By David Bear, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
|Richard Pirko photo
This aerial shot of Moundbuilders Country Club in Newark, Ohio, above, reveals the ancient Octagon and Circle, earthen embankments built by Hopewell Indians nearly 2,000 years ago.
Click photo for larger image.
NEWARK, Ohio -- On first glance, the circular earthen embankment abutting state Route 79 between a shopping mall and car dealerships isn't particularly awesome.
But consider this: It was created nearly 2,000 years ago, making it among the oldest man-made structures in North America.
But built how, why and by whom? Those are the mysteries of this sprawling grass- and tree-covered mound and others in this bustling central Ohio town.
The massive stone Mayan and Aztec edifices of Mexico and Central America offer irrefutable evidence of the advanced civilizations that existed there long before the Europeans arrived. But these remnants of even older architectural accomplishments lie within a three-hour drive from Pittsburgh.
These mounds have mystified people since Isaac Stadden stumbled on them in October 1800. The early pioneer was hunting deer in the woodlands south of Raccoon Creek, a tributary of the Licking River, when he happened upon this high embankment. Returning the next day with his wife, Stadden explored what turned out to be a perfect circle 1,200 feet in diameter with level-topped walls that ranged between 8 feet and 14 feet high, depending on the outside terrain. A deep ditch ran around the inside walls, enclosing a leveled area of 26 acres, with three small mounds in the center.
Subsequent explorations revealed at least four other major structures spread across four square miles: another circle nearly as large joining an octagon with walls 610 feet long; a square enclosure 930 feet on a side and an even larger oval. Broad avenues defined by low, parallel embankments ran between openings in the geometric structures.
Neither the Staddens nor any of those who came later to marvel at the discoveries could more than guess about who had built them or for what purpose. Even the Native Americans living there could offer no answers.
Apart from small burial mounds inside the oval structure, there were few tangible artifacts to provide clues. Someone had moved more than 7 million cubic feet of dirt with extraordinary dedication and piled it with precision into complicated and exacting shapes.