Ohio’s World Heritage Site hopes tied to Irish archaeologist

Fort Ancient, other sites predict huge growth in tourism with designation.

The World Heritage Site aspirations of the Fort Ancient Earthworks and eight other American Indian cultural sites in Ohio could turn on the findings of an Irish archaeologist.

Margaret Gowen returned to Ireland last week after visiting the sites and meeting officials promoting the global tourist attraction designation through the United Nations (UN). Gowen was in Ohio to research a report she is preparing for the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS).

“Were waiting to get her report late this year. We thought it was a good visit. I’m sure its going to be helpful,” said George Kane, director of historic sites and facilities for the Ohio History Connection.

Also complicating the chances of World Heritage Site designation for what is being called the “Hopewell Ceremonial Sites” is federal law barring the U.S. from paying dues to the U.N. while it recognizes the existence of Palestine.

ICOMOS is the organization that decides the merit of sites nominated for World Heritage Site status through the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The Ohio History Connection is part of the effort to win World Heritage Site status for Fort Ancient, the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park, Hopewell Mound Group, Seip Earthworks and Mound City Group; High Bank Earthworks and Hopeton Earthworks and Newark Earthworks State Memorial.

The sites are believed to have been built by the Ohio Hopewell culture between 500 B.C. and 1100 A.D.

In addition to earthworks still standing above ground, recent research using “remote sensing” technologies has turned up newly found antiquities such as the Morehead Circle, constructed about 2,000 years ago at Fort Ancient in Warren County.

Such features could help the Ohio sites measure up to famous monuments and sites around the world.

“We have to put these sites in a global context,” Kane said. “The other thing World Heritage is very concerned about is how we will protect them into the future.”

Discussions involve whether picnicking or other recreational activities would still be allowed on the sites or if buildings on the sites should be moved.

Gowen came to review the sites and meet with those involved in developing materials for the application.

“She’s been charged with giving us a more definitive answer about what we need to do,” said John Hancock, chairman of the steering committee supporting Ohio’s World Heritage Site application effort.

A group of archaeologists, anthropologist, architects, historians, cultural landscape historians, museum and park administrators and American Indians has been working on the application materials. The Ohio History Connection estimates the process could cost as much as $1.2 million.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work for three years. There’s a couple more hoops to jump through before we know for sure,” Hancock, a retired University of Cincinnati architect, added, while declining to elaborate on remaining obstacles, citing continuing private negotiations.

ExploreWarren County is building a long-range plan for the area around the Wilmington Road interchange at Interstate 71 in anticpation of Fort Ancient being designated a World Heritage Site.

The Ohio sites are already on a tentative list. The National Park Service is expected to decide early next year whether to make the application to UNESCO now or hone it further.

“They’re emphasizing it’s better to have one that is 100-percent complete,” Kane said.

Gowen could not be reached about her findings.

National Park Service officials said the Ohio sites could achieve World Heritage Site status in 2018, but termed this “a best-case scenario.”

Also thought to potentially weaken the application’s chance is the implications of the U.S.cutting off dues to the U.N.

The U.S. lost its vote on the UNESCO General Conference in 2013, two years after it stopped paying dues following the U.N.’s admission of Palestine.

Still, UNESCO considers adding American sites to the World Heritage Site list — seen as key to establishing a global tourist attraction.

“We don’t know if that will continue or not. It’s kind of one year at a time,” Kane said.

About the Author