You are standing inside a hilltop earthworks built by the Hopewell Indians nearly 2000 years ago. Early settlers in this area thought these walls were constructed for defensive purposes, hence the name Fort Ancient. Today, archaeologists believe that this site was used primarily as a religious and social center. The evidence for this idea includes the 70 openings or gateways in the 3 1/2 miles of earthen walls. The presence of mounds, parallel earth walls, and stone pavements at Fort Ancient also suggests that it was not a defensive site.
The Hopewell Indians occupied the major river valleys of southern Ohio, where they constructed other hilltop enclosures, geometrically shaped earthworks, and mounds. Archaeologists debate whether the Hopewell lived year-round at their earthworks, or only visited them for special occasions. Purposes for such special visits may have included additional construction on the earthworks, trading with distant communities, and participation in religious observances.
For reasons still unclear, the Hopewell culture disappeared after A.D.500-600. Late Woodland Indians, likely the descendents of the Hopewell, continued to occupy southern Ohio. The second major group associated with this site, known as the Fort Ancient Indians, settled here around A.D.1200. These people lived in villages which were supported by growing corn, beans, and squash in addition to hunting, fishing, and collecting wild plant foods. One of their communities, today known as Anderson Village, was located along the Little Miami River, while another village was established within the South Fort portion of the enclosure. Fort Ancient people were able to occupy one village for 10 to 15 years before the soil was depleted.
Archaeological techniques have improved with time, and each new dig reveals new data and theories. Recent work focuses on the sequence in which the Hopewell built the three major parts of the enclosure, and the possibility that some of the walls and mounds function as astronomical calendars. More information on Fort Ancient is available in the museum and along the trails. Please help us preserve this important site by walking only on the trails, not on the earthworks.