July 15, 2022
Why do I feel so compelled to visit and learn more about the ancient earth mounds and earthworks of our country?
I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a history buff. I’m not really interested in learning about our presidents and all the wars we’ve had on the planet. (And, let’s face it; that’s what our history classes were mostly about–patriarchy, conquering, killing…. Blech! I’m so over it!) But human achievements? Beautiful or meaningful things we’ve created or invented or initiated? Yes! Let’s talk about that!
Well, the various earthworks on this planet intrigue me: Avebury and Stonehenge and all the hundreds of smaller stone circles throughout the UK, the Great Enclosure of Zimbabwe, and the Earthworks at Newark, Ohio; the pyramids of Egypt and Meso-America and the Cahokia pyramid mounds in Illinois, USA; the Cerne Abbas Giant and the great chalk Horse of England, the beautiful Serpent Mound in Ohio, and the truly impressive Hummingbird geoglyph of Peru. These are worthy of our attention, our respect, and our admiration. These are artwork and engineering on a massive scale.
So to answer the question of why I believe it’s important to know about these creations…. I think there has been a tendency, whether it’s conscious or unconscious, to categorize indigenous people and other people of antiquity as being uncivilized or unsophisticated. When our history classes focus mostly on white American and European history, a belief ends up being cultivated that “WEA” (white Europeans and Americans) are better than the rest of the world. No matter that there is ample evidence of great knowledge and mastery among the ancient people of Africa, Persia, the Himalayas, and the Maya and Chinese civilizations, to name but a few. These unconscious beliefs of white supremacy begin in our schools and carry over into the sad legacy of racism that is so present today.
Let me give an example of how complex some of the Earthworks of this country are. There are several examples of earthworks in central Ohio, five of them include a great circle, a square, and a small circle. Although the layout differs slightly from site to site, the measurements of these three shapes are identical! The great circles have an area the size of 40 acres. The squares all have an area of 27 acres. And the small circles are all 11 acres.
Try to imagine any one of us figuring out how to mark a 40-acre circle on the ground, without modern surveying tools or measuring tapes. And then remember that it is quite likely the landscape at the time of the creation of these earthen embankments was forested! Then realize that somehow a workforce would have to be assembled, and then, without the help of any backhoes, or even modern-day shovels, rocks and dirt would have to be removed from somewhere and carried to wherever the new construction was to be. Archaeologists believe the people carried the earth in woven baskets. In order to build all the walls in the complex at Newark Earthworks, it is estimated they would have had to have moved 7 million cubic feet of earth! https://www.ancientohiotrail.org/sites/newark Can you imagine how long it would have taken to do that?
On top of all the above logistics, many earthworks have solar, lunar, or astronomical alignments. That means these great ancient earthworks required knowledge of the skies–acquired over a period of many years, mathematical genius, engineering abilities, geological knowledge, leaders capable of directing the work, a huge workforce, and probably many years, even decades, to actually build the works.
Clearly, these monuments were not created by unsophisticated people. That means our country has been underestimating the First People of our continent for a very, very long time. It’s time we set the record straight. The ancestors of today’s Native Americans were geniuses and these ancient sites are testimonies to that genius.
Now let’s preserve these structures and start to teach about them in our schools, okay?