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Ancient Fortresses of the Ohio Valley, Part V: Processed Goods, Packaging and Transportation

Ancient Fortresses of the Ohio Valley, Part V: Processed Goods, Packaging and Transportation

 Rick Osmon
Originally published in Ancient American Magazine Issue # 105

When we think of ancient trade by ancient merchants, we usually think in terms of durable goods, that is, things or materials that have survived rot and decay to the present day. We think mostly of those things because it’s what we can see or touch. It’s not just earthworks, stone, shells, bone, metal, ceramics, or fabric, either. Pollens, foodstuff remains, wood, seeds, insect remains, domesticated plant and animal remains, paint, language, and the big one, DNA, drive our thoughts and are all are tools we can use to reconstruct some of the goings on of long ago merchants. Some of that trade was from farther afield and much more rapid in transit than most people ever dreamed. Read more

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Ancient Fortresses of the Ohio Valley Part 3: Grave Creek Complex; Smoke and Mirrors


In the first installment of this series (AA, Vol 17, Issue 101), I described two ancient fortresses, Merom Bluff and Devil’s Backbone, both in Indiana. In the second installment (Vol 17, Issue 102), I outlined the line of sight communications network that seems to have existed between those two sites and showed specific placements of the towers and hills used. In this installment, we examine the bigger picture, from the headwaters of the Ohio to the Mississippi, but we are not traveling on the rivers, this trip is overland, primarily.

No examination of the fortresses of the Ohio Valley and the network they comprised would be complete without inclusion of the Grave Creek Mound Complex, as it once existed on both sides of the Ohio River near present day Moundsville, West Virginia.

Grave Creek Mound itself is a 66 foot tall conical mound that overlooks a portion of the Ohio River and both the Little Grave Creek and Big Grave Creek drainage basins. It was described as 75 feet tall at the beginning of the 19th century. In addition to the large mound, there were at least fifteen other earthen or earth and stone structures that were part of the greater complex. These were mapped by H. R. Schoolcraft in 1843. According to Schoolcraft, all appear to have been used as signaling places. Although nearly all the “ancillary” earthworks are destroyed or obscured by modern development, the terrain where they were built is easy to recognize from Schoolcraft’s work. They were on both sides of the Ohio and up to several miles north of the big mound on the upland, a couple of them out of sight of the river. The two northernmost of Schoolcraft’s map form a line that runs west southwest to east north east and seem oddly placed in the limited context of the Grave Creek Complex. The tower that was both on the Ohio side of the river and on this line had an earthen and stone , and possibly palisade defensive works around it, as did another tower on the Ohio side on the bluff west of the town where the river bends westward.


In 1838, an archaeological excavation of Grave Creek Mound, led by Jesse and Abelard Tomlinson, uncovered the ruins of two large vaults, one situated directly below the other. The vaults contained several human skeletons and a considerable amount of jewelery and other artifacts. According to Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, who visited the site in 1843, the Grave Creek Stone was discovered in the upper vault, along with seventeen hundred beads, five hundred sea shells, five copper bracelets, and one hundred and fifty plates of mica. The Grave Creek Tablet was “a small flat stone, of an ovate shape, containing an inscription in unknown characters”. Read more

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