of Hopewell Archeology in the Ohio River Valley
Volume 7, Number 1, December 2006
4. The Great Hopewell Road: GIS Solutions Towards
By Timothy A. Price
Traversing hills, valleys, and streams, the sixty-mile
long Great Hopewell Road might have begun at the monumental
earthworks located in Newark, Ohio and ended near Chillicothe,
at the site of another ancient earthwork named the High
Bank Works. It is tempting to try to connect these two
earthworks for they both contain circular and octagonal
arrangements, aligned in ways that suggest that one
of the complexes might have been built to complement
the other, perhaps through a unifying religious ritual
that followed the 18.6-year lunar cycle (Aveni 2000:226,
Lepper 1995). More important, the Scioto Valley was
the “undisputed center of Ohio Hopewell culture”
(Lepper 2002), so a road passing through the region
could have linked the area together.
Monumental roads were not uncommon in prehistoric North
and Central America. Aveni (2000) and Nials et al, (1987)
examine how other studies have shown prehistoric cultures
engaged in very similar road-building phenomena. In
the Yucatan, for example, Mayan roads connecting various
ceremonial and sacred sites are well known. Similarly,
the Anasazi of the southwestern United States constructed
sacred roads and pathways between their most important
places of pilgrimage. The same can be said of numerous
places in Europe, India, and China.
The Hopewell Indians, who flourished in central and
Southern Ohio between approximately 200 B.C. and A.D.
500, appear to have been no different from their counterparts.
A deeply religious group, the Hopewell were “wide
ranging in their contacts, with a resource network that
reached for hundreds of miles in all directions”
(Romain 2000:2). Still though, much of the direct confirmation
for the existence of such a colossal achievement comes
in the form of early land surveys, aerial photographs,
and, for some, just a plain “gut” feeling
about the road’s existence. Caleb Atwater, one
of Ohio's first archaeologists, suggested in 1820 that
the parallel walls that ran southwest from Newark's
octagon might extend 30 miles or more.
One of the most important pieces of evidence, however,
is the map that James and Charles Salisbury, early residents
of Newark, drew in 1862 depicting the Newark Earthworks
and the series of parallel walls appearing to connect
the various enclosures there. This document was misplaced
for decades following the Civil War, only to be rediscovered
n 1991 at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester,
Massachusetts by Dr. Brad Lepper. The Salisbury’s
traced these walls and, although they did not follow
them to their end, they noted that:
||“These works have been accurately
surveyed and described – on account of the
discovery of outside walls, connected with the fortified
ways & other Earthworks of interest. One of
the highways has been traced over six miles in the
direction of Circleville. These walls are all of
clay – differing materially from the soil
on which they repose – which appears to indicate
that originally they may have been constructed of
adobe; or sun dried brick; similar to the fortified
highways of the Incas of Peru” (Salisbury
and Salisbury. 1862).
The Salisbury’s map reinforces maps drawn by
Squier and Davis in 1848, and Wyrick in 1866, while
at the same time expanding on both works by giving details
not previously mentioned.
Lepper, of the Ohio Historical Society, has recently
searched along this same corridor between Newark and
Chillicothe, Ohio for traces of road using aerial reconnaissance
and archival photography, and has identified traces
of parallel lineation along the projected route in several
places. Lepper contends that the first segment can be
found 16.2 miles south of Newark, while another is located
at the projected terminus of the Great Hopewell Road
Using the locations that Dr. Lepper identified as a
starting point; it is my contention that by using the
tools of Geographic Information Science (GISc) we can
begin to examine how the roles of slope, land cover,
proximity to water, etc., would have played in the Hopewell’s
decision of where to locate just such a road
Known places of prehistoric Indian activity were obtained
from the Ohio Historical Society’s database. Additionally,
Dr. Lepper provided exact coordinates for the parallel
lineation’s which he had previously identified
within the study area. Digital elevation and land cover
data were acquired from the U.S. Geological Survey.
Once all of the data was collected, several assumptions
about the Great Hopewell Road had to be decided upon
so that modeling procedures could be implemented.
- As is the case with modern roads, it likely would
have been preferable to build the Hopewell road on
relatively flat ground;
- It was decided that certain land covers would have
been better suited for road construction than others,
taking into consideration the effort involved in moving
across different land cover types;
- The road would have been located near rivers and
other water bodies
- The road would have been located near the earthworks
in Chillicothe and Newark since it is assumed that
the road would have linked those locations, as well
as near other ancient locations along the route.
Because so many variables were initially chosen for
this study, it became necessary to assign a weighting
scheme for the different datasets, and then produce
a suitability model as the first step. This type of
model allows researchers to find areas that are the
most suitable for particular objectives.
To see if the possibility of a Hopewell Road was more
fact than fiction, several cost-weighted distance/shortest
distance models were created so that the shortest route
could be identified without all of the variables initially
included in the suitability model. Cost models identify
optimum corridors and factor in economic, environmental,
or other objectives. For these models, the dataset of
the cost of traveling over the landscape was based on
the fact that it is more costly to traverse steep slopes
and construct a road on certain land types.
While this study is not able to conclusively determine
the existence of a Great Hopewell Road, it does set
the stage for further research. In so doing, this study
looked at several variables that might have influenced
the Hopewell’s way of thinking when it came to
deciding on just where to construct a road that stretched
for 60 miles or more. This study examined proximity
to water bodies, rivers, and other earthworks, as well
as slope and land cover. When examined with all potential
factors originally thought to be pertinent, the potential
routes do not follow the projected route between Newark
and Chillicothe. This, then, raises the natural question
of which variables are essential to the calculations
and which are likely extraneous.
Next, a model of the route was
completed that looked solely at slope and land
cover between the earthworks located in Newark
and those found in Chillicothe. This possible
route follows Lepper’s predicted route extremely
closely, deviating most on the southern portion.
Moreover, this model shows two possible routes
that the Road might have taken in the south. The
only explanation that justifies this split is
the fact that it occurs exactly where the Salt
Creek River would cross the Hopewell Road.
For the final part of this study, the area between
Newark and the southernmost point that Dr. Lepper
believes to be part of the Road was examined.
Again using slope and land cover as the main criteria,
the shortest path between the two points was determined
(Figure 1). In this model, the
fit of the route again deviates from the projected
path of the Hopewell Road only in the southern
portion of the study area, but alters course to
connect with Lepper’s location. It is this
model that most closely follows Lepper’s
predicted route of the Great Hopewell Road. Indeed,
the majority of the model falls within a one-half-mile
buffer zone of the projected road, while the entire
model falls within two miles (Figure 2).
on image to enlarge
on image to enlarge
Slope and land cover appear to have made the most dramatic
impact on the outcome of this study. It would appear
that the physical landscape transpired with land use
to reveal an astonishingly accurate connection between
the two major archaeological sites located near Newark
and Chillicothe, Ohio. Indeed, these considerations,
as applied in the various models, appear to support
Lepper’s conclusion that the Hopewell “designed
and laid out [the road] with great care and with intimate
familiarity of the intervening landscape”. The
fact that the majority of the models that examined the
area between Newark and Lepper’s southernmost
point fell within one half mile to one mile of the projected
route is extremely significant; indeed, many portions
follow the projected route almost exactly.
As a byproduct of this research, a second discovery
was also reveled that is highly worthy of not only mention,
but further investigation. Upon closer examination,
the figure showing the Ohio Historical Society’s
ancient mound locations reveals a significant number
of “events” that occur within the projected
path’s buffer zones. Out of 244 mound locations
within the study area, fifty four fall within a two-mile
buffer; 25 are within one mile, and twelve are within
one half of a mile.
|Looking at the mound density map,
(figure 3), it becomes quickly
apparent that the Ohio Valley was indeed a hotbed
of prehistoric Indian activity. Perhaps the road
was a means of connecting these various places,
or, more likely, the mounds were part of villages
that sprang up along the way as it was being built.
With the advances of radio-carbon dating in the
field of archaeology, it might be possible to put
a chronology to the sites located nearby that may
help determine when the road may have been built
and, possibly, in which direction the Hopewell might
have started from. Only further investigations will
allow researchers to find clues that may one day
unravel these continuing mysteries.
on image to enlarge
Aveni, Anthony F. 2000. Between The
Lines: The Mystery of the Giant Ground Drawings of Ancient
Nasca, Peru. University of Texas Press, Austin, Tex.
Lepper, Brad T. 1995.
Tracing Ohio’s Great Hopewell Road. Archaeology,
vol. 45, no. 6, pp.
52 – 56.
Lepper, Brad T. 2002. The Newark
Earthworks: Monumental Geometry and Astronomy at a Hopewellian
Pilgrimage Center. Exhibition catalog, Hero, Hawk, and
Open Hand: Ancient Indian Art of the Woodlands, Richard
Townsend, ed., The Art Institute of Chicago.
Nials, Fred, John Stein, and John Roney.
1987. Chacoan Roads in the Southern Periphery: Results
of Phase II of the BLM Chaco Roads Project. Bureau of
Land Management, Santa Fe, N. Mex.
Romain, William F. 2000. Mysteries
of the Hopewell: Astronomers, Geometers, and Magicians
of the Eastern Woodlands. The University of Akron Press,
Salisbury, J.A., and C.B. Salisbury.
1862. Accurate Surveys & Descriptions of the Ancient
Earthworks at Newark, Ohio. American Antiquarian Society,
Print this Page
word .doc (411K)