NEWARK

THE OCTAGON GATEWAYS

The walls of the Octagon with one of the gateway mounds; from certain angles our eye is prevented from escaping the enclosure.

The distance across the Octagon is even greater than that of the Observatory Circle: views from one gateway to its opposite are nearly lost, especially when the air is hazy. Yet sighting along these walls, and point to point across the geometric figure, and on to the horizons beyond, was a major function of this place.

At the Octagon’s cleverly-designed gateways, the precision of this monumental architecture is at its most apparent: perfect, flat-topped mounds block the vistas out of the Octagon’s open corners. We are both contained and released, with subtle shifts in these effects as we move around inside.

An early, eighteen-sixteen map of the earthworks hints at another possible feature of these eight gateways. A black dot next to each gateway mound was labeled “cavity”. Brad Lepper explains how one of these was excavated, and what was found:

A conjectural reconstruction showing clusters of houses and village fires near (but never inside of) the geometric earthworks.

It’s simply a large pit filled with… coarse gravel with a post sitting beside it. And inferring that one of these would be located next to each one of those platform mounds, you can speculate (that)… perhaps they’re different clan entrances, and if you’re bear clan there’d be a big mica symbol of a bear or something attached to that pole. Alternatively, perhaps those were the posts set originally for making the astronomical alignments.

The eastern, somewhat overgrown gateway of the Octagon touches the modern road, near modern houses, raising the question of where Newark’s ancient earthwork builders lived. Recent evidence suggests that people gathered from both local and distant places in very large numbers, first to build and then to use the site. Vast temporary villages or encampments may have covered much of the surrounding land.

Fragment of the Campbell-Walsh Map of 1816, showing evidence of post holes adjacent to each gateway mound.

Newark

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