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Fort Ancient Earthworks

From Ohio History Central
Fort Ancient Walls.jpg
Postcard showing the great east walls of Fort Ancient, ca. 1920-1950. Fort Ancient, built 2,000 years ago by pre-contact Native Americans, is an earthworks with 18,000 feet of earthen walls enclosing 100 acres. It is located in Warren County, Ohio and maintained as a state memorial by the Ohio History Connection.

The Fort Ancient Earthworks are a series of earthen embankments that extend for more than three and one half miles around a high bluff along the Little Miami River in southwestern Ohio. Although it is called a "fort," it probably never served as a defensive work. Ditches are located inside the walls rather than outside as might be expected in a fortification. There are more than 60 gateways in the walls, making it difficult to defend the site against enemies.

The earthwork includes two major components called the South Fort and the North Fort. The South Fort is the oldest section. A long, narrow neck referred to as the Middle Fort connects these two parts. The most prominent gateway is located in the northeastern part of the North Fort. Two mounds are located just outside the gateway. These framed the entrance to a set of parallel walls that once extended northeastward for nearly half a mile where they ended in a semi-circular enclosure surrounding a mound.

The Hopewell culture (100 B.C. to 500 A. D.) of pre-contact Native American people constructed the earthworks. Later American Indian residents built a village and a cemetery within the walls of the already ancient South Fort. Archaeologists mistakenly assumed that these villagers had built the earthen walls. This latter culture was called the Fort Ancient culture (1000 A.D. to 1650 A.D.) after the name of the site. This mistake has caused confusion for later students of Ohio archaeology.

Recent excavations at Fort Ancient have discovered the remains of Hopewell culture houses and ceremonial features both inside and outside of the enclosure walls. It is not known whether the houses located inside the enclosure were occupied before or after the enclosure was built. It also has yet to be determined whether the houses were the dwellings of more or less full time residents, or the temporary shelters of visitors.

The Fort Ancient Earthworks is an Ohio History Connection site open to visitation. It is located seven miles southeast of Lebanon, in Warren County. In addition to the earthworks, the site features a museum with interpretive exhibits about Ohio's ancient past. The Fort Ancient Earthworks site also is a National Historic Landmark.

Learn more about our effort to inscript several Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks sites (in Ross County, Licking County, and Warren County) to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

See Also


  1. Blosser, Jack, and Robert C. Glotzhober. Fort Ancient: Citadel, Cemetery, Cathedral or Calendar?. Columbus: Ohio History Connection, 1995. 
  2. Byers, A. Martin. The Ohio Hopewell Episode: Paradigm Lost and Paradigm Gained. Akron, OH: University of Akron Press, 2004.
  3. Carr, Christopher, and D. Troy Case, eds. Gathering Hopewell: Society, Ritual, and Ritual Interaction. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2005.
  4. Griffin, James Bennett. The Fort Ancient Aspect: Its Cultural and Chronological Position in Mississippi Valley Archaeology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1966.
  5. Connolly, Robert P. and Bradley T. Lepper, eds. The Fort Ancient Earthworks: Prehistoric Lifeways of the Hopewell Culture in Southwestern Ohio. Ohio History Connection. Columbus, OH, 2004.
  6. CERHAS. EarthWorks, Virtual Explorations of the Ancient Ohio Valley. The Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS). Cincinnati, OH, 2006.
  7. Case, D. Troy and Christopher Carr, eds. The Scioto Hopewell and their Neighbors: Bioarchaeological Documentation and Cultural Understanding. New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum Publishers, 2008.
  8. Woodward, Susan L., and Jerry N. McDonald. Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Mounds and Earthworks of the Adena, Hopewell, Cole, and Fort Ancient People. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 
  9. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.