rites that
occurred at the Circle's center."
Moorehead Circle must have been the
ceremonial heart of . Riordan thinks
it was a major focus of ritual activity for a century or more. There is clear
evidence that at least some of the wooden posts were replaced at least twice.
The rectangular structure was rebuilt at least once. And a limestone pavement
in the main entranceway to the circle was refurbished on at least one occasion.
In a presentation of his research at the Eastern States Archaeological Federation's and the Ohio Archaeological Council's joint meeting in Perrysburg in October, Riordan focused on the culmination of the active ceremonial life of the
Moorehead Circle. He said that the people did not just
abandon this remarkable “ceremonial machine” letting it fall slowly into ruin.
Instead, they carefully dismantled its components and then sealed the site
beneath a layer of gravel – but not with an earthen mound. Hopewell
Typically, the people of the
culture would have covered a place of such intense ritual activity beneath a
mound, perhaps to commemorate the momentous events that transpired there or perhaps to insulate the community from the potentially dangerous spiritual power that still radiated from that sacred ground. The fact that they did not do so here is one of the mysteries of the Hopewell Moorehead Circle
and one reason why it was not discovered prior to the 2005 survey. This suggests
that there likely are more sites like the Moorehead Circle out there waiting to be
discovered -- if not at Fort Ancient, then perhaps at the Newark Earthworks or the
several earthwork sites that are part of the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park.
The Fort Ancient Earthworks is a part of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, which is on the
Tentative List for eventual consider-ation for nomination to the World Heritage
List. United States
Research such as Riordan’s work at
is essential for adding to our knowledge of the site. That knowledge can be used not just to increase our
understanding of the Hopewellian achievement, but also to contribute to our
management and conservation efforts as well as to generate public excitement
about the site. Finally, being able to show that so much of the archaeological
record is still preserved will help us make the case that Fort Ancient
is a worthy candidate for inclusion on the World Heritage List. Fort Ancient
Stay tuned to this blog for further updates on Riordan’s research and on the progress of our World Heritage nomination.