Butler County visit shows momentum is growing to save 2,000-year-old Indian earthworks

Top Ohio history officials, non-profit preservation organizations and even former state First Lady Hope Taft expressed hope Friday that 2,000-year-old earthworks created by the Native American Hopewell people can be saved for future tourism.

But given that the Ross Twp. land where the earthworks are will be auctioned Sept. 28, they fear they won’t have enough time to raise the several hundred thousand dollars that likely will be needed to buy property of the late Hamilton dermatologist Dr. Louis Luke Barich, which is being sold to settle his estate.

Nearly three dozen people walked about half a mile Friday from Barich’s house through 3-foot-tall grasses to the earthworks. Before they did, Paul Gardner, Midwest regional director of The Archaeological Conservancy, announced his organization is so enthusiastic about saving the earthworks that it has committed $100,000 toward buying the land.

The “Fortified Hill Works” first were surveyed in 1836 by James McBride, who also was Hamilton’s first mayor. They were considered so significant that they were included in the first publication by the Smithsonian Institution, “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley,” written in 1847 by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis.

Preservationists are especially enthusiastic about the earthworks now, because other Hopewell works are expected to be added in 2021 or 2022 to the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, which include some of the planet’s most treasured places, such as the Grand Canyon, Pyramids of ancient Egypt and Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. The cave is the only member of the list in Ohio, Kentucky or Indiana.

History experts believe that when Fort Ancient and other earthworks created by the Hopewells join the UNESCO list, people from around the globe will visit them, and may add trips to the Fortified Hill works. That hope is increased by the fact the earthworks are located near the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, and the fact the immense indoor sports complex and convention center, to open in 2021, will attract 10,000 athletes and their families to Hamilton some weekends, and those people will be a pool of possible visitors.

The earthworks are large, occupying almost 17 acres, and seem to have been used for ceremonial purposes. But with trees, and invasive-species honeysuckle surrounding them, they were difficult to see.

“We’re going to need on the order of half a million or more” to buy the property, Gardner announced to the group before the walk to the earthworks.

“As you know, these people that built these monuments that we call the Hopewell culture, they didn’t leave us any written documents, or written records,” Gardner said. “We don’t know what they called themselves. And the only way we can learn about them is through scientific archaeology. But to do that, we have to have the places that archaeology can go study.”

With only a month before the auction, Gardner and others hope the community will donate money, particularly through tax-deductible donations to the Archaeological Conservancy specifically for the Fortified Hill purchase. Donations can be made through the website, www.archaeologicalconservancy.org.

Gardner said if advocates had a year to raise the money, “this would be a slam dunk.”

Hope Taft said she attended because, “I’m very interested in Hopewell ceremonial sites. I’m on the world heritage site committee, and we are working very hard to make the Hopewell sites in Ohio world-heritage status by 2021-22, somewhere in there.”

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