The Newark Earthworks

Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings

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Lindsay Jones, Richard D. Shiels
Studies in Religion and Culture
  • Charlottesville, VA: 
    University of Virginia Press
    , April
     352 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


Sacred spaces createunique environments for the people of a community and for those that inhabit such space. Sacred space differentiates its value from normal space in the symbols that are pervasive in the creation of these spaces. Native peoples’ relationship to space is a unique example of this kind of space. The land holds significant value for indigenous people because of its innate sacred qualities, making it something to be respected, like any other living being on the planet. Thus, working in tandem with the land and its resources, Native Americans have a unique relationship that recognizes geography as sacred. Lindsay Jones and Richard D. Shiels provide us with a glimpse into this kind of indigenous awareness in their compilation of writings on one of the most well preserved sacred places in this country, and in the world: the two thousand year old Newark Earthworks.  Earthworks serves as a Native American site of religious, political, and scientific understanding of indigenous Hopewellian culture. 

In theNewark Earthworks: Enduring Monuments, Contested Meanings, the editors explore the grounds of Newark by examining the disciplinary, thematic, and historical contexts of the Earthworks. The authors of the individual texts are united by the unique nature of the Earthworks and by the simple fact that the site has been ignored for so long. Without any pre-existent compiled text of this kind, both Jones and Shiels provide the Earthworks with the recognition it deserves in putting forth this collection of writings on the site that will help solidify its memory for years to come. The book is broken into six sections covering topics including history, archeology, astronomy, religious studies, cartography, indigenous identity, and law. Each of these sections helps to highlight different aspects of the Earthworks, including its place in Ohio and the surrounding community, its value to the Hopewell people, the importance of land to Native Americans, to the rights of indigenous people, and the preservation of this site. 

The book flows fluidly, reading more like original text rather than a compiled collection. This rather thoughtful presentation is owed to the editors and their organization in creating this anthology, which could have been influenced by the fact that the book is the result of a symposium on the Earthworks, held in 2011. 

In one of the first articles  Shiels illuminates readers on the significance of different parts of the grounds. He explains how these grounds contain stone walls and ditches along with a tangible landscape which includes waterways and mountains. Specifically, in this first section the editors introduce the notion that indigenous knowledge, such as shamanic practices and rituals, are written on the land. That writing now exists on this site as a circle and an octagon—which are visible only by aerial photography—ranging from many miles including where a country club is now located. 

The book continues the conversation of indigenous knowledge by focusing on the history of the space, particularly through archeology and archeoastronomy. Bradley Lepper, Ray Hively, and Robert Horn provide an understanding of how the site’s specific cosmological and geometric significance help provide a context for the religious ceremonies and ritual history of the grounds. We learn that participants are capable of directly connecting into cosmic rhythms which the authors discover through the examinations of burial artifacts and pilgrimage landmarks, like Hopewell Road. Through observations and questioning they conclude that there was and still exists a highly ritualized system of processes at the Earthworks. John Hancock writes that the experiences of the Hopewell people enabled a world of meaning to exist where a “fusion of horizons” (162) became reality with the dead and living communicating with one another (162). This rather symbolic connection to the land allowed a new system of cartography to appear, focusing on the land as a map and place of orientation. 

The central question the book asks is how should certain people—the general public as well as Native Americans—play into this highly ritualized system today? Marti Chaatsmith engages with this conversation by talking about a kind of knowledge only indigenous people know and understand, the kind of knowledge tour guides cannot provide to visitors in the community about the site. She talks about how we must provide Native Americans with a voice that honors who they are as well as treating their past with respect and justice, not only for the Hopewell of the past, but also other Native American groups in Ohio and elsewhere now and in the future. For Chaatsmith, writing about the Earthworks is not enough; rather it is the act of taking a stand that creates change and lasting memory. 

The Newark Earthworks provides a comprehensive introduction to a site that until this point had not been extensively written about. It provides research from diverse backgrounds which the editors have done a great job introducing. This is the first research of its kind on the site allowing for future discussions on the topic, and it is a great place to start a converation about sacred spaces. The incorporation of indigenous scholars into this conversation through the voices of Marti Chaatsmith, Duane Champagne, and Margaret Pearce shows a deep sign of empathy and respect for their scholarship on a topic that many of them have dealt with in their own lives. If these individuals had not been included in this work it would have been hard to consider this book a piece of essential reading on the topic. By incorporating these authors, the book presents a culture-centric approach to the topic of the Newark Earthworks that encourages further discussion within the communities on theories and ideas, ultimately removing the categories formerly placed on indigenous people and allowing them to create their own narratives. 

About the Reviewer(s): 

Alec Sixta is a recent graduate of the Masters of Arts program in Religious Studies at California State University, Long Beach.  He currently teaches Religious Studies at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, CA.

Date of Review: 
October 18, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Lindsay Jones is Professor of Comparative Studies at The Ohio State University. Richard D. Shiels is Emeritus Associate Professor of History at The Ohio State University.



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