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Fort Ancient Site Reveals Cultural Clues

A small group of college students from three Ohio universities is preparing to put away their shovels and sifting screens at Ft. Ancient in southwest Ohio. The group is part of a first-of-its-kind field study to explore a part of the site that gained attention last summer. Archaeologists using remote-sensing equipment found evidence of a two-thousand-year-old mystery .

"Whatever it is, we seem to be right in the heart of it." Says Wright State University Professor of Anthropology Bob Reardon. He's excited by what he and his students have uncovered during the past six weeks. Ohio Historical Society Specialist William Pickard draws an analogy to Stonehenge in England "What we've uncovered seem to be posts sort of like a woodhenge that encircled this area." Says Pickard.

This newly-uncovered circular site may well be the heart of Ft. Ancient, the largest prehistoric American Indian hilltop enclosure in North America. Site manager Jack Blosser says the Moundbuilders chose this site 245 feet above the Little Miami River to construct more than 18,000 feet of earth walls "They used shoulder bones of deer and elks antler digging sticks baskets hold 35-40 pounds of soil."

It took the Hopewell 400 years to build the site - from 100BC to AD 290. Archaeologists have had more than a century to piece together the story of the mounds. Ft. Ancient is the oldest of the Ohio Historical Society's parks - it's been protected since 1891. But this 200-foot circle. That's news.

Linda Pansing is with the Ohio Historical Society. Pansing says maps of last 100 years didn't show anything but a mound in the back. What map makers of the past century missed was discovered only last summer when remote imaging equipment detected a large circular structure with a burn area in the center. "We have a series of pits into which posts were stuck placed a meter deep in the ground and then posts were set upright we think they might have stood 14 to 15 feet high, Speculative as they were set up had stones piled behind them stones in the order of couple hundred pounds. Extrapolate to size of circle 200' diameter probably about 300 such pits & posts and collections of stones." Says Reardon.

Professor Reardon adds the students have uncovered a burn area in the center of the circle, just several inches below the ground's surface. "We think soil was burned somewhere else, and was brought in here piled in we don't know for what reason. We do know there is a series of posts that surround it so we think this was inside a little structure hut like arrangement perhaps. We honestly don't know what we're looking at at this point." Says Reardon.

Reardon says this is clearly a ritual center perhaps the physical heart of a culture .

Katie Rippl just graduated from Wright State University with a bachelors degree in Art for anthropology. She's supervising William Laib who's down in a trench, lifting up rocks

On a roughly four-foot-high mound of newly dug earth, another group of students huddles around a sifting screen. "I'm sifting, looking for mica and pottery at the moment." Says Kathleen Landers.

Wright State senior Phyllis Rigney explains that the dirt falls through the screen, and the artifacts sit on top. Also sifting are Wright State adjunct faculty member Angela Travis And WSU anthropology major Christina Davis.

The sifting, digging and lifting end this week. Students take a final exam on their 12-credit field school in archaeology and prepare to return to classes. Site manager Jack Blosser hopes there will be more field research in the future. He estimates the circle will require a minimum of ten years of excavation field work. Linda Pansing of the Ohio Historical Society is pensive as she anticipates an end to this year's work "You have to wait another year until you can read another chapter of the book." Says Lansing.

Many of the students plan to pursue advanced degrees in archaeology-related fields. Some of them look forward to future field work. Katie Rippl thinks she can fall back on what she's learned during field work if her dream job doesn't work out. "I dig really good ditches. So if it doesn't work out to be an archaeologist, I can always dig pools." Says Rippl. Christina Morgan WOSU NEWS