Hamilton museum to lead preservation of 2,000-year-old Native-American earthworks

At first glance, it may seem unusual for the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park & Museum to oversee a nearby future parkland that houses 2,000-year-old Native-American earthworks.

But Sean FitzGibbons, executive director of the sculpture park, said it makes a lot of sense because Pyramid Hill and the earthworks that advocates want to turn into a world-class attraction have three major things in common:

• Both are beautiful, natural properties

• Both have “monumental works of art”

• Both also have “ancient sculptures”

“So to have this property have an ancient sculpture and a beautiful plot of land I think is perfect for our mission statement, and what we provide for the community,” FitzGibbons told the Journal-News.

“We are extremely excited for everything that’s happening. And we’re really looking forward to having a world-class earthworks park ready for Hamilton and Greater Cincinnati. It just makes sense for this property to be aligned with Pyramid Hill.”

Jarrod Burks, president of Heartland Earthworks Conservancy, which contributed money toward the purchase at last year’s auction of the earthworks land at the estate sale of the late Hamilton dermatologist Dr. Louis Luke Barich, said he’s glad the earthworks were saved and are being given attention.

“What’s really neat is seeing the public rise up and help purchase something like this and preserve it for the future, and then seeing a local organization like Pyramid Hill and the Harry T. Wilks foundation offer to take it on as their project,” Burks said. “And that fits in well with their mission, I think, too.”

A Fortified Hill committee is being assembled of archaeological and ecological professionals, interested people within the community and “a group of people who want to see this project put its best feet forward,” he said.

The earthworks are believed to have been built by the Hopewell people. Similar earthworks in Ohio likely will be nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status, meaning they are considered world treasures, alongside such other places as the Grand Canyon and the Great Pyramids in Egypt. It’s highly unlikely the so-called Fortified Hill earthworks here will be included with the other Ohio sites, but there’s a possibility they could be added in later years.

“Right now, we’re just trying to plan getting it out and open, ready for the public to engage with,” FitzGibbons said. “As far as heritage sites and all of that, that is further down in our timeline, once the ball is rolling and we have a pretty good sense of what’s happening with it.”

“From what I understand, it’s a very arduous process,” he said. “It’s stacks of paperwork that we have to have all of our ducks in a row to get that ready. And that’s why we have this committee of professionals. Some of them may have done this before.”

The work is realization of a dream shared by Barich — although he did not make the arrangements to preserve the earthworks before his death — and Wilks, who owned the land where the sculpture park is located and installed sculptures on it.

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