Explore Ohio's First World Heritage Site in Warren County

Blog by Stacha Yundt

The Grand Canyon, the Great Barrier Reef, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and more. Apart from ranking among our world's most amazing wonders, all of these global icons share something else in common: they’ve all been inscribed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

In the early morning hours of September 19, 2023, an incredible Warren County wonder joined their ranks.

Oregonia's Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve and seven other Ohio sites that together make up the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are officially Ohio's first ever World Heritage site, and one of only 25 sites in the entire United States to have earned that exciting, historic designation.

What is World Heritage?

The World Heritage List exists to protect places of outstanding historical and cultural value for future generations. The criteria for World Heritage is steep – sites must be of “outstanding universal value,” and fewer than 1,300 places worldwide have made the cut to date. The campaign to get the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks inscribed as a World Heritage Site (lead in recent years by the Ohio History Connection working in conjunction with numerous representatives from indigenous tribes with ancestral ties to the area) spanned more than a decade.

Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve | Warren County, Ohio

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks are a collection of 8 sites throughout Ohio that are remnants of the Hopewell Period. These amazing earthen mounds were created 2,000 years ago by early American Indians and serve as a testament to their understanding of geometry, architecture, astronomy and more. Some of the walls at these earthworks reach over 30 feet in height.

Many of the sites are geometric enclosures, built into perfect circles, squares, and octagons across hundreds of acres and a number of them were constructed with clear lunar and solar alignments in mind. Despite the fact that many of these earthworks have “Fort” in their names, they were not protective or combat-related sites, but rather places of great ceremonial importance to the early American Indians who built them.

Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia

While the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks appear in numerous regions across Ohio, one of the most prominent is right here in Warren County.

The Museum at Fort Ancient Earthworks & Nature Preserve | Warren County, Ohio

Unlike the geometric earthworks in Newark and Chillicothe, Fort Ancient Earthworks in Oregonia is a massive hilltop enclosure – so large that you could fit the entire Great Pyramid of Giza inside! It’s the largest hilltop enclosure in North America and was Ohio’s first State Park before becoming a part of the Ohio History Connection. While parts of the earthworks were damaged or even destroyed by farming over the years, Fort Ancient’s earthworks remain some of the best preserved in the world because of their hilltop location. Today, Fort Ancient is also a nature preserve and boasts an impressive museum that follows Ohio’s first peoples from the Ice Age all the way up to post-contact with European settlers.

With the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks’ inscription comes the opportunity to continue to preserve and protect these incredible feats of mathematical genius and engineering that have stood for 2,000 years. To get started on your tour of these amazing sites, visit the Fort Ancient visitors center and museum and take your first step into history.