39°24′28.02″N 84°05′24.91″W / 39.4077833°N 84.0902528°W / 39.4077833; -84.0902528

Fort Ancient
Nearly two miles of trails wind through Fort Ancient State Memorial's 764 acres (3.09 km2)
Fort Ancient (Lebanon, Ohio) is located in Ohio
Fort Ancient (Lebanon, Ohio)
Fort Ancient (Lebanon, Ohio) is located in the United States
Fort Ancient (Lebanon, Ohio)
Nearest cityLebanon, Ohio
NRHP reference No.66000625[1]
Added to NRHPOctober 15, 1966

Fort Ancient (33 WA 2) is a Native American earthworks complex located in Washington Township, Warren County, Ohio, along the eastern shore of the Little Miami River about seven miles (11 km) southeast of Lebanon on State Route 350. The site is the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the United States[2] with three and one-half miles (18,000 ft) of walls in a 100-acre (0.40 km2) complex. Built by the Hopewell culture, who lived in the area from the 200 BC to AD 400, the site is situated on a wooded bluff 270 feet (82 m) above the Little Miami. It is the namesake of a culture known as Fort Ancient who lived near the complex long after it was constructed.

Maintained as a state historical park, the site was designated a National Historic Landmark for its significance. The State of Ohio purchased the land and made it Ohio's first state park in 1891. In addition, this is part of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, one of 14 sites nominated in January 2008 by the U.S. Department of the Interior for potential submission by the United States to the UNESCO World Heritage List.[3] It was officially designated a World Heritage Site in September 2023 together with the earthworks at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park and the Newark Earthworks.[4]


The Fort Ancient earthworks were built in at least three stages over an estimated 400-year period. The shoulder blades of deer, split elk antlers, clam shell hoes, and digging sticks were used to loosen the dirt, and baskets holding 35 to 40 pounds were used to carry and distribute the soils in building the earthworks. Archaeologists estimate the total volume of earth in the walls at 553,000 cubic yards (423,000 m3).

Archaeological Research

In 1809 the Philadelphia Port Folio published the first map and description of Fort Ancient.[5] The accounts of the site by Atwater [6] and Warden [7] several years later are nearly identical to the 1809 report and map. The site was visited and surveyed in by John Locke in 1843. In Edwin Hamilton Davis and Ephraim George Squier's Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, they described Fort Ancient as "one of the most extensive, if not the most extensive, work...in the entire West", regarding its size.[8] Warren K. Moorehead conducted some of the initial excavations at Fort Ancient in 1887 and published his research in 1891 in the book Fort Ancient: Great Prehistoric Warren County Ohio.[9] Additional research was conducted by William C. Mills in 1908 [10] and Richard Morgan and Holmes Ellis in 1939–1940.[11]

More contemporary research includes the following:


1843 Map of the earthworks at Fort Ancient included in Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.

Some archaeologists originally thought the site was created to provide shelter against enemies. However, that interpretation is now discounted as the site presents anomalies inconsistent with defensive use such as:

Based on the total corpus of archaeological research, the current functional interpretation is that the walls were designed for social, economic, political and ceremonial purposes.[17] Research demonstrates the site architecture was aligned with significant astronomical events.[18] In the Northeast corner of the complex, four circular stone-covered mounds are arranged in a square. The southwest mound of the four is interpreted to have functioned as a point that aligned with gateway openings in the embankment walls to mark significant solar and lunar events.[19]


The site now includes a 9,000-square-foot (840 m2) museum covering 1500 years of American Indian heritage in the Ohio Valley. Topics include North America's earliest people, the development of agriculture, and the impact of Europeans who migrated to the area and came into conflict with the Native Americans then living in region. The Museum also contains a classroom, a research area, and a gift shop. The site is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM and Sunday 12:00 - 5:00 PM April through November; weekends only from December through March.

The Historic Era Fort Ancient Village

Stone building from 1802 operated as the Cross Keys Tavern from 1809-1820

In the 1800s to early 1900s a village existed on the eastern bank of the Little Miami River, at the base of the Fort Ancient Earthworks. The village once had a post office (1846),[20] hotel, blacksmith shop and other businesses and residences. The village no longer exists, but is currently the home of a canoe livery and a private campground.

In the 19th century, Fort Ancient was a stop on the Little Miami Railroad. A historic tavern called the Cross Keys Tavern remains on the west bank of the Little Miami River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The area is currently a public access to the Little Miami Bike Trail, which occupies the former railway land that follows the River. There is a public access and parking for the Little Miami River at the site.

See also



  1. ^ "National Register Information System". National Register of Historic Places. National Park Service. January 23, 2007.
  2. ^ Smith, Steve; et al. (2007). "Arts & Attractions". Cincinnati USA City Guide. Cincinnati Magazine. p. 22. Retrieved 2013-05-06.
  3. ^ "Secretary Kempthorne Selects New U.S. World Heritage Tentative List" Archived 2011-07-21 at the Wayback Machine, Dept. of Interior (posted by Octagonmoonrise), 22 Jan 2008, accessed 5 Dec 2008
  4. ^ Centre, UNESCO World Heritage. "Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks". UNESCO World Heritage Centre. Retrieved 2023-09-24.
  5. ^ Smith, T.H. (1977). The Mapping of Ohio. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press.
  6. ^ Atwater, Caleb (1820) Description of the Antiquities Discovered in the State of Ohio and other Western States.  Transactions and Collections of the American Antiquarian Society.   
  7. ^ Warden, M. (1825). Recherches sur les Antiquités des États-Unis. Paris, France: Recueil de Voyages et de Memoires, La Societe de Geographie. pp. 372–506.
  8. ^ Ephraim George Squier; Edwin Hamilton Davis (1848). Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley. Smithsonian Institution. pp. 79–86.
  9. ^ Moorehead, Warren K. Fort Ancient: The Great Prehistoric Earthwork 1891, AMS Press.
  10. ^ Mills, William C. (1908) Field notes from 1908 excavations at Fort Ancient. Ms. on file, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus Ohio.   
  11. ^ Morgan, Richard and Holmes Ellis (1939-1940)   Field Notes from 1939 & 1940 Excavations at the Fort Ancient State Memorial.  Ms. on file, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus  
  12. ^ Connolly, Robert (1996). Middle Woodland Hilltop Enclosures: The Built Environment, Construction and Function. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms.
  13. ^ Connolly, Robert (1998) The Architectural Grammar of Middle Woodland Hilltop Enclosures: Fort Ancient as a Case Study. In Ancient Earthen Enclosures of the Eastern Woodlands, edited by Lynne Sullivan and Robert Mainfort, University Press of Florida, Gainesville.
  14. ^ Connolly, Robert and Lauren Sieg (1997). The Gateway 84 Embankment Wall. Volume II, 1995 Report of Investigations at the Fort Ancient State Memorial. copy on file, Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
  15. ^ Adrienne, Lazazzera (2004). Hopewell Household Variation at the Fort Ancient Site. In The Fort Ancient Earthworks, edited by Robert P. Connolly and Bradley T. Lepper, Ohio Historical Society. pp. 84–106.
  16. ^ Robert, Riordan (2015). The End. In ‘Building the Past: prehistoric wooden post architecture in the Ohio Valley-Great Lakes,’ edited by Brian G. Redmond and Robert A. Genheimer, University Press of Florida, Gainesville. pp. 126–145.
  17. ^ Connolly, Robert (2004)     Time, Space, and Function at Fort Ancient.  In The Fort Ancient Earthworks: Prehistoric Lifeways of the Hopewell Culture in Southwestern Ohio, edited by Robert P. Connolly and Bradley T. Lepper.  Ohio Historical Society, Columbus.
  18. ^ Romain, William (2004) Journey to the Center of the World: Astronomy, Geometry, and Cosmology of the Fort Ancient Enclosure  In The Fort Ancient Earthworks: Prehistoric Lifeways of the Hopewell Culture in Southwestern Ohio, edited by Robert P. Connolly and Bradley T. Lepper.  Ohio Historical Society, Columbus. pp. 66-83.
  19. ^ Essenpreis, Patricia and David Duszynski (1989) Possible Astronomical Alignments at the Fort Ancient Monument. Paper presented at the 54th Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Atlanta.
  20. ^ "Warren County, Ohio Place Names". Warren County Genealogical Society. Archived from the original on 13 March 2018. Retrieved 13 March 2018.