National Park Service


Date of this Version



Hopewell Archeology: The Newsletter of Hopewell Archeology in the Ohio River Valley Volume 5, Number 2, December 2002


1. A Preliminary Comparison of 1997 and 2002 Limited Excavations in the Great Circle Wall, High Bank Works, Ross County, Ohio

The High Bank Works (33Ro24) are located southeast of Chillicothe on a glacial outwash terrace about 17 m above the active floodplain of the Scioto River. They are one of the more complexly designed sets of enclosures among the numerous enclosure sites found in the Central Scioto region. The major sections include a relatively rare octagonal enclosure, small and large circular features, and linear walls (Figure 1).

Excavation Findings

An unexpected finding is that more than 200 of the recorded features are apparently re-filled post holes of varying diameters (Figure 3). There is no obvious pattern in their locations. It is likely that other post holes exist outside the excavated area. The excavations also revealed the remnant of the wall itself and a different sequence of construction from that found in either of the two test trenches placed near the neck south of the farm lane (Greber 1999:Figs. 4,5). Consistent with the initial construction seen in both Trenches I and II, the aboriginal site users apparently cleared the ground surface to about 20 cm above the underlying natural glacial sandy gravels.

Radiocarbon Dates

Three AMS radiocarbon assays have been completed (Table 1). Two dates, Beta 170562 and Beta 170564, come from bits of charred oak recovered from the slide trench (Feature 2) and are consistent with the dates obtained from the larger charred oak posts that composed the dismantled fence found in Trench II (Greber 1999: Table 1). The average at two sigma for the dates based on the small line of posts in Trench III is 1860 ± 80 years BP. Averaging the date based on charcoal from an above-ground section of the dismantled fence and the three dates from the in situ below-ground posts found in Trench II gives the same date. The third date, Beta 170563, is apparently not associated with the Hopewell wall construction. It is based on charred oak bits found at the edge of a post hole directly north of the slide trench (Feature 6). Beta Analytic conducted a second independent run based on materials selected from the remaining pretreated portion of the sample. The resulting date is the same as for the first run, many millennia before the Hopewell era (Table 1).


It must be kept in mind that the following comments are based on a very small excavation sample of the wall. The six usable radiocarbon dates from essentially opposite sides of the circle suggest a relatively short time, in terms of human generations, for initial construction of the wall. This is consistent with the condition of the lower strata found in Trenches I and II where about thirty percent (40 cm) of the wall height recorded in 1846 is still intact. Here the top surfaces of the inner “red” and outer “yellow” base strata showed no signs of exposure. The total construction time that left a significantly higher wall is still not known.

2. Hopewell Mound 11: Yet Another Look at an Old Collection

The single largest deposit of obsidian known anywhere in prehistoric eastern North America is the huge quantity of flakes and other debitage excavated by Henry C. Shetrone (1926) from a “characteristic floor” at the base of the small Mound 11 of the Hopewell type site in Ross County, Ohio (Shetrone 1922:August 2). Approximately 136 kg of obsidian debitage had been carefully placed on the floor (Figure 1). Shetrone interpreted the obsidian debitage as having resulted from the production of the 150+ very large bifaces, including Ross points, found in ritual deposits within Mound 25 and elsewhere at the Hopewell site. He further inter-preted a nearby cremation burial as that of the “Master Artisan” who knapped those large, magnificently crafted bifaces (1922, 1930).

Comments on Context

The well-known photograph of the obsidian deposit (Shetrone 1926: Fig. 10; Shetrone 1930:Fig. 125; Hatch et al. 1990:Fig. 2) does not show the deposit as first found. As recorded in the field notes, excavations began on the south side of the mound, and the edge of the deposit was encountered almost immediately (Figure 1). The entire deposit was removed over two days (Shetrone 1922: 22 and 23 August). The character of the deposit and the two portions of mica cutouts and a cut and polished, though likely unfinished, piece of calcite are described in the notes in some detail. Excavations continued to the east where a small ritual basin was encountered (Figure 1).

Examination of the Collection

On May 7, 2002, we conducted a preliminary survey of the Mound 11 flake collection at the Ohio Historical Society curation facility. The examination convinces us that there is much to be learned from this unique deposit and its context, and additional study is planned. Martha Otto, Cheryl Johnston, and William Pickard facilitated our study and deserve our great appreciation.