Ancient road gets a reprieve

Published in Indian Country Today in 2006. For more on topics like this, see my book, American Apartheid: The Native American Struggle...

A 192-acre parcel that includes the last 250 feet of a 2,000-year-old road has just been rezoned from agricultural to commercial use in preparation for sale to a developer. That fact was recently confirmed John Groff, chief of the division of building and zoning in Heath. Ohio. In ancient times, the straight, 200-foot-wide walled boulevard connected the Newark Earthworks, a mound complex in nearby Newark, Ohio, with another major mound group 60 miles away.

Archaeologist Bradley Lepper has been documenting the thoroughfare by examining aerial and infrared photographs, post-Contact maps and the like. It was likely a ceremonial road, he said: “It’s much bigger than necessary for practical reasons. Its straightness and scale implies sacred traditions.”

The zoning change sent shivers through the local Native community and their supporters, who are already embroiled in controversies surrounding the Newark complex.

Not to worry, said David Palchesko, a vice president of Chase Properties, Ltd., the developer of a shopping center proposed for the site. “We’re aware of the road. We’re discussing whether we’ll keep it, give it to the city or whatever, but we’re not going to destroy it.”

“Many Ohio earthworks, including the much of the ceremonial road, sit on land that’s privately owned or leased,” said Marti Chaatsmith, Comanche-Choctaw, program coordinator of the Newark Earthworks Center, a program of Ohio State University at Newark. “So, their preservation depends on educating the public, including developers, about not just their historical meaning, but their contemporary religious significance. Native people still come to these places to pray. Protecting the places is important to maintaining Indian cultural identity and spiritual beliefs.”

Text c. Stephanie Woodard.

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