What to know about the site:
Fort Ancient includes 18,000 feet of earthen walls within a hundred acre complex. The Hopewell culture (100 B.C. – A.D. 500) built the earthwork using the shoulder blades of deer, split elk antler, clam shell hoes and digging sticks to dig the dirt. They then carried the soil in baskets holding 35 to 40 pounds. Archeologists estimate that Fort Ancient is composed of approximately 553,000 cubic yards of soil and that it took approximately 400 years to complete the structure.
The name, Fort Ancient, is a source of some confusion. First, despite its name, Fort Ancient was constructed by the Hopewell culture nearly 2,000 years ago. People of the much later Fort Ancient culture (A.D.1000 - A.D.1650) built a village and cemetery within the structure, which prompted some of the first archeologists to attribute the earthwork to the Fort Ancient culture.
The site’s name is also confusing because Fort Ancient was likely never used as a defensive fortress as early archeologists first hypothesized. Ditches were constructed inside the walls rather than outside as might be expected in a fortification. In addition, there are more than 60 gateways in the walls, making it difficult to defend the site against enemies. Now archeologists believe Fort Ancient was used as a major ceremonial complex where hundreds of people gathered at specific times of year. “One of the most interesting archaeological components is the evidence of archaeoastronomy,” says Jack K. Blosser, Site Manager at Fort Ancient. Blosser explains: There are four small circular, stone faced mounds approximately 512 feet apart that form a nearly perfect square. By watching the sun and the moon rises that occurred within the “U” shaped games within the walls, the Hopewell people had the ability to have ceremonial and social observances at specific times of the year. It seems that the sun was used for annual events while the moon was used in conjunction with a decadal event.
At Fort Ancient, you can learn about this important earthwork and the people who built it through the site’s museum, prehistoric gardens, and 2.5 miles of hiking and interpretive trails. Convenient picnic areas can be found along the road at the site.
The Museum at Fort Ancient contains 9000 sq. ft. of exhibits, including many interactive units, focusing on 15,000 years of American Indian history in the Ohio Valley. The Museum also contains a classroom, a hands-on area, a reconstructed prehistoric garden and dwelling, and a gift shop with many fine American Indian items.