Last updated: October 19, 2023
On Saturday, October 14, over 600 people gathered at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park. They were there to celebrate the creative genius of the American Indian people we now call the Hopewell culture, who designed and constructed earthen mounds and earthworks in southern Ohio along the banks and tributaries of the Scioto River. Among the dignitaries present were members of the Tribes that claim kinship to the people of 2,000 years ago that built the eight indigenous sites that are now included and inscribed as a group on the World Heritage list.
In September 2023, a delegation of Tribal representatives, National Park Service employees, and staff from the Ohio History Connection, traveled to Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee. By consensus, the committee decided that the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks had Outstanding Universal Value as to transcend national boundaries and to be of common importance for present and future generations of all humanity. The nomination, which took two decades to fully complete and vet through various sources of subject expertise within the United States and abroad, was put forward for consideration by the Department of the Interior in 2022. Throughout the effort, the NPS Office of International Affairs, which manages the US World Heritage Program, provided guidance and oversight to ensure a high-quality nomination document. Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks’ nomination was based on two criteria, 1. The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are Masterpieces of Human Creative Genius, and 2. The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks bear a unique testimony to the tradition of the indigenous Hopewell culture of two millennia ago.
The story of Hopewell Culture is centered around American Indian religious and ceremonial practices that influenced large numbers of people across great distances. Their influential reach expanded from the Great Lakes to the Gulf Coast area, and from the Atlantic seaboard as far west as the Yellowstone valley. During a short 400-year period, hundreds of ceremonial sites marked by earthen mounds and enclosures were constructed using specific construction techniques and engineering design. Many incorporated complex geometry and celestial alignments to the cyclical movements of the sun and moon with ceremonial practices connected to earth and sky.
The ceremony at the park brought together a variety of co-stewards to recognize that a new journey was beginning – that of a world-class site joining places like Yellowstone National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Mesa Verde National Park, the Pyramids of Giza, and the Nazca Lines of Peru, in being recognized for its importance to the world. Among the speakers were Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Executive Director and CEO of the Ohio History Connection, Megan Wood. Chief Glenna Wallace of the Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma served as the keynote speaker, stating that “we are indeed in a place of spectacular creations.” Director Chuck Sams spoke about “an invitation for the world to discover the work of the people who once lived here and to learn and draw inspiration from this masterpiece of human creative genius… that help us tell the world the whole story of America and the remarkable diversity of our cultural heritage.”
Hopewell Culture National Historical Park Superintendent, Chris Alford, recognized all the diligence and hard work that had gone into the nomination by the two previous superintendents, and the many collaborators and co-stewards that made the dream a reality. The dignitaries on stage then unveiled the likeness of a plaque that will be embedded at the site recognizing its World Heritage status.
Members of the Midwest/Eastern Incident Management Team, led by Incident Commander Dan Morford, provided planning and staffing support for the special event. Additionally, the Midwest Region Special Event Team (SET) provided Visitor & Resource Protection/Law Enforcement support for the event.
The success of the event near the banks of the Scioto River, will be long remembered by all who had the honor of witnessing the recognition of a people long gone, but not forgotten.
Additional photos of the ceremony are available on Hopewell Culture National Historical Park’s website.