Ohio Mounds: Newark Earthwork Complex

Newark Ohio Earthwork Complex
Map of the Newark Ohio Adena Hopewell Earthwork Complex



      The very extensive and complicated series of works here presented occur at the junction of the South and Raccoon forks of Licking river, one mile west of the town of Newark, Licking county, Ohio. Like those at Marietta, the works in question occupy a high fertile plain. This plain is here of great extent, and elevated from thirty to fifty feet above the alluvions bordering the streams: it is for the most part level, but in places broken and undulating.
      These works are so complicated, that it is impossible to give anything like a comprehensible description of them. The plan, with the illustrative supplementary plans and sections, will furnish a better conception, as a whole and in detail, than could be afforded in any other way. It will be the object of the text to supply such information as cannot be obtained from the plan.
      The group covers an extent of about two miles square, and consists, as will be observed, of three grand divisions, connected by parallels and works of a minor character. The walls of the parallels, and of the irregular portions of the works generally, as well as of the small circles, (of which there are a considerable number,) are very slight; for the most part not exceeding four feet in height. The embankments of the principal, or regular portions of the works, are much heavier. Those of the larger circular work, E, are about twelve feet in perpendicular height by fifty feet base, and have an interior ditch seven feet deep by thirty-five wide. At the gateway or entrance, the walls are much higher than at any other point, being not less than sixteen feet in altitude, with a ditch thirteen feet deep, giving an absolute height of about thirty feet from the bottom of the ditch to the top of the embankment. The wall of the lesser circle, F, is six feet in height, and is unaccompanied by a ditch. The walls of the octagonal, as well as of the square work, are but five and a half feet high, and are also destitute of ditches, either exterior or interior.
Gateway of the massive henge at Newark that is aligned to the May 1 sunrise.
      The circular structure E  is undoubtedly one of the best preserved and most imposing in the State. There are many enclosing larger areas, but none more clearly defined. At the entrance, which is towards the east, the ends of the walls curve outwards, for the distance of a hundred feet, leaving a passageway eighty feet wide, between the deep ditches on either hand. Here, covered with the gigantic trees of a primitive forest, the work presents a truly grand and impressive appearance; and, in entering the ancient avenue for the first time, the visitor does not fail to experience a sensation of awe, such as he might feel in passing the portals of an Egyptian temple, or in gazing upon the silent ruins of Petra of the desert. This work is not, as has been generally represented, a true circle; its form is that of an ellipse, its diameters being twelve hundred and fifty feet, and eleven hundred and fifty feet respectively. There are two or three slight irregularities in the outline, too trifling however to be indicated in the plan. The area of the enclosure is something over thirty acres. It is an almost perfect level, and is still covered with the original forest. Immediately in the centre of the area is a mound of singular shape, of which an enlarged plan, Fig. 12, is here given. It much resembles some of the "animal-shaped mounds" of Wisconsin, and was probably designed to represent a bird with expanded wings. It can hardly be called a mound, but is rather a group of four, so arranged and connected as to constitute an unbroken outline.
Bird effigy burial mound located in the center of the henge and aligned to the May 1st sunrise.  The bird representing "transition" from the winter to the spring.  


    Denominating the figure, for the sake of distinction, a bird, the dimensions are as follows: Length of body, one hundred and fifty-five feet; of each wing, one hundred and ten feet; between the tips of the wings, measuring in a right line, two hundred feet; width of body, sixty-three feet; of wings, in centre, forty-five feet; of same, next the body, forty feet; height of mounds composing the body, seven feet; of mounds composing the wings, five feet. The head of the bird points directly towards the entrance of the enclosure. The bearing of the body is S. 65° E. Immediately in the rear of the effigy, and one hundred feet distant, is a semi-circular embankment, about two hundred feet in length; it is but slightly elevated, and can hardly be traced; it is nevertheless exhibited in the plan The long mound constituting the body of the bird, has been opened. Upon examining the excavation, it was found that the structure had originally contained an altar: whether any relics were found upon it, is unknown. This feature, in conjunction with others, seems to point out a religious or superstitious design to this individual structure, if not to the whole group of works with which it is connected.







      Passing over the intermediate intricate works, of which it would be futile to attempt a description, we come to the octagon and its dependencies. The angles of this octagon, it will be observed, are not coincident, although its sides are very nearly equal. At each of the angles is a gateway, which is covered upon the interior by a small, truncated pyramidal elevation, (Fig. 14,) five feet in height, and measuring eighty by one hundred feet at the base. These are placed about sixty feet interior to the walls. The area of this work, which is a rich and beautiful level, is something over fifty acres. 
One segment of the octagon wall with the interior mound with the interior mound visible to the left.


     Connected with the octagon by parallels three hundred feet long, and placed sixty feet apart, is the smaller circle F. Unlike the other circular work, this is a true circle, two thousand eight hundred and eighty feet, or upwards of half a mile in circumference. It encloses no mounds, but possesses a remarkable feature in the line of the wall, at a point immediately opposite the entrance. This consists of a crown work, (Fig. 15,) which is wholly unlike anything heretofore noticed. It would almost seem that the builders had originally determined to carry out parallel lines from this point; but after proceeding one hundred feet, had suddenly changed their minds and finished the enclosure, by throwing an immense mound across the uncompleted parts. This mound, which may be taken as constituting a part of the wall of the enclosure, is one hundred and seventy feet long, eight feet higher than the general line of the embankment, and overlooks the entire work. It has been called the "Observatory," from this fact: it probably had some other purpose than that of a look-out, but what purpose, it is not undertaken to say. It has been pretty thoroughly excavated, but the excavations seem to have disclosed nothing, except an abundance of rough stones, which must have been brought from the creek or some other remote locality, as none are scattered over the remarkable plain upon which these works are situated.
The circle at Newark that is attached to the octagon with what is called the "Observatory" mound.




    From the octagon lead off three lines of parallel walls: those extending towards the south have been traced for nearly two miles, and finally lose themselves in the plain; the remaining parallels terminate as shown in the plan. They are upwards of a mile in length. The walls composing these singular lines are placed, about two hundred feet apart, and are parallel throughout. A singular feature occurs in the northern one, which is exhibited by the transverse section g h. For the space of a quarter of a mile, advantage is taken of a slight natural ridge to construct between the walls a broad embankment, something higher than the parallels themselves. 
One small segment of one of the parallel walls is all that remains of this sacred via that has been conjectures to have run all the way to Chillicothe, 60 miles distant.


      It is broad enough to permit fifty persons to walk abreast. A similar peculiarity is observed in the short parallel leading from the square enclosure towards the great circle E, and is exhibited by the section i l. A feature somewhat analogous occurs within the parallels extending from the irregular works on the extreme right of the plan. This parallel is carried down the bank of the third terrace, which is here fifteen or twenty feet high. Within the lines, the bank is cut down, and regularly graded to an easy ascent. The pathway or road, for a portion of its extent upon the alluvions, is elevated above the walls, as shown in longitudinal section m n. A similar grade is constructed at the extremity of the northern parallel, where the natural bank is much higher than at any other point. Here the bank is excavated inwardly, for upwards of one hundred and fifty feet; and a portion of the earth is appropriated to form an elevated way over the low swampy ground immediately at the foot of the terrace. These excavations constitute quite imposing features, when viewed on the spot, but are hardly distinguishable upon the plan.
One of the parallel walls can seen outside of the large henge running towards the square enclosure.


    A number of small circles are found connected with the works, and are chiefly embraced in the area between the two principal parallels. They are about eighty feet in diameter, without gateways opening into them; and it has been suggested that they probably mark the sites of ancient circular dwellings. The circles indicated by the letter G are of much larger dimensions, and are characterized by ditches interior to their walls. They each have a diameter of about two hundred feet, and have elevated embankments constructed interior to the ditch, as seen in the plan. This peculiarity has been already remarked, in some of the works of the Scioto valley.
A small circle with a serpentine gateway is situated outside of the octagon.

      Upon the lower terraces, towards the point of junction between the South and Raccoon forks, a great number of mounds of various sizes are situated. Some are large, but for the most part they are small. A small truncated pyramid once existed here, but the construction of the Ohio canal, and the subsequent establishment of the village of Lockport at this point, have obliterated this as well as numerous other mounds. Indeed, these causes have resulted in the almost total destruction of the singular maze of embankments, which communicates directly with the square enclosure. The ancient lines can now be traced only at intervals, among gardens and outhouses. At the period when the original survey, upon which this plan is constructed, was made, which is twelve years ago, the lines could all be made out. A few years hence, the residents upon the spot will be compelled to resort to this map, to ascertain the character of the works which occupied the very ground upon which they stand.
     Within the area partially enclosed by this series of works, was formerly a large natural pond, covering upwards of one hundred acres. It has been drained, so that the greater portion is under cultivation. Previous to the earthquake of 1811, which resulted in the destruction of New Madrid on the Mississippi, it is said but little water was contained in the basin; after that event it rose to the depth of ten feet, and retained that level until the drainage took place. It has been suggested that it owed its origin to artificial excavation; but it is incontestibly natural, like several other smaller depressions in the vicinity, which still contain water. Excavations, denominated "wells," from which the materials for the construction of the wall were taken, are abundant in the neighborhood of these works.
      Several extraordinary coincidences are exhibited between the details of these works and some of those already described. The smaller circle F is nearly identical in size with that belonging to the "Hopeton Works," and with the one attached to the octagon, in the "High Bank" group. The works last named are situated upon the Scioto, seventy miles distant. The square has also the same area with the rectangle belonging to the Hopeton, and with the octagon attached to the High Bank Works. The octagon, too, has the same area with the large, irregular square at Marietta. 
Two of the walls of the square work aat Newark, Ohio are still visible


     The small circles G, G, G, betray a coincidence with those in connection with the works above mentioned, which ought not to be overlooked. It is not to be supposed that these numerous coincidences are the result of accident.
       It would be unprofitable to indulge in speculations as to the probable origin and purposes of this group of works. That it could not have been designed for defence, seems too obvious to admit of doubt.  The reasons urged against the hypothesis of a defensive origin in the Marietta works apply with double force here. The structure which, from the height and solidity of its walls, would seem best adapted for defence, has its ditch interior to the embankment,—a blunder which no people possessing the skill and judgment displayed in the defensive works of the mound-builders, would be apt to commit.
      Hill works, incontestibly of a defensive origin, occur within four or five miles of this group, the relative positions of which are indicated by the "Map of six miles of the Newark Valley." About four miles distant, and overlooking those works, is placed, upon the summit of a high hill, a gigantic effigy of some animal, probably the alligator. Of this remarkable structure a plan is presented on a subsequent page. Around these works, in the valley and crowning the hills bordering it, are numerous mounds, all of which, as compared with those of the Scioto, are singularly broad and flat. Many of them have been opened, but no account has been preserved of their character. So far as could be ascertained from diligent inquiry, they do not essentially differ in their contents from those found elsewhere in the State. Fifteen or twenty miles to the northward of these works, are others of an interesting character, which have never been investigated, and of which no public notice has yet been taken.