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Master of Scaremonies
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Archaeologists find surprise at Fort Ancient

It was not as grand as Stonehenge in England, but it must have looked spectacular and just as mysterious.

I'm referring to this summer's archaeological find at Fort Ancient in Warren County.

I stood at the excavation site the other day wondering what prehistoric Indians had in mind when they built the fort 2,000 years ago.

Fort Ancient, which is owned by the Ohio Historical Society, is on a plateau 235 feet above the Little Miami River in southwestern Ohio. Built by the Hopewell Culture, the earthen walls stretch for 3 1 /2 miles and enclose about 120 acres, making it America's largest Indian hilltop enclosure.

Fort Ancient has been investigated extensively. But until last year, no one had an inkling of what was to be uncovered this summer.

Last summer, archaeologists used a remote sensing device to find evidence of a manmade circular structure 200 feet in diameter hidden below the earth's surface.

This summer, archaeologists from Wright State University uncovered a portion of what had been hidden for so long.

Anthropology professor Robert Riordan, who led the dig, said a ring of as many as 220 pits was found along the circumference of the giant circle. Large posts had been seated in the pits, and each post had a big pile of rocks placed around it for support.

The posts must have been tall, maybe 10 to 15 feet, because each was seated a meter into the ground, Riordan said.

"We think it is Hopewell," he said. He based that premise on the artifacts found during the dig, including pottery and mica fragments, small flint blades and projectile points.

The Indians "went to a great deal of effort to make this very special place," he said.

"There may have been a double or triple ring of posts. We still haven't figured it out."

Further excavation will be required next summer.

Some of the rocks supporting the posts were as big as basketballs and were hauled from the river a half-mile away.

In the center of the circle is an ancient excavated pit about 2 feet deep and 10 feet square and filled with burned soil. "We think they might have hauled it in," Riordan said.

Archaeologists envision Fort Ancient as a religious center serving many villages spread across the countryside.

What part the giant circle played is still a mystery.

"We don't know what they were using it for," Riordan said. "We think it is a ceremonial feature.

"We're looking into the unknown here."

Fifteen students and several volunteers have been working on the dig for six weeks. Their work is finished for this season, but they will return next summer to decipher more of the mystery.
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