Marietta was founded in 1788 and was the first permanent settlement of the Northwest Territory. We all probably know this fact by now – but what came before that? Thousands of years ago, Native Americans lived life in a compelling and scientific way right here in Marietta. The remnants of this ancient culture surround us in our local earthwork mounds, yet few give any thought to it today.
The ancient mounds in Marietta have long been a topic of discussion. Where did they come from? When were they built? Why are they here? While we don’t know every detail of what our local mounds were built and used for, we do know they are of historical importance to our native culture.
There truly is ancient magic right in our own backyard for those who know where and how to look.
Local historian, Lynne Sturtevant, owner at Hidden Marietta, has this to say about these ancient indigenous structures, “We take the mounds for granted, barely noticing them as we go about our busy lives, but the incredible story of the people who inhabited our river valleys 2000 years ago is where Ohio’s history begins. There truly is ancient magic right in our own backyard for those who know where and how to look.”
In Marietta, over 2000 years ago, ancient peoples lived in what is now Washington County and archaeologists believe that these natives were part of the Hopewell and Adena tribes. Marietta is thought to be a sacred ceremonial center where these natives built multiple ceremonial mounds. Like many earthwork structures, before settlers recognized the historical significance of the mounds, many were destroyed – but according to local history, there are three major mound earthworks still remaining in Marietta. The first, and probably most popular to Mariettian’s, is the Conus Mound found in Mound Cemetery between 5th, 6th, Tupper and Cutler Streets. Conus is thought to be an actual burial mound, probably containing the remains of hundreds of ancient people.
The second, the Capitoleum, was named after the Capitoline Hill in Rome. The Washington County Public Library was built atop it in 1916 at 615 Fifth Street. It is not a burial site, but a ceremonial mound where religious rites and festivals were probably held.
The third, the Quadranou, is formed by the streets of Third, Fourth, Camp and Warren and makes up Quadranou Park at the end of Sacra Via. The Quadranou was used as a solar observatory.
Venturing outside of Marietta, in the United States, there are numerous mound earthworks dotted throughout the land – some of the oldest that still remain reside in Louisiana at Watson Break and carbon date back to 5400 years ago.
In Ohio, many mounds can be found in multiple cities, including Sun Watch Village in Dayton, the Miamisburg Mound, Fort Salem Earthworks, Mound City in Chillicothe and The Serpent Mound – but the largest and most well-known earthwork is the Hopewell Culture Complex in Licking and Ross counties near Newark, Ohio. Presently, these Newark area earthworks are up for World Heritage status – a momentous milestone for the region and state. The Newark Earthworks consists of three sections: the Great Circle Earthworks, the Octagon Earthworks and the Wright Earthworks. Built by the Hopewell culture between 250 AD and 500 AD, the complex contains the largest earthen enclosures in the world at about 3,000 acres – though today, only 206 acres remain preserved. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark, and in 2006, Newark Earthworks was also designated as the “official prehistoric monument of the State of Ohio.”
You can experience firsthand the awe of these earthworks without bounds.
In 2008, the site was nominated by the U.S. Department of the Interior for potential submission to the UNESCO World Heritage List. The UNESCO World Heritage organization lists significant landmarks as a place of special cultural or physical significance to the cultural or natural importance of humanity. Among the list are sites such as the Taj Mahal in India and the Redwood Forest in California.
Why is this designation potentially significant to our local Marietta community? “An appointment of World Heritage status by UNESCO would heighten the awareness of ancient earthworks not only in Licking and Ross County area’s but also raise awareness about ancient earthworks all over Ohio,” Jeri Knowlton, Executive Director of the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau said. “As people begin to explore the stories and remains, Marietta’s own ancient earthworks will become elevated in stature. The uniqueness of Marietta’s mounds is that not only can you walk right up to them; you can walk on them and around them. You can experience firsthand the awe of these earthworks without bounds.”
“Additionally, there are supporting attractions to our mounds. Whether you visit Campus Martius, Henderson Hall or the Blennerhasset Museum, evidence of our ancient culture abounds. Travelers interested in heritage and cultural tourism will be drawn to southern Ohio to explore. On their way to and from Marietta/Washington County there is so much ancient culture to be discovered and enjoyed,” Jeri said.Locally, to learn more about how the significance of World Heritage status in Newark might affect the Marietta mounds, the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau will host Bruce Lombardo, Park Ranger of the Hopewell Culture National Historic Park to speak about the I HEART Tourism front line training program.
While Newark’s possible UNESCO status has the potential to bring many new tourists to the area, on your own as a native Mariettian, visiting the mounds in Marietta is free to the public. For more information, contact the Marietta-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau at mariettaohio.org, (888) 861-7684, or visit the Campus Martius Museum website at CampusMartiusMuseum.org.