Fun at Fort Ancient

In southern Ohio, just north of the city of Cincinnati is a fort that is technically not a fort, but that might have been a fortified settlement, but we don’t know for sure.

The pink shape on the left shows the outline of the Fort Ancient earthworks.

Welcome to the world of mound culture history. There is so much that is unknown about the culture of the builders of these earthen mounds that even authorities on the subject have to qualify almost everything they say. We do know that these mounded earthen structures were carefully constructed by carrying soil in woven buckets to each site. And the sites themselves are scattered from Wisconsin to Louisiana, but particularly in Ohio

The earthen mounds of Fort Ancient, which is located near Oregonia, Ohio, were built between 1 and 200 A.D. according to the handy posters located on the grounds of the state park. They were built and inhabited by the Adena culture until about 500-600 A.D. (if memory serves). At this point their culture seems to have faded away.

More is known about the Native American cultures that also revere the earthworks, but their exact relationship to the original builders is still clouded. A Native American village in the area dates from 1,000-1,200 A.D. and American Indian settlements in the area continued from then on until the well past the arrival of European explorers.

Field trip

Touring the grounds of Fort Ancient was instructive and illustrated to me the immense size of the earthworks complex. The mounded earthen hills themselves range in height from about 6-7 feet tall to 20+ feet or more.

What the area was used for is another one of those unsolved mysteries. Archeological digs are in progress to help understand more about the area and its purpose. It could have been important for a number of reasons. The digs hope to prove that as a spiritual center there is evidence of an astronomical connection to the location. It might have been a setting for social or religious rituals. Perhaps a burial site or even a settlement, or maybe all of these combined.

Other similar earthworks in the region appear to have served a variety of purposes, so it will depend on future research and archeology of the locations to confirm their actual uses. The Adena culture didn’t have a written language, unless evidence of such simply has not yet been found.

If you have a chance and are anywhere near Ohio come check out Fort Ancient. There is a museum on site and other educational activities. The grounds are accessible by automobile and there is also a walking trail, which gives you a closer look at the location.

For more information visit

Happy history travels!

– Amanda Stiver

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