Suggested Cosmology and Retracted Image: An Analysis of the Newark Earthworks

Across American society today, prevailing trends purvey an understanding of Eastern Woodland Peoples as naturalistic itinerants with a deep and harmonious awareness of forests, waters, and the bounty offered therein. Almost as a default, ‘structure’ suggests images of impermanent longhouses and wigwams. Likewise, ‘culture’ suggests a reverence for the Earth. People seldom consider Native Americans movers and shapers of the landscapes around them, especially in the context of timelines extending back nearly 2000 years. In archaeological practice, the rigid assumptions of the populace at large endanger objective analysis from the outset, especially when it comes to the identification of significant sites and the decision to interpret evidence.


In Newark, Ohio, not far from Columbus, lies what basic historical literature refers to as “the largest set of geometric earthen enclosures in the world” (“Newark Earthworks”). Even though the area surrounding the sites is highly urbanized in a way that engulfs each one as a separate island of greenspace, archaeology is concerned with the ancient context that extends throughout the landscape. Here, sites of interest have been revealed by extrapolating Native American cosmology and mathematics from features on the landscape.

Recent studies using ground and aerial survey techniques emphasize the importance of Geller Hill in understanding the creation and significance of the Newark Earthworks. Plotted on a map in the midst of a flat plain, Geller Hill is a landmark. Using the diameter of Newark’s Observatory Circle (OCD) as a baseline, archaeologists recognize the significance placed on spatial distance by Hopewell peoples. Located approximately seven OCDs from the peak of Geller Hill, the centers of the Newark’s octagonal and circular earthworks appear to form the sides of an isosceles triangle. According to a local source, “the measured Geller Hill, Octagon, Great Circle triangle varies from the geometric ideal by an average of less than one percent,” much like other Hopewell sites (Romain).

Image 1: Schematic plan of the Newark Earthworks

Consistent use of the OCD lends credence to an integrated view of landscape and erodes the perception of Native American societies as hapless in their patterns of settlement and naive in their understanding of the universe. Altogether, the Newark Earthworks compose an extensive natural observatory that people used to position themselves within a valid reality. The triangle’s axis of symmetry “[aligns with] the moon’s maximum north rise point” and thereby associates the site with Hopewell ideas of a balance cosmos. Bradley T. Lepper goes so far as to compare the site with a “gigantic machine or factory” drawing together the energies of the Hopewell universe (Lepper).

Image 2: The Hopewell Cosmos

The People of the Eastern Woodlands clearly possessed a rich cosmological framework enhanced by an understanding of astronomy and mathematics. Subsumed in development, the sites are sequestered from the landscape to form an image that today’s society finds agreeable, an image that archaeologists possess the means to retract.



Hopewell Archaeology. 2005. National Parks Service, Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Lepper, Bradley Thomas. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio’s Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.

“Newark Earthworks.” Ohio History Connection, 2017, Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Romain, William F. “Newark Earthwork Cosmology: This Island Earth.” The Newsletter of Hopewell Archaeology in the Ohio River Valley, Mar. 2005.


Image Citations:

Schematic Plan of the Newark Earthworks. National Parks Service, 2005, Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.

Eastern Woodlands Cosmos. National Parks Service, 2005, Accessed 18 Sept. 2017.





1 thought on “Suggested Cosmology and Retracted Image: An Analysis of the Newark Earthworks

  1. What are the roots of the names “hopewell” culture and Eastern woodland peoples? What defines an archaeological landscape? Besides a built environment through mound structures, how else does the archaeology show a network of trade and exchange?

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