Sacred Geography: Ceremonial Complexes

Ceremonial complexes range in size from a single earthwork to vast expanses covering many acres and encompassing hundreds of earthworks.  Most centers include a large central earthwork (sacred circle), either an enclosure or embankment, accompanied by smaller enclosures, embankments or burials.  Ceremonies and rituals revolved around celestial bodies and cycles of nature as well as mortuary cults.  A few enclosures resemble the complex at Mounds State Park discussed in an earlier post Sacred Geography.

Mount Horeb, Lexington, Kentucky

Mount Horeb, KentuckyThe Mount Horeb Earthworks are located five miles north of Lexington, Kentucky.  The complex consists of two circles, two burial mounds and two enclosures, all of Adena origin.  The larger enclosure is located in University of Kentucky’s Adena Park; the others are on private property.  The large earthwork is similar to the Great Mound at Anderson, with a diameter of about 160 feet.  There was little evidence of settlement, suggesting this was for special purposes only.

Newark Earthworks, Newark, Ohio

The Newark site covers over two square miles and once included numerous burial mounds, enclosures and embankments. The site was used between 200 BC and 500 AD and the actual purpose for many of the earthworks is uncertain.  At one time Licking County Ohio had over 500 earthworks but development resulted in the destruction or damage of all but a few earthworks including the Octagon Earthworks, the Wright Earthworks and the Great Circle.

  • Octagon Mound, Newark OhioOctagon Earthworks. The Octagon earthworks were once the National Guard training ground, beginning in 1892 until 1908.  Today Mound Builders State Memorial is owned by the Ohio Historical Society and leased by the Mound Builders Country Club continuing its use as a place of leisure for the elite.  The golf course is completely enclosed within the earthen walls, which encompass 20 acres within the circle and 50 acres within the octagon.  The Octagon Earthwork consists of eight walls and at each opening are truncated oval mounds, which align with the eight phases of the moon.  At the north end of Observation circle, the Observation Mound which aligns with the northern most rise of the moon at the latitude of Newark.
  • The Great Circle, Newark OhioThe Great Circle. The Great Circle, part of the Mound Builders State Park, and has the first museum dedicated exclusively to the art of prehistoric Native Americans.  The Great Circle was used as the Licking County Fair Grounds From 1854 to 1933 and for several decades later served as a center for recreation as the State Fairground, an amusement park and a horseracing venue.  The Great Circle is similar to the Great Mound at Anderson, but much larger.  The embankment wall varies from five to 14 feet in height, the ditch varies from eight to 14 feet deep and it has a diameter of nearly 1200 feet, a circumference of nearly a mile.  The gateway is 100 feet long by 80 feet wide and the central platform is the width of four football fields encompassing 30 acres.  The Great Circle is one of very few Ohio sites that have not needed extensive reconstruction.

When I first visited this site I spent 20 minutes walking around a wall trying to find this circle mound then I found an entrance. I was searching for a mound similar to through Great Mound in Anderson and found something larger than I could have imagined. As I walked through the 30 foot long entrance with a width of a four lane highway I couldn’t see the opposite side of the mound.

Seip Mound, Bainbridge, Ohio

Seip Mound, OhioThe Seip Mound is owned by the Ohio Historical Society and only a portion of the site exists.  The Earthworks once contained 121 acres within a 10,000-foot long embankment consisting of a circle and square joined by an earthwork with elements of both a circle and rectangle.  The walls were once up to ten feet by 50 feet, today it is only three to four feet.  This mound included 122 interments of both burials and cremations with grave goods from the Carolinas, Lake Superior and the Tennessee River Valley.  The site is believed to have been occupied from 100 AD to 500 AD with settlements ranging from 20 to 200 inhabitants.


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