An Indigenous Ceremonial Site in Ohio Just Earned World Heritage Protection

The US is now home to 25 of the world's 1,199 UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks unesco world heritage site
Photo by Hopewell Culture NHP/US National Park Service, Courtesy UNESCO
Photo by Hopewell Culture NHP/US National Park Service, Courtesy UNESCO

On Monday, the World Heritage Committee officially named 42 new UNESCO World Heritage sites, which will now benefit from the highest level of heritage protection in the world. Thirty-three of the sites named are of cultural significance and nine are natural sites, bringing the total of UNESCO World Heritage sites to 1,199 locations across 168 countries.

The 42 new sites include a wide variety of locations, from old tea forests on Jingmai Mountain in southwestern China to ring-shaped viking-age fortresses in Denmark and the addition of key sections of the Silk Road in Central Asia. The US gained a new World Heritage site as well, the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks along the Ohio River, making it the twenty-fifth World Heritage site in the US and the first site in Ohio.

The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks is a series of eight earthen enclosure complexes that were built between 1,600 and 2,000 years ago in present-day Ohio. They are the most accurate surviving representation of the indigenous Hopewell culture. Complex and precise, the earthworks include geometric squares, circles and octagons, as well as hilltops sculpted to enclose large plazas.

The earthworks include alignments with the cycles of the sun and the moon, and were utilized as ceremonial sites. Artifacts found on-site have included some of the best art objects produced in pre-Columbian North America. These found objects also give a bigger picture into the history of the Hopewell people, with artifacts created from materials not local to the region, showing that those who built the earthworks had contact with people as far away as Florida and the Yellowstone basin.

It was announced in May 2022 that the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks were submitted for nomination by the National Park Service. The UNESCO committee deemed the Hopewell site as having "outstanding universal value," deeming it worthy of special protection due to the earthworks being "masterpieces of human creative genius" and "a unique testimony to the tradition of the indigenous Hopewell culture of two millennia ago."

If you'd like to visit the newest US UNESCO world heritage site, head to the south-central town of Chillicothe, Ohio, about one hour south of Columbus. You can find out more information about visiting the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park here.

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Lisa White is a contributor for Thrillist. Follow her on Instagram.