The Newsletter of Hopewell Archeology
in the Ohio River Valley
Volume 6, Number 2, March
1. Newark Earthwork Cosmology: This Island Earth
By William F. Romain, Ph.D.
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|Most descriptions of the
Newark earthworks (e.g.,Squier and Davis
1894) consider the complex to include:
the Octagon and Observatory Circle, Wright
Great Circle, Large Oval, numerous smaller
circle earthworks along the parallel walkways,
and perhaps an outlier earthwork, such
as the Salisbury Square. In addition to
earthworks, I propose that another feature
should be included in our thinking of what
comprises the Newark earthworks complex – namely,
Geller Hill is a prominent feature located
about 7,000 feet southwest of the Newark
Great Circle (figure 1). The hill is the
central feature of Geller Park, in Heath,
Ohio. The hill is roughly 35 feet in elevation,
1,150 feet in length, and 700 feet wide at
its base. In Hopewell times (note 1), Geller
Hill would have been the highest feature
on the flat Newark plain where the geometric
earthworks were built. Several lines of evidence
suggest that Geller Hill was included in
the design and layout of the Newark earthworks.
on image to enlarge
1. View of Geller Hill, Heath, Ohio. Photo
by the author.
|First, the geometric relationship
between Geller Hill, the Newark Octagon,
and the Newark Great Circle describes a fairly
accurate isosceles triangle. An isosceles
triangle has two equal sides and consequently,
two equal angles. In the case of the Geller
Hill-Octagon-Great Circle triangle, the two
sides that are of near equal length are the
sides that extend from the apex of Geller
Hill to the centers of the Octagon and Great
Circle, respectively. In (figure
2), the triangle just described
is labeled A-B-D, with point A at the apex
of Geller Hill.
Hively and Horn (1982:S8) identified
of length, used by
the Hopewell. This unit of length is
equal to the diameter of the Newark
Observatory Circle – hence, they
refer to the unit as 1 OCD. One OCD
is equal to 1,054
feet. Hively and Horn found this unit
of length expressed not only in the
diameter of the Observatory Circle,
but also in
the linear dimensions of the Newark
With reference to the Geller Hill
isosceles triangle, as mentioned, sides
A-B and A-D are nearly equal to each
on image to enlarge
2. Section of USGS 7.5 minute series
map (Newark Quardrangle) showing the
triangular relationship between the Newark
Octagon, Great Circle, and Geller Hill.
Of special interest
is that the lengths of these two sides
both, near-multiples of 7 OCDs. The
length of 7 OCDs is equal to 7378 feet.
by reference to a digitized USGS 7.5-minute
series topographic map for the area,
the distance from point A at the apex
of Geller Hill to point B at the center
of the Octagon is 7,392 feet. This
differs from the ideal 7 OCD length
by 14 feet,
or 0.2 percent. Similarly, the map-measured
distance from point A on Geller Hill
to point D at center of the Great Circle
is 7,498 feet. This differs from the
ideal 7 OCD length by 119.6 feet, or
1.6 percent. Thus the measured Geller
Hill-Octagon-Great Circle triangle
varies from the geometric ideal by
of less than 1 percent. The magnitude
of this linear deviation from the ideal
falls well within the range of similar
analyses for other Hopewell earthworks – e.g.,
Fort Ancient (Romain 2004a).
The statistical likelihood that the
centers of two geometrically shaped
Hopewell earthworks would be situated
about the same distance from Geller
Hill strictly due to chance is slim.
The likelihood that both distances
would also be near multiples of the
OCD strongly suggests that the linear
relationship between Geller Hill and
the two geometric earthworks was intentional.
Hively and Horn (1982:table II) showed
that the major axis of the Newark Octagon
earthwork is closely aligned to the
moon’s maximum north rising point.
The same alignment appears represented
in the Geller Hill-Octagon-Great Circle
triangle. In (figure 2), point C is
the bisection point of line B-D. If
a line is drawn from point A on Geller
Hill through bisection point C, that
line is found to extend along an azimuth
of 53°.3. Given a date of A.D.
100 and apparent horizon elevation
of 0°.5 (corrected to 1°.34),
the lower limb moonrise as observed
from the top of Geller Hill would have
been at azimuth 52°.2. The lunar
alignment of the bisected triangle
therefore, is to within 1°.1. Like
the Newark Octagon, the symmetry axis
of the Geller Hill triangle is closely
aligned to the moon’s maximum
north rise point. From Geller Hill,
the moon would have been observed to
rise at a point on the horizon about
equi-distant between the Octagon and
Great Circle and balanced between the
The most significant
archaeological feature of Geller
Hill is the existence of possible
burial mounds located at the top
of the hill (figure 3). Notably,
the Salisbury map of 1862 shows several
of these possible mounds. Further,
the Salisburys make the following
…about one and
one half miles distant from the octagon,
seen a little to the right, standing
boldly out in the plain, an
irregular isolated hill about 75
ft. in height covering a surface
of perhaps ten acres. On this lonely
hill in the midst of the
plain, are some 8 or 10 small mounds,
generally situated on
the highest points. Whatever people
selected this locality as
the last resting place of their dead,
deserve some credit for
such a proof of their good taste
(Salisbury and Salisbury 1862:28).
on image to enlarge
3. Panoramic composite showing several
of the burial mounds located at the
top of Geller Hill. Photos by the
Review of the literature
suggests that the features identified
by the Salisburys have not been excavated.
Further investigation is needed to
determine if the features noted by
the Salisburys are man-made. In general
appearance, however, the features
look like Hopewell burial mounds.
Parallel walls once extended between
several of the Newark earthworks.
Long parallel walls extended, for
example, between the Octagon and
Wright Square. Another set of parallel
walls extended from the Octagon,
in a southwest direction, at least
as far as Ramp Creek. By reference
toReeves (1936) it is possible
to reconstruct the trajectory of
the parallel walls from the Octagon
to Ramp Creek. From this analysis
it is found that the Octagon-Ramp
Creek parallel walls passed within
400 - 500 feet of the base of Geller
Hill. It may be that Geller Hill
was a destination option when transiting
the walled pathway. If that is
the case, then the special status
of Geller Hill is indicated.
In summary, geometric relationships,
measurement data, astronomical
data, and archaeological evidence
all strengthen the hypothesis that
Geller Hill was included in the
design, layout, and possibly, ritual
functioning of the Newark earthworks
complex. The question is, what
made Geller Hill important to the
Hopewell? To help answer this,
it is necessary to view Geller
Hill and the Newark complex as
an integrated whole.
Bradley T. Lepper (2004:80)
has argued that the Newark complex
was not merely a set of arcane
symbols; but rather, functioned
as a “gigantic machine or
factory in which energies from
the three levels of the Eastern
Woodland Indian’s cosmos …were
drawn together and circulated through
conduits of ritual to accomplish
some sacred purpose.” Lepper
(2004:80) compares the Newark complex
to ‘giant superconducting
thought provoking, the analogy
Lepper draws is not one I would
use. Native Americans do not think
of created things in terms of machines,
or factories – terms that
bring to mind images of cold
steel structures and dehumanized
While many Western people
may think of non-human and
non-animal things as inanimate,
on the other hand, often consider
such things to possess a life
essence, spirit, or soul. Among
non-living things that Indians
sometimes think of as having
a life essence are smoking
pipes, effigy masks, weapons,
phenomena to include certain
sun, moon, rivers, and mountains
(see e.g., Hallowell 1975 ).
Given this, it might be appropriate
to think of the Newark complex
in more organic terms as might
be the case if we consider
the complex as a functioning
of the Eastern Woodland Indian
cosmos. By functional microcosm,
I mean a smaller, dynamic manifestation,
or expression. A functional
microcosm of the Eastern Woodland
cosmos replicates on a reduced
scale, mythic time and space
at the beginning. This alternative
interpretation is presented
on image to enlarge
shamanic thought generally (e.g.,
and among Native American peoples
in particular (e.g.,Lankford
1987; Hudson 1976), the cosmos
is often thought of as having
three basic levels – i.e.,
Upperworld, earth, and Lowerworld
(figure 4). These three levels
are vertically connected by an
axis mundi. In Native American
cosmology, the Upperworld is
the realm of the sky, sun, and
stars, as well as powerful celestial
birds known as Thunderbirds.
By contrast, the Lowerworld is
a watery world, located opposite
to the Upperworld. It is the
realm of fishes, frogs, snakes,
and related creatures. Chief
of the Lowerworld creatures is
Horned Serpent or Underwater
4. Idealized representation of
the Eastern Woodlands cosmos.
and Lowerworld are antithetical
to each other.
Balanced between the Upperworld
and Lowerworld, is the earth.
In many cosmologies, the earth
is described as a flat, circular
island floating in a surrounding
primordial sea. Associated
with the belief that the earth
a circular island floating
in a surrounding sea are many
of the Earth-diver myth – wherein
a mythical creature, such as
the otter, is said to have
dived to the bottom of the
sea to bring back a piece of
mud, which magically expanded,
thereby creating the earth.
Physical evidence indicates
that the Great Circle was built
in a prairie setting(Lepper
2004:78). While the area extent
of this prairie is unknown,
it is possible that a large
part of the area occupied by
the Newark earthwork complex
was likewise, covered by prairie.
Human activities may have further
reduced any forest cover in
the vicinity of the earthworks.
In this sort of setting, Geller
Hill would likely have been
visible from the Octagon and
Great Circle earthworks, located
less than two miles away. Certainly,
the Octagon and Great Circle
would have been visible from
on image to enlarge
The Newark earthworks are
located at the confluence
of three watercourses. Less
obvious is the extent to
which watercourses surround
the Newark plain – to
include Geller Hill. The
watercourses that surround
the Newark plain include
Raccoon Creek, South Fork
Licking River, and Ramp Creek.
As (figure 5), shows, out
of a 360-degree circle perimeter
around the entire complex,
these watercourses enclose
about 320 degrees of that
circle. By calculation therefore,
water surrounds approximately
90% of the Newark complex.
Notably, the use of water
barriers to separate Hopewell
earthworks from the surrounding
topography is known elsewhere – e.g.,
at Fort Ancient (Connolly
1996; Romain 2004a).
5. Relief map showing the
Newark plain and location
of Geller Hill. Highlighting
traces the course of Raccoon
Creek, Ramp Creek, and the
South Fork Licking River.
If we apply
the archetypal cosmological
model discussed earlier to
the topographic observations
just noted for Newark, we
find some intriguing correspondences.
In this thought exercise,
the Newark complex is equivalent
to the island earth, surrounded
by the primordial sea. The
primordial sea is represented
by the surrounding waterways
of Ramp Creek, Raccoon Creek,
and the South Fork Licking
River. Located in the symbolic
center of this island earth,
Geller Hill serves as an
axis mundi, connecting the
three cosmic realms.
In this view, consistent
with Native American
understandings of the cosmos,
complex was balanced
between cosmic realms.
the Newark complex was
center; and it was in this
center that the mound builders
performed the most sacred
of their rituals – i.e.,
rituals intended to maintain
cosmic balance, ensure plant
and animal abundance, maintain
health, and facilitate in
death, the transition of
the soul from the land of
the living to the land of
the dead. In this view, the
Newark complex was a functional
microcosm of the Hopewell
universe. Indeed, it may
be that many of the other
Hopewell enclosures that
are surrounded by water – particularly
the hilltop enclosures – were
constructed with this cosmological
idea in mind. Alternative
explanations for what we
find in the archaeological
record are always possible.
What is clear, however,
is that, if we are to understand
phenomena as complex as
Newark earthworks, we need
to expand our thinking
beyond the two-dimensional
depicted more than a hundred
years ago. We need to consider
relationships between the
earthworks and surrounding
environment to include
earth, sky, and water (Romain
2004b). Importantly too,
we need to frame our interpretations
based not in Euro-centric
views of the world; but
rather, in Native American
As to Geller Hill, purchase
and conservation of the
section held in private
and currently under plow
would be desirable. Additionally,
I think it would be useful
to initiate further investigation.
Magnetic survey, soil
resistivity, and ground
studies, as well as emergency
salvage work of the section
currently under plow
- if purchase of that
is not an option - might
help answer questions
not only about the
the possible burial mounds
discussed earlier; but
also, broader questions
to the geometric earthworks.
We know, for example,
from reports dating
to the early
1800s, that some Middle
Woodland period people
in the now obliterated,
Cherry Valley Mound group,
within the Oval earthwork.
and Salisbury (1862),
than eleven mounds existed
in this group. Squier
and Davis (1848:72)
the discovery of fourteen
individuals found in
one of the Cherry Valley
Newspaper reports document
one or two additional
from the area.
What seems missing,
however, are the significant numbers
of burials we might expect,
given that Newark is
the largest geometric
of its kind in the world.
For a site this size,
we might expect to
least scores, or even
hundreds of burials,
other major Hopewell
centers such as Mound
Seip, and Tremper. Having
said this, I would not
be surprised if, one
find the Newark shamans,
chiefs, and Ancient Ones,
buried near their earthworks – perhaps
high on Geller Hill – ever
watchful over their people,
ever connected to their ancestral
lands – this island
This article is dedicated
to my Native American
friends in southern Ohio,
who welcomed me into
their circle, gave me
an Indian name, and tried
to teach me
something about Indian ways. Thanks especially, to Jean, Charla, and Doug.
Many thanks to Pat Mason and Bob Geller for background information on Geller
Hill. Special thanks to my mother, Frances Spania Rothenberg for her thoughts
and encouragement; and to my wife, Evie, for her patience and support.
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