The mounds offer a glimpse of pre-Marietta history | News, Sports, Jobs

Castle archaeologist Wes Clarke discusses the Conus Mound in Marietta’s Mound cemetery. It is associated with the Adena culture, which was active in the Central Valley of Ohio around 800 BC to 100 AD. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

MARIETTA – Mound Cemetery is the final resting place of Revolutionary War veterans and Ohio Company founders Rufus Putnam and Benjamin Tupper, among others. But its history dates back centuries before the first settlers arrived in Marietta and the Northwest Territories.

In the cemetery at Fifth and Cutler Streets stands the 30-foot mound that gives the cemetery its name. Its conical shape with a surrounding ditch and embankment makes it an example of construction from the Adena Archaeological Period, which extended from 800 BC to 100 AD in the central Ohio Valley.

“These were built through manual labor – obviously they didn’t have backhoes or dump trucks,” said Wes Clarke, archaeologist at the nearby Castle Historic House Museum. “They didn’t even have wheelbarrows. … These would be multi-generational projects.

Marietta is also home to earthworks attributed to the Hopewell culture, in an estimated period of 50 BC to 450 AD. These include a pair of rectangular enclosures, enclosing 59 and 27 acres, between what is now Second to Fifth Streets, the larger of which contained a trio of flat-topped mounds. A graded passage between this enclosure and the Muskingum River was known as the Sacra Via, a name that lives on in an adjacent park and street.

The carefully manipulated topography provides clues to at least one purpose of the earthworks, as the lines down the center of Sacra Via and across the ramps on the Quadranou Mound and Capitoleum Mound align with the sunset at the solstice of winter.

Visitors walk atop the Conus Mound at Marietta’s Mound Cemetery in August. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“A simple answer is that they were in a sense giant clocks or calendars,” Clarke said. “But I think it’s much more than that.”


Although Marietta grew up around the earthworks — the main branch of the Washington County Public Library even sits atop the Capitol Mound — they weren’t in the backyards of Adena residents and of Hopewell, who tended to live in river valleys, Clarke said.

“It was not a day-to-day living space” he said. “We think it’s been set aside as what we might call a sacred space.”

Conical burial mounds like the one in the cemetery, designated “Known” in 1785 by the leaders of the Ohio Company who colonized the area, almost always have bodies buried in them. But these are not community burial sites, nor are they reserved only for society leaders, Clarke said. Remains of men, women, children and even infants have been found in these mounds.

Old stone steps and a metal handrail provide access to the top of the Conus Mound which gives the Cemetery Mound its name. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“There was more to this selection than whether you lived to do great things,” said Clarke, saying they might have been for certain clans.

Scientific speculation suggests that the mounds, whether in height or relative to astronomical features, represent an intentional connection between Earth and heaven, Clarke said. There was probably a religious or spiritual significance.

“These were places where ancestors were buried and you could come here and interact with your ancestors,” Clarke said.

Special objects were buried with the people, often made with materials from outside the region. Examples include marine shells from the Gulf of Mexico, copper from Michigan or mica from North Carolina, Clarke said. This indicates that the communities participated in an extensive trade network in the eastern part of what is now the United States.

It is presumed that similar contents could be found in the Conus mound, but Clarke won’t dig there and doesn’t think anyone else should either.

The Quadranou mound north of Warren and Third streets in Marietta is associated with the Hopewell culture. (Photo by Evan Bevins)

“We prefer to leave him alone” he said, noting a desire to avoid disturbing human remains and to keep earthworks intact. “It’s an irony of archeology – you destroy your data as you collect it.”


The top of the Conus Mound was leveled in the 1800s and unconfirmed stories claim human remains have been encountered.

There were excavations at the Capitoleum when the library expanded in 1990. A collaboration then between the library, Marietta College, and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History produced stone tools and ceramic specimens, plant materials giving insight into the environment and diets of the time and wood. carbon-dated charcoal to confirm its place in the Hopewell period, according to information provided by Clarke.

Some prehistoric artifacts – including bladelets, long, narrow flint tools with sharp edges associated with the Hopewell culture – were recovered while researchers investigated the Nathaniel Clark pottery site on the castle grounds, about a block from Mound Cemetery.

The Washington County Public Library on Fifth Street in Marietta sits atop the Capitol Mound, associated with the Hopewell culture. (Photo by Art Smith)

While some of the earthworks have been lost over the years, Clarke is grateful to the leaders of The Ohio Company and others over the years who recognized the importance of earthworks and that so much has survived.

“It’s wonderful that it was put away so early, so it’s been really well preserved,” he said.

Clarke compares the earthworks to famous historical sites such as Stonehenge or the pyramids of Egypt. Conus, including the moat and embankment, is similar in diameter to Stonehenge, and the Great Pyramid of Giza could fit four times inside the square surrounding the flat-topped mounds.

Both of these structures are on the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) list of World Heritage Sites, and the Marietta earthworks are on that radar.

“They receive … recognition that they are internationally significant and important,” Clarke said. “It’s a very long and detailed process. International teams have come here to see the mounds, to assess them.

(Picture provided)

In the meantime, area residents and visitors can visit the castle’s website,, to find upcoming events focusing on earthworks and other aspects of local history. The castle hosts an annual gathering to watch the winter solstice sunset at Sacra Via.

Evan Bevins can be contacted at [email protected]

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