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Fort Ancient: New Discoveries You Are Here
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New Discoveries at Fort Ancient

New Archaeological Discovery at Fort Ancient

In 2005, the Ohio Historical Society received a grant from the National Park Service as part of the "Save America's Treasures" program to help preserve the Fort Ancient Earthworks, a monumental earthen enclosure that extends for 3 ½ miles around the top of a bluff along the Little Miami River in Warren County. Society archaeologists identified several locations at Fort Ancient where erosion was damaging the earthworks and selected four of these as high priority candidates for repair and limited restoration. Archaeological investigations at these locations have focused on documenting the archaeological resources present so the engineers can implement their repairs without unknowingly damaging important traces of the ancient American Indian occupation of the site. The Society contracted with Dr. Jarrod Burks, an expert on remote sensing technologies with Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants of Worthington, to work with Society archaeology staff to conduct a non-intrusive, remote sensing survey of the four areas.

In one of these areas, remote sensing has revealed a previously unknown circular structure nearly 200 feet in diameter. Additional investigation will be required to identify it positively, but it might be the remains of an earthwork, such as the small circular enclosure preserved at the Octagon Earthworks in Newark, or it might be the remains of a ditch dug to hold a series of large posts, such as the giant "woodhenge" discovered at the nearby Stubbs Earthworks by Dr. Frank Cowan. It is the first major architectural feature discovered at the Fort Ancient Earthworks since the site was first explored and mapped in the 19th century, and it has the potential to add considerably to our understanding of how ancient Ohioans used this important site.

In addition to the large circle, the remote sensing also revealed evidence of possible houses, pits and other evidence of prehistoric activities in this area. The discovery of this remarkable constellation of structures and features, which are not evident to the unaided eye, highlights the importance of this preservation initiative. Further investigations at Fort Ancient using this remote sensing technology, as well as similar efforts at other OHS sites, might yield equally valuable discoveries, contributing to our knowledge of Ohio's ancient people and providing valuable aid in site management planning.

The remote sensing techniques that Dr. Burks utilized in the OHS investigation of the localities at Fort Ancient include both magnetometry and soil resistivity. Magnetometry measures small changes in the strength of the magnetic field across a site. Magnetic anomalies, which reflect changes in the magnetic properties of the soil and objects buried in the soil, can indicate the presence of buried walls or features such as hearths. Soil resistivity measures variations in the electrical resistance of soils. Changes in electrical resistance can be due to changes in soil moisture content or the structure and density of the sediment or materials buried beneath the surface. Electrical resistance anomalies can indicate the presence of buried pits, walls, or other features.

What’s Next Concerning Archaeology at Fort Ancient?

Archaeologists from the Society will be at Fort Ancient this spring and summer to observe the work of the contractors who are repairing damaged areas of the earthworks. Later in the summer, archaeology faculty and students from Wright State University will investigate the newly discovered enclosure.

Historical survey of Fort Ancient by John Locke with red outline of feature discovered at Fort Ancient
The circle is indicated in red in this map of Fort Ancient surveyed by John Locke and published by E. Squier and E. Davis in the Smithsonian Institution, Contributions to Knowledge, Volume 1, 1848.

electrical resistance survey image of new circular feature discovered at Fort Ancient, Courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants
The discoveries were made using remote sensing technology. This image, courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants, shows electrical resistance results of the 2005 survey.

magnetic gradient survey image of new circular feature discovered at Fort Ancient, Courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants
This image shows magnetic gradient results of the 2005 survey.

magnetic gradient survey image of new circular feature discovered at Fort Ancient, Courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants
This map interprets the electrical resistance and magnetic gradient results of the 2005 survey.

magnetic gradient survey image of new circular feature discovered at Fort Ancient, Courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants
The photograph below, taken by Ohio Historical Society archaeologist Linda Pansing, shows the location of the circle as visitors facing east would see it.

magnetic gradient survey image of new circular feature discovered at Fort Ancient, Courtesy of Ohio Valley Archaeological Consultants
What did the Fort Ancient Earthworks look like during the period it was made and used? Perhaps we will never know for certain, but John Hancock and the Center for Electronic Reconstruction of Historic and Archaeological Sites at the University of Cincinnati have created a computerized reconstruction of the site as it may have appeared 1,900 years ago. This image of the site from south to north is based on a careful study of maps and information provided by decades of archaeological research by numerous investigators.

The people of Ohio and the nation recognized the significance of Fort Ancient many years ago. In 1891, Fort Ancient became the first site in the Ohio Historical Society network of historic sites and museums. In 1966, Fort Ancient was named a National Historic Landmark. Click here to plan your visit to this fascinating site.


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