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Built By Ancient People

Almost 2,000 years ago, a group of people known as the Hopewell culture built amazing structures out of earth.
Side by side aerial images of two raised earth borders, one in geometric shapes and the other in an irregular shape.
National Park Service/John Hancock
These images show the shapes of two of the earthworks built by the Hopewell people.

Almost 2,000 years ago, American Indians in what is now Ohio built structures out of earth that experts call the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks. In September 2023, the earthworks were named a UNESCO World Heritage site.

UNESCO stands for the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization. It’s made up of representatives from more than 190 countries. UNESCO World Heritage sites are recognized for their historical, cultural, or scientific importance. 

The earthworks, which are in eight locations around southern Ohio, were built by a group of people known as the Hopewell culture. These people came from different American Indian groups but shared similar religious beliefs. As part of their shared culture, they carefully planned, measured, and designed the earthworks. In some locations, they built earth walls in the shape of circles, squares, octagons, and straight lines. In others, they built enclosures, or walls that surround a piece of land. Many of the enclosures contain human-made ponds. 

The earthworks aren’t just beautiful to look at. They show that the Hopewell people had some understanding of astronomy, the science that has to do with objects in space. Many of the earthworks line up with the locations of the Sun and the Moon over the horizon.

A raised earth border in a geometric shape and aligned with a full moon.
National Park Service/John Hancock
Many of the earthworks line up with the locations of the Sun and the Moon over the horizon.

Experts say the earthworks had many uses. Feasts, dances, funerals, and religious gatherings all took place at the earthworks. The Hopewell people left behind beautiful works of art, such as sculpture and pottery, which they made from copper, silver, minerals, and even shark teeth. Some of these materials were gathered many miles away, which means Hopewell people traveled far and wide to come to the earthworks.

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are part of American Indian history and culture. Now that the earthworks are a World Heritage site, they will receive special protection.

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Fun Fact

There are more than 1,100 UNESCO World Heritage sites so far, and UNESCO adds new ones every year.

A flashing GIF shows different World Heritage sites.
Adobe: ChristianHerzog, R.M. Nunes; Dreamstime: Tatiana Kashko, Rpianoshow, Kobby Dagan, Ongchangwei, Louis Michel Desert, Znm, Wangkun Jia, Beat Germann; Getty: Nick Brundle Photography—Moment, hadynyah—E+, Westend61; Lazare Eloundou Assomo/© UNESCO

Extra-Special Places!

What makes a place worthy of becoming a World Heritage site? Check out a few of these sites to find out why they’re worth protecting. 

Acropolis (Greece) 

It’s hard to believe this building is 2,500 years old! It’s called the Parthenon, and it’s one of a group of white marble buildings that were constructed in the ancient Greek city of Athens. The ancient Greeks built the Parthenon as a temple for the goddess Athena.

An ancient building with columns stands against a sunset backdrop.
© TTstudio/stock.adobe.com

Galápagos Islands (Ecuador)

Where can you find the Galápagos giant tortoise? (We might have just given it away.) This animal and many more are found only on the Galápagos Islands! The islands are located in the Pacific Ocean, about 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) from Ecuador, in South America.

A tortoise seen head on and close up
© Volanthevist—Moment/Getty Images

Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

The Great Barrier Reef isn’t just an important home to animals. It’s made up of coral, which is also an animal! This is the world’s largest system of coral, stretching for more than 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) along the eastern coast of Australia. More than 1,600 species of fish and many other marine species rely on the reef.

A colorful underwater coral reef.
© Lea McQuillan—500px/Getty Images

Taj Mahal (India)

The Taj Mahal is more than a building. Many people think of it as a work of art. It was built between 1632 and 1648 by Indian ruler Shah Jahān in memory of his wife. Shah Jahān was a ruler of the Mughal Empire, which controlled most of northern India from 1526 to 1761.

A decorative white building behind a water feature
© Elanatur/Dreamstime.com

Who Made These?

Side by side images of eight arrowheads on display and a reproduction of a domed building.
© Praveen Indramohan/Dreamstime.com

The Hopewell people built amazing earthworks. They also made arrowheads and lived in dome-shaped buildings called wigwams.

You can learn more about the Hopewell people and their culture at Britannica!

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Word of the Day

preserve

Part of speech:
verb
Definition:
: to keep (something) safe from harm or loss
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