Fort Ancient

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Museum Info

Fort Ancient

6123 St. Rt. 350
Oregonia, Ohio 45054
513–932–4421 or
1–800–283–8904
Fax 513-932-4843
Directions

Hours

April–November
Tuesday–Saturday
10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Sunday: noon-5:00 p.m.
Closed on Mondays


December–March
Saturday
10:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m.
Sunday: noon–5:00 p.m.
*Closed Monday–Friday, except by appointment

Admission:

$7.00 Adults
$6.00 Seniors (60+)
$6.00 Students (6–17)
Children under 6 and members are free.

Outdoor admission (no Museum access)
$8.00/Carload
Members are always Free!

Managed on behalf of the Ohio History Connection

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Ohio Prehistory

Late Prehistoric Period AD 1000 - 1750
The Late Prehistoric Period is the final period of the prehistoric era in Ohio and is perhaps the best known. Although other unrelated groups thrived along Lake Erie to the north, southern Ohio was populated by a culture referred to as Fort Ancient. This culture is related to larger and more complex Mississippian cultures to the west and throughout the southeastern United States. There is clear interaction with Missippian groups in the form of trade goods and shared symbolism. Some archaeologists see the Fort Ancient as an offshoot of the Mississippians, while others regard them as a unique and separate culture. The Fort Ancient culture are generally thought to be descendents of Late Woodland predecessors. The Fort Ancient are notable for their intensive reliance on corn agriculture and their large, densely occupied villages, such as SunWatch Indian Village in Montgomery County.

The Fort Ancient people had large villages that generally included about 100-500 residents. This number varied with the season as people would leave the village in the winter to live in hunting camps. The villages were substantially larger and more sedentary than the Late Woodland and were occupied for at least 20-30 years.

SunWatch Indian Village is the most thoroughly excavated village attributed to this culture. The village structure was a pattern of concentric circles with a plaza in the heart of the village. Surrounding the plaza was a circular cemetery zone in which deceased villagers were buried. Although some individuals appear to have grave goods and other indications of status, there are also individuals of corresponding lower status and children represented. Around the burial zone, there is a circular zone of storage pits, trash pits, and work/cooking areas. Surrounding the work zone is another circular ring of domestic structures. Houses were rectangular in shape and ranged in size from 16 to 22 ft wide and 19 to 30 ft long. The village was surrounded by a substantial stockade despite a general lack of evidence for warfare.

As the population continued to grow, corn (“maize”) became the primary crop, supplemented with beans and squash. These three plants were grown together and were referred to by historic Native Americans as the “three sisters.” Fort Ancient nutrition was poor, lacking diversity and protein. Approximately fifty to seventy-five percent of the diet was composed of corn alone. The Fort Ancient hunted deer extensively, but also relied on elk, turkey, bear, and small game. Nuts, fruits, and berries were also gathered.

The Fort Ancient people of Southern Ohio are known for the construction of two animal effigy mounds – Alligator Mound in Granville and Serpent Mound in Peebles. These effigy mounds were not burial sites, but were probably more ritualistic in nature, serving as ceremonial sites. The “Alligator” was originally interpreted as an alligator, it is more likely that the mound represents an opossum or panther and the name was a mistranslation by early settlers.

As Europeans began settling North America, they began trading goods with the native peoples. Europeans goods made their way through native hands into Ohio long before Europeans ever crossed the Ohio River. Some later Fort Ancient culture sites include a few European trade goods such as beads, but few if any early European explorers ever saw a Fort Ancient village. Archaeological sites attributed to the Fort Ancient culture disappear fairly abruptly around A.D. 1650. It is unclear what relationship, if any, the Fort Ancient have to the historic tribes encountered by later explorers. Large villages and most of the middle Ohio River Valley may have been largely unpopulated for at least fifty years. The introduction of European diseases may have decimated Fort Ancient people leading to their virtual disappearance, though there is no direct archaeological evidence supporting this popular idea. It has been suggested that the Fort Ancient were driven out by conflict with contemporary groups, also an idea unconfirmed by archaeological evidence.

Historic Period AD 1750 - Present
Europeans made their way into Ohio fairly late in contrast to other regions. Reliable descriptions of the Ohio River Valley do not appear until around the mid-1700s. The tribes found living in Ohio at that time include the Shawnee, Miami, Delaware, and others, of which none may be directly related to the prehistoric Fort Ancient. The Shawnee tribe is often described as the most likely historic descendent, though it is difficult for historians and archaeologists to find any definitive links. The Shawnee were an exceptionally fragmented group in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, with many relocations, fissions, and conflicts with other tribes. Prior to Europeans encountering them in southern Ohio, the Shawnee were encountered in Maryland and Pennsylvania. The Miami, Delaware, and other tribes were likewise observed in other states prior to being encountered in Ohio. Regardless of whether or not the historic tribes were related to the prehistoric cultures described by archaeologists, there is no question that historic period people lived in dynamic and threatening times.

The natives faced several hurdles and challenges to their way of life as settlers moved into the region. They were confronted with diseases in which they had no natural immunities, trading posts were built within their territories, missionaries tried to convert them to Christianity, liquor was introduced, and settlers were expanding into Ohio. The European settlers forced their way into the Ohio Valley and fought continuously for the rich and fertile land of Ohio. By the end of the War of 1812, most of the native tribes were defeated, both militarily and in spirit. Many moved westward, but a few remained in defiance. In 1830, the United States Congress enacted the Indian Removal Act which forced all natives living in the Northwest Territory, which included Ohio, to move west of the Mississippi to government-designated lands, or reservations.

For a more in-depth discussion of Ohio’s prehistory check out Brad Lepper’s book Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio’s Ancient American Indian Cultures available in The SunWatch Store. You can also visit the Ohio Historical Society’s Prehistoric Timeline of Ohio.