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USA submits Ohio Mounds bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site

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Tana Weingartner
/
WVXU

The USA's first Ohio-centric bid for UNESCO World Heritage Site status is in the hands of those who will make the decision. The National Park Service reports it submitted the nomination of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks to the UNESCO World Heritage List this week.

"That means the nomination that we've prepared on behalf of eight earthworks in Ohio is complete," reports Jennifer Aultman, director of historic sites and museums at Ohio History Connection. "We sent it to the federal government, they submitted it to the World Heritage Committee, and the committee is likely to consider that to be added to the World Heritage List in the summer of 2023."

That vote and announcement is expected in July of that year.

Eight ancient earthworks sites dating to the Hopewell era comprise the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks bid that first joined the tentative list in 2008.

The locations are:

"There is a desk review," Aultman explains. "They have lots of experts reading through the nomination, and then they do some site visits, and write up a recommendation for the World Heritage Committee. That's the general process."

Other sites worldwide will also be considered at the same time, but Aultman says all sites are considered on their own merits and not against each other.

"World Heritage really honors the world's most important cultural and natural sites. What this tells us is that these sites here in Ohio — the 2,000-year-old American Indian earthworks — they really belong on the list with places like the pyramids and Stonehenge and the Grand Canyon, and they're just really significant in the cultural heritage of the world. We're really excited."

As WVXU previously reported, the eight sites in the bid were selected because, Aultman says, "they meet that bar of being internationally significant. They're the largest, best preserved, have the most integrity to them, can demonstrate that they're authentically from this era that archeologists call the Hopewell culture, which is from about 1,500 to 2,000 years ago."

What Is Hopewell Culture?

A popular misconception about the term "Hopewell" is that it refers to a particular tribe or group of Native Americans. In fact, there's nothing indigenous about the term at all. It comes from the name of a landowner in Ross County who, in the late 1800s, owned land containing what is now the Hopewell Mound Group near Chillicothe. Early archeologists recognized that all of these sites fit a similar pattern which they called "Hopewell."

The term is applied to indigenous cultures that existed across the Midwest between 200 BCE to 500 CE with Ohio at its epicenter.