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In September 2019, The Archaeological Conservancy joined forces with local conservation organizations in Ohio to try our hand at the winning bid for one of the Hopewell Culture’s most enigmatic earthworks, Fortified Hill. Located in Hamilton, Ohio, the site is one of six Hopewell Culture earthworks on the Great Miami River included on a map in Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley published by the Smithsonian Institution in 1848. The site was initially documented in 1836, but it has never been excavated. Today, it is the only one of the six earthworks that survives.  The perimeter earthworks enclose some 17 acres on the top of a high hill.

Years ago, a local physician with an interest in the past purchased the land containing Fortified Hill in an attempt to protect it from the urban sprawl of Dayton and Cincinnati. Unfortunately, he passed away this summer without leaving instructions for the site, and although his intentions to see the earthwork permanently protected were well known within his circle of friends, some heirs insisted that the property be auctioned to the highest bidder. The Conservancy had reached out earlier and offered to pay a fair market price for the property but were denied. After months of delay, we were informed that an auction date was set for September 28th, and we had five weeks to raise funds. The auction would be the one shot at preserving the earthworks; failure would lose the cultural resource forever.

Its survival was critically threatened. Given the booming population of southwestern Ohio and the scenic views offered by property, the highest bidder may well have been a builder of McMansions. Needless to say, this scenario would destroy the earthwork and its potential for any future archaeological research. With this in mind, the Conservancy partnered with local land trusts and the Pyramid Hill Sculpture Park and Museum, located immediately east of the earthwork. The sculpture park had long wanted to own the earthwork and was a crucial part of the auction process.

Due to a ground swell of support, both locally and nationally, the Conservancy raised $400,000 in pledges and all four parcels containing the Fortified Hill site were successfully bid! The Conservancy now maintains ownership interest in the property, allowing us to manage the cultural resources and ensure the preservation of the site. Preservation of the Fortified Hill site will contribute to public knowledge about the site’s significance and the importance of cultural resource preservation. The preserve will be used as open space and protected against future development. Fortified Hill will be preserved for posterity and will be made available for research under strict terms set by the Conservancy.