Visitors to the Great Circle and Octagon are often intrigued to learn that the Newark Earthworks once included two other main shapes: a square and an oval.
That square and oval were connected by walled walkways that stretched for four square miles. Your interconnectedness is part of why we call the Newark Earthworks a complex.
A remainder of the place still exists. Officially called Wright Earthworks, it is located in an Ohio History Connection green space at the intersection of James and Waldo Streets. This place is located about 800 m northeast of the Great Circle. The two low, free-standing walls that run on either side of the site’s museum point in his direction.
Regardless of the importance of Wright Square, 19th century survey maps show that it was the only one of the four main shapes connected to all three of the others by low-walled walkways. In addition to the great circle to the southwest, the oval shape was another half a mile to the northeast and the octagon was a full mile to the northwest. Apparently it was necessary to walk through Wright Square to switch between two of the other shapes. At the suggestion of the director of the Newark Earthwork Center at Ohio State University, John Low (Pokagon Band of Potawatomi), I went to Wright with a compass in the fall of 2019. As far as I could see from the remnant, Wright’s corners coincided with the cardinal points, which increased the sense of movement at this point.
The oval shape we call the Cherry Valley Ellipse, northeast of Wright Earthworks, was where Union St. and Wehrle Ave. Although there is a poster on the southeast side of the Union St. level crossing reminding of the ellipse as the burial site of the complex, no part of the earthworks is visible.
Ignorance and racism certainly contributed to the destruction of the Ellipse and Wright Square, but a series of 19th century overview maps reveal another factor that is not so easily discarded. The chronological order of these maps shows the Ohio-Erie Canal as one of the first features built by settlers to invade the sites. It cut south of Raccoon Creek through the center of the ellipse and cut off a corner from Wright. Water was an important resource for both cultures. This fact should not excuse the ignorance and racism, but it should be uncomfortable for us. Even more unpleasant is the evidence that parts of the ellipse’s burial mounds were incorporated into the Union St. embankment.
Yet there are lessons that can be drawn from these devastated sites, and not just archaeological ones. In 2011, representatives from the Newark Earthworks Center brought evidence to a meeting of the Ohio Rail Development Commission that the ellipse’s burial mounds were incorporated into the 19th century embankment. As a result, it was written in the lease for this stretch of road that an archaeologist must be present for any maintenance in this area, based on the possibility of burial materials and cultural artifacts embedded in the dam.
What is the lesson We cannot change the past, but study and understanding can influence the decisions we make now and for the future. That is why it is important to remember Wright Square and the ellipse. This is also one of the reasons why the Great Circle and Octagon, along with Fort Ancient and Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, deserve recognition as a World Heritage Site.
Dr. Tim Jordan held various interpretation and site management roles for the Newark Earthworks and Flint Ridge ancient quarries and nature reserves. He is also on the English faculties at Ohio University Zanesville and Zane State College.