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Oral History and Ohio’s Earthworks

Monday, August 25, 2014

(Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons)COLUMBUS, OHIO—In his column for The Columbus Dispatch, Bradley T. Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio History Connection, describes his recent research into what historic American Indian tribes of the eastern Woodlands told arriving European Americans about the massive earthworks of North America. Many of these monuments are more than 2,000 years old. Lepper found that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, indigenous peoples living in the region had different ideas about how and why the monumental structures had been built. “Oral traditions simply cannot be passed down reliably over that span of time. Moreover, the centuries of disease, warfare, forced migrations and acculturation that followed the arrival of Europeans in America effectively erased much traditional knowledge that might otherwise have been preserved,” he writes. Lepper adds, however, that American-Indian oral traditions offer a source for ideas about the purpose and meaning of the sites that can be tested with archaeological data. To learn more about Ohio's world class mound sites, read ARCHAEOLOGY's online feature "The Newark Earthworks."