FINEST HILLTOP ENCLOSURE
The most spectacular and well-preserved of the Hopewell-era hilltop enclosures, Fort Ancient encloses over 100 acres high above a narrow gorge of the Little Miami River. Here, Hopewell era builders moved massive amounts of earth to create complex and monumental spatial effects. The southern plateau was ringed first, then connected by a passage to a larger area, to the north.
In addition to creating a continuous perimeter ditch-and-wall design, the builders moved soil to bridge across even the steepest ravines. When constructing the huge causeway across from the South Fort to the North Fort, for example, they filled up three gullies, using an amount of soil equal to all of the site’s earthen walls combined.
Early settlers, astonished by the place, decided it must be a fort. Yet no fort ever had 67 gateway openings or a moat on the inside. Today, Fort Ancient and other hilltop enclosures like it are thought to have been places of special ceremony, their elevation perhaps signaling their relation to the sky.
To reach Fort Ancient, take Exit 32 on Interstate 71 and head south, turning immediately left on State Route 350. (From the north, use Exit 36, and follow the signs.) In less than 3 miles, the road drops into the steep wooded gorge of the Little Miami River, passes an old schoolhouse structure on the right, and crosses the river. At the top of the bluff on the other side, the road passes directly through one of Fort Ancient’s 67 gateways and enters the broad, open North Fort. A small crescent, and the undulating walls, are visible on the left.
The excellent Museum and Visitors Center (513-932-4421) provides an overview of the site and Ohio’s Indian cultures through the time of European contact. A garden and reconstructed Hopewell era house help visitors envision everyday life for the earthwork builders. A complete walking tour of the site, including many of its outstanding features, will take three to four hours.
Hiking, biking, and canoeing facilities are available just below Fort Ancient beside the river. Upstream, the village of Oregonia has a café popular with people on the riverside hike/bike trail.