June 6, 2021

New Research on the Great Hopewell Road

Between about AD 1 and 400 the Hopewell culture built a series of monumental earthen enclosures across southern Ohio. The largest concentration of these earthworks was along the Scioto River Valley and its tributaries near modern Chillicothe.

The vast Newark Earthworks is located 60 miles to the north from the Chillicothe Hopewell heartland. There is compelling evidence it was linked directly to that heart of the Hopewell world by a major transportation artery.

The Great Hopewell Road is a set of low, earthen walls framing a 200-foot-wide avenue that extended from the southernmost gateway of Newark’s Octagon earthwork an undetermined distance to the southwest. The road may have gone directly to Chillicothe, and research on that is ongoing.

If we eventually find that the Great Hopewell Road actually did go all the way to Chillicothe, it won’t be all that surprising. We’ve known for a long time that there was a special relationship between these special places.

Why would the Hopewell have needed an avenue, equivalent in size to a modern 16-lane freeway, connect them? (The busiest freeway in Los Angeles is only 14 lanes.) Why did it need to be so straight?

Archaeologist Brad Lepper thinks that the Great Hopewell Road was a sacred processional path used by pilgrims to travel to Newark’s gigantic earthen cathedral. The Maya civilization had similar long, straight roads which were pilgrimage routes to various sites

Pilgrims may have come to Newark bearing offerings of thanksgiving or supplication from their homelands. This may explain the artifacts found in Hopewell mounds made of copper from the Great Lakes, shells from the Gulf of Mexico and mica from the southern Appalachian Mountains. Archaeologists have found small blades made from our local Flint Ridge Flint at Hopewell-era sites across eastern North America.

Brad Lepper is a curator of archaeology for the Ohio History Connection. Lepper coined the term “Great Hopewell Road.”