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Fortified Hill Earthwork Purchased by Preservation Coalition

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Fortified Hill Earthwork Purchased by Preservation CoalitionAn ariel image of the lots containing Fortified Hill
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It came down to the wire, but Fortified Hill Earthwork has been saved from potential development. A coalition of archeological and historical organizations, as well as community members concerned about the ancient Native site’s preservation, were able to buy all four parcels of land containing the earthworks at a Butler County auction Saturday morning.

Fortified Hill is on land owned by the estate of Dr. Lou Barich, who died earlier this year. On Saturday, Dr. Barich’s land, including the four parcels containing the earthworks, went up for auction. Last week, it seemed that the coalition had raised enough money through the Archeological Conservancy to purchase at least one of the parcels, and were angling for a second lot in an attempt to preserve as much of the site as possible. The acquisition of the entire site was possible through a last-minute pledge by the nearby Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum.

“Pyramid Hill is a perfect partner and will work closely with the other partners to create a special place to honor and exhibit this sacred Hopewell Earthwork site,” said Dr. Jeff Leipzig, friend of Dr. Barich and organizer of the effort to save Fortified Hill, in an email.

The coalition of preservation groups hopes that in time, Fortified Hill will become a new park available to the public and available to archeologists for proper study.

“We know almost nothing about it, so basically, we will learn everything that there is to learn,” said Dr. Jarrod Burks, president of the Heartland Earthworks Conservancy.

Burks said the next steps will be to create a more detailed map of the site, which hasn’t been properly mapped by scientists since 1836, and then to conduct geophysical surveys to discover artifacts and surviving wooden structures that might be hidden underground. Those surveys probably won’t begin for another year.

Fortified Hill is believed to be 1,500 to 2,000 years old, constructed by people who adhered to what archeologists call the Hopewell Culture — a possibly spiritual or religious movement that spread across multiple groups and is characterized in part by the building of earthworks like Fortified Hill, Fort Ancient, and the Newark Earthworks.

“It’s a way of life that has crosscut many groups that we would call tribes,” said Burks. “I don’t want to use the wrong word, we don’t know what the right word is for people who lived 2,000 years ago.”

One thing that archeologists do know about Hopewell sites like Fortified Hill is that they were not cities, villages or places where people dwelled. They were places where people congregated, participating in burial rituals or ceremonies to memorialize the dead, or competing in sports and other community building activities.

“We don’t know about Fortified Hill, but it’s probably true there as it is at other sites,” said Burks. “Some of them seem to be places where people came to from really far away, so basically pilgrimage centers.”

In a Facebook post celebrating the preservation, Leipzig thanked several people including Burks, Bob Genheimer of the Cincinnati Museum Center, Paul Gardner of the Archaeological Conservancy, Randy Evans of Three Valley Conservation Trust, the Marcum Foundation, Nanci Lanni, chair of the Pyramid Hill board of trustees, and all the everyday citizens who made pledges supporting the effort toward preservation.

“We’re really appreciative that the public stepped up and expressed their interest in preserving this ancient heritage,” said Burks. “Ohio has a lot of it and we’re really only preserving a very small amount of it. So it’s nice to see another big, important site saved.”

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