The Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site Is Located In Ohio

Driving through the winding country roads of rural Ohio, you might not expect to stumble upon a site of such incredible historical significance that it is ranked among iconic world wonders like the Great Pyramids of Egypt and Stonehenge. However, in September 2023, the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks were officially added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. They mark the first-ever UNESCO site in Ohio, and the 25th in the United States, and are located within a two-hour drive of the city of Cincinnati, which is quickly becoming one of the top tourist destinations in the Midwest. 

The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) evaluates essential sites and landmarks around the world to be included on the World Heritage list, and only sites of "outstanding universal value" to the cultural and natural heritage of the world are considered. According to UNESCO, Southern Ohio's eight Indigenous earthworks fit the bill. The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are a complex series of structures built around 1,600 to 2,000 years ago along the Ohio River's tributaries. Visiting will help you learn about the history of some of the first Indigenous cultures to inhabit Ohio and their connection to the natural world.

Experience ancient Indigenous history

The UNESCO designation is a big deal for many Ohioans, who have long cherished these off-the-beaten-path historical marvels scattered around the state. According to UNESCO, World Heritage Sites gain the greatest possible protection and assistance (financial and otherwise) from the organization, which will help make the earthworks more accessible to tourists visiting the region and provide much-needed funding for preservation and educational programs. 

The eight UNESCO World Heritage Site locations are divided between three main locations. The highest concentration is located near Chillicothe, Ohio — the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park includes the Mound City Group, the Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks, High Bank Earthworks, and Hopeton Earthworks, all managed by National Park Service. Other sites included in the UNESCO World Heritage Site grouping are the Octagon Earthworks and the Great Circle Earthworks in Newark, Ohio, as well as the Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia, Ohio.

The sites include a series of fascinating structures made from natural materials using precise geometric measurements so that they are aligned with the cycles of the sun and moon. Experts believe they were likely used for American Indian rituals and spiritual ceremonies. Artifacts uncovered around the earthworks are made from materials like seashells from Florida and Obsidian from as far off as the Rocky Mountains, indicating the Hopewell people traveled and received visitors from across the United States.

Visiting the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks

The driving distance between the three locations where the eight sites are located is under three hours, so it is possible to visit them all in a single day. For the best experience, consider making a weekend out of your adventure to fully immerse yourself and travelerblog the surrounding areas.

The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, just outside of Chillicothe, spans over 1,100 acres with five different areas of earthworks, including geometric mounds, hiking paths, and unique artifacts. The visitor center is open from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. daily. It's completely free to visit. The Newark Earthworks are also free to visit and are open to the public daily from dawn until dusk. A guided walking tour is available on the first Friday of the month from April through December.

The Fort Ancient Earthworks are located conveniently between Cincinnati and Columbus in Warren County, which is dubbed "Ohio's Largest Playground," as it is home to the Midwest's largest amusement park and ample outdoor recreation opportunities. The Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve features several large mounds and a unique earthen wall enclosing a space believed to have been a gathering place for social and ceremonial purposes. Admission costs $7, and visitors can enjoy 3 miles of hiking trails through the preserve with scenic overlooks and a museum full of artifacts and informative exhibits. Operating hours are either at 10 a.m or noon, depending on the day of the week and the season, until 5 p.m.