I believe the Newark Earthworks were a place of pilgrimage. Many Native Americans, archaeologists and historians of religion have said so.
The Newark Earthworks were not primarily residential. Cahokia, a mound complex on the Mississippi River, was once a city of more than 20,000, but the remains here show only scattered hamlets.
Further, the Octagon and the Great Circle were not burial mounds. Earthen walls once defined an ellipse, which was used for burials. Dozens of skeletons were removed from that area more than a century ago.
Hence the mystery. This is the largest complex of geometric earthworks in the world. The geometry is astounding, and the Octagon aligns with the 18.6-year lunar cycle. But what was it?
The United States Department of Interior says it was a ceremonial center. In nominating the Newark Earthworks together with earthworks in Chillicothe and at Fort Ancient for the UNESCO World Heritage list, our government calls these sites "Hopewell Ceremonial Centers."
Evidence suggests that people came here from great distances following a chain of rivers: the Licking, the Muskingum, the Ohio and the Mississippi. Early maps suggests that they walked from the river into the earthworks following roadways that were defined by parallel earthen walls.
One set of parallel walls extended southwest from the Octagon for several miles, crossing Ramp Creek and continuing in toward Chillicothe. Archaeologist Bradley Lepper has called this "the Great Hopewell Road" and argued that it connected ceremonial centers here and there.
A whole series of huge geometric earthworks, including the only other octagon-connected- to-a-circle ever built, were located near what is today Chillicothe. The axis of the octagons here and there differs by 90 degrees. The shape of the two octagons here and there is a very different. Why? The only octagon that aligns with the moon from that place on the globe is the one they built. The only octagon that aligns with the moon from Newark is the one they built here.
Native Americans, archaeologists and historians of religions tell us that ancient people came to Newark from great distances. They came here for ceremony. They probably came to Ohio by following rivers. They built earthworks in Chillicothe and in Newark, and it is very likely that they walked back and forth between them.
This fall, a group of pilgrims will walk from Chillicothe to Newark, following the path of the Great Hopewell Road as much as possible. They will walk nearly 70 miles over seven days, camping each night and hosting public programs around campfires. The walk will begin with a ceremony within the earthworks at Chillicothe on Oct. 10 and conclude with a ceremony within the Octagon at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 16.
Join us for the entire pilgrimage or for an afternoon, a mile or an evening campfire. Consider donating so that someone else can walk. The cost will be $20 per day or $140 for the week.
How better to connect with the ancient people who shaped the landscape where we live? We will walk where they walked and celebrate where they celebrated.
The Walk with the Ancients is an outreach of the Newark Earthworks Center at The Ohio State University at Newark. For more information see www.newark.osu. edu and follow the link to "Newark Earthworks Day;" e-mail earthworks@osu. edu; or call (740) 364-9584.
Richard Shiels is an associate professor of history and the director of the Newark Earthworks Center at the Newark campus of Ohio State University and Central Ohio Technical College.