Fort Ancient Hopewell Native American Earth Works

On the National Register of Historic Places

Oregonia, Ohio — Warren County

Fort Ancient is one of the most beautiful spots in Ohio. It is a must see in the Fall when the leaves are changing!! The earthen walls built by Hopewell Native Americans 2000 years ago overlook the scenic Little Miami River. Fort Ancient was probably not built as a “fort” for defense. Consequently, the name is an anachronism. Modern archeological evidence suggests that “Fort” Ancient was a ceremonial gathering place for the Hopewell Indians. The site was used as an astronomical clock by its builders which lends support to the theory of the site’s original religious purpose. Certain mounds mark the sunrises of the summer and winter solstices and gaps within the earthen walls mark the minimum and maximum northern moon rises. There is also evidence of a sacred/ceremonial road leading into the “fort” from the east. Unfortunately most of the evidence of that road has been destroyed by farming. Recently archeological evidence has been unearthed indicating human habitation within the “fort” area which might alter the ceremonial theory of Fort Ancient’s original purpose. As with all pre-historic sites, there are no written records dating from the time of the original builders and all evidence is painstakingly unearthed and collected over a period of years. Consequently, theories and time tables must be revised periodically as new evidence is discovered. New evidence also contributes to our realization of the complexity and richness of the Hopewell culture.

When European settlers first entered the Ohio River Valley and the valleys of the Great and Little Miami Rivers, they discovered literally thousands of earthen mounds and what appeared to them to be earthen fortifications. As the settlers cleared the land, a land which was thick with dense forests, they also would plough under the earthen mounds if feasible to facilitate farming. It is sad and tragic to contemplate just how many of the Adena and Hopewell earthen structures and mounds have been lost to history. The early settlers, due to ignorance and prejudice, could not believe that the Native Americans or their earlier ancestors could have been capable of such engineering feats. Consequently, the belief arose in a pre-historic non-Indian culture that must have created these earthen structures. One popular but far-fetched theory was that the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel eventually found their way to the North and South American continents and created the great Inca and Aztec cultures as well as the Mound Builders’ culture in the North.

We know today that the historical Native Americans of the region are the direct descendents of the Adena and Hopewell cultures. In the Museum at Fort Ancient a visitor can learn about the three periods of Native American history in Ohio:

  • Prehistoric Indian Groups beginning ca. 13,000 B.C.
  • Development of Agriculture ca. 800 B.C.
  • Adena Culture– Ca. 800 B.C.- 100 A.D. Built conical mounds and effigy mounds but no earth work complexes.
  • Hopewell Culture–800 B.C.-400 A.D. Earth works.
  • Late Woodland Indians–Did not continue building earth works. Ca. 1200 A.D., groups of “Fort Ancient” Indians lived in the “South Fort” and in the
  • valley of the Little Miami. For years, archeologists believed that these Native Americans built Fort Ancient and so they were incorrectly named the
  • Fort Ancient Indians (900 A.D. to 1500 A.D.). One of their villages, Anderson Village, is located on the east side of the Little Miami in the shadow of
  • Fort Ancient. Another “Fort Ancient” Indian site is located on the west bank of the Great Miami River south of Dayton, Ohio, SunWatch Village. At
  • SunWatch, visitors can experience a re-constructed Fort Ancient Indian Village dating 300 years before European contact and learn more about their culture in the SunWatch museum.
  • Early European contact on American Indian life–ca. 1650 A.D. The history of the historical tribes in Ohio is fully told in the Fort Ancient museum.

There are many hiking and interpretative trails at Fort Ancient as well as the Little Miami Scenic Trail in the valley. There are picnic facilities and bath- rooms. When hiking please help to preserve this ancient site. It is forbidden to walk off the established trails or walk on any mound or earthwork. This is an archeological site. It is forbidden to remove any natural or archeological artifact.

Fort Ancient hosts a Woodland Gathering celebration of the Woodland Indian culture with storytelling, dancing, games, etc. in late August.