Beyond Walls: The Hopewell Earthworks in Chillicothe, Ohio

In the 1700’s Europeans were astounded at the Hopewell Earthwork in Chillicothe, Ohio (“Hopewell Mound Group”, n.d.). They were given this name due to the burial mounds in Chillicothe, later turned into a farm owned by Mordecai Hopewell (“Who Were the Hopewell?”, n.d.). The Hopewell were assumed to have built these mounds and enclosures for defense purposes, declared by an early archeologist in 1820; however, this assumption would later be dispelled (“Hopewell Mound Group”, n.d.). 

The Hopewell Mound Site could be described as a parallelogram, measuring 900 feet by 950 feet, one big circle measuring 1,050 feet in diameter, and two smaller circles of land measuring 200 and 250 feet in diameter. The wall around the parallelogram was 12 feet tall and 50 feet wide at the base. As for the circles, their walls were 5 feet high. These measurements were taken in 1848 from the remnants of the site, four miles north of Chillicothe, OH (“Archeology at Hopewell”, n.d.). Several mounds remain at the Hopewell Earthwork preserved and kept safe by its designation as a World Heritage Site (“Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks” n.d.). However, no remnants of the walls remain on the Chillicothe land, and in the time that funds were being acquired to purchase the land by the National park Service (10 years), due to annual cultivation and the rising popularity of high-powered tractors, the mounds began to downsize (“Archeology at Hopewell”, n.n.). Over time, the walls were left to ruin too. 

E.G. Squier and E.H. Davis rendition of the Hopeton Earthworks from 1848 (“Archaeology at Hopewell”).

Undermining the theory of defense and aversion to foreigners are the artifacts found in the Hopewell burial mounds and around the site. Most notably, were the remnants of obsidian found in the region, all traced back to Yellowstone in Wyoming (“Hopewell Culture Obsidian”, n.d.). Other artifacts found in the Scotio River Valley and the Hopewell Earthworks, were fossilized shark teeth from the Gulf Coast, jewelry made from copper and silver of the Great Lakes, and mica from the Appalachian Mountains (Langdon, n.d.). However, there was little evidence of obsidian, specifically, as one travels from Wyoming to Chillicothe, indicating that the obtainment of these materials was not through trade (Langdon, n.d.). Archaeologists believe Hopewell Earthworks to be a cultural and ritualistic center that brought people of other tribes, other cultures, and other regions on a pilgrimage-like journey similar to that which many made to Cahokia of the Mississippi (Langdon, n.d.). Thus, these walls were not created to keep people away from mounds, the presence of gates and breaks like a welcome message. The presence of foreign artifacts found buried in these mounds represents a sense of respect the Hopewell people had for those who found solace in the ritualistic center it was and for what they could provide. 

More current aerial view of the Hopewell Earthworks, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (Blank 2003).


“Archeology at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (U.S.” 2020. National Park Service.

Blank, John. 2003. “Document – Mound City: Aerial View.” UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

“Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks – Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (U.S.” n.d. National Park Service. Accessed November 12, 2023.

“Hopewell Culture Obsidian (U.S.” 2022. National Park Service.

“Hopewell Mound Group – Hopewell Culture National Historical Park (U.S.” 2023. National Park Service.

Langdon, W. n.d. “Intriguing Interactions.” National Geographic Society. Accessed November 12, 2023.

“Who Were the Hopewell?” n.d. Archaeology Magazine Archive. Accessed November 12, 2023.


The Colosseum Showcases Colossal Discoveries about Roman Social Hierarchy

The Colosseum, in Rome, was an engineering feat and a place for gladiator matches, but it existed as a physical representation of class stratification too. In an attempt to symbolize their triumph in subjugating Jerusalem during the First Jewish Roman War, Vespasian, the Roman emperor, ordered the construction of the Colosseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater (Evans 2022). Given the history of Rome’s warfare tactics, including enslavement, it was likely that the construction was done by Jewish slaves, or women (in Greco-Roman culture, believed to be inherently subordinate). 

Giacomo Lauro illustration of the Colosseum, showcasing the inside structure (“Architecture · Colosseum · Piranesi in Rome”, n.d.). 

As a prominent aspect of daily life in Rome, the Colosseum was enjoyed by many, but it was a constant reminder of the inequality among Romans, ordered by the political and social elite. In 2015, archaeologists discovered traces of red paint on the seats and archways at the Colosseum depicting numbers, about 13 inches tall. It was said to specify seating assignments based on class (Clark 2015). This paint, consisting of iron oxide and clay, was likely preserved by a layer of dirt, serving as protection from harsh weather and outside meddling (Clark 2015). We know, from this labeling, that the section nearest to the arena was reserved for the emperor and senatorial elite; above them were former cavalry members, artisans, and bureaucrats. In the two upper most tiers of the Colosseum sat the “women, foreigners…poor and enslaved Romans” (Evans 2022). However, appeals of the Colosseum were its elliptical shape (giving everyone a virtually equal view) (“Colosseum Architecture” n.d.), free entry (Clark 2015), free snacks (Kuo 2004), and large accommodations, such as two vast restrooms (“Colosseum Architecture” n.d.). 

Traces of red paint found on the engravings of numbers on archways in the Colosseum (Russon 2015).

More recently a group of archaeologists, led by Federica Rinaldi, used wire-guided robots to explore the 230 feet of sewage beneath this structure . The findings of this analysis included  “traces of olives, nuts, meats, cherries, grapes, figs, blackberries and peaches from 1,900 years ago” (Enking 2022).  It was not mentioned explicitly what the word  “traces” indicated.  One could hypothesize that the word suggests excretions drained from the two large restrooms, or different parts of the food (pits, seeds, etc.). As these, now free, foods were frequently enjoyed by the rich and desired by the poor, they give us insight into more possible motives for the upper and lower class to be equally drawn to the Colosseum. It is plausible that these traces of food, in its pure form or in excrements, were preserved through the large fire that occurred in 217 CE (Mueller 2011). Burning is often a form of preservation of vegetation and other natural resources. 

We believe, today, that all great discoveries have been made, but those recently discovered at the Colosseum are colossal. We understand better the motivations for attending the arena, outside of its entertainment, and the extent to which the rigid Roman social hierarchy infiltrated all aspects of life. The extent to which these traces of natural products were preserved and pursued in the Colosseum sewage system continues to lend to the engineering prowess of Rome at this time. The earth is laden with history, and with proper research, some of it waits to be discovered.

Further Reading

Cascone, Sarah, and Eileen Kinsella. 2021. “Engineers Will Reconstruct the Colosseum’s Arena Floor, Allowing Visitors to Stand Where Gladiators Once Fought.” Artnet News.

Siwicki, Christopher. 2023. “New Excavations at Rome’s Colosseum.” Art & Object.


“Architecture · Colosseum · Piranesi in Rome.” n.d. Omeka.Wellesley. Accessed September 24, 2023.

Clark, Laura. 2015. “Evidence of a Seating Plan Discovered at the Colosseum.” Smithsonian Magazine.

“Colosseum Architecture | How Colosseum was built | Colosseum Building.” n.d. Rome Colosseum Tickets Tours.

Enking, Molly. 2022. “Archaeologists Find 1900-Year-Old Snacks in Sewers Beneath the Colosseum.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Evans, Farrell. 2022. “How the Colosseum Was Built—and Why It Was an Architectural Marvel.” History.

Kuo, James. 2004. “The Colosseum: Power, Brilliance, and Brutality.” University of Washington Honors Program.

Mueller, Tom. 2011. “Secrets of the Colosseum | History.” Smithsonian Magazine.

Russon, Mary. 2015. “Rome: Colosseum’s ‘ancient seating plan’ revealed.” IBTimes UK.