Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Booster cover article 04-24-05
Jeff Gill

Moonrise Over Newark

Two noted scientists came to Newark over twenty years ago to disprove a theory. What they discovered instead was an achievement of Native Americans that still amazes them, and may yet awe modern inhabitants of the Licking and Raccoon River valleys.

Ray Hively, an astronomer, and Robert Horn, a philosopher, professors at Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana, came across Ohio to examine the world-famous Newark Earthworks, 2000 year old geometric forms on the landscape whose alignments and purposes are still dimly understood. They will return to the area to speak on Wednesday, May 4th, at 7:00 PM, in Founders Hall on the campus of the Ohio State University in Newark. They will share what they have learned, and what they are learning, about the remarkable relationship between what they call “these amazing earthworks” and the moon.

Hively and Horn originally wanted to use the Octagon to test a theory they had about the field of “archaeoastronomy,” the study of ancient structures and their alignments with astronomical events such as sunrises at the equinoxes (twice a year when the day and night are “equal”) and solstices (twice a year when the sun stops moving north or south and returns in the opposite direction). They thought that there might be as much wishful thinking as reality in finds of astronomical alignments at places like Stonehenge in England, Pueblo Bonito in New Mexico, or Serpent Mound in southern Ohio.

The Octagon of the Newark Earthworks, just one part of a once four square mile complex of connected earthern architecture, seemed to offer a good test. With eight sides, seven openings and the eighth opening along a short “neck” of parallel walls to one of the two vast circles in the area, there had to be enough possibilities to show how almost any arrangement would result in some astronomical point on the horizon being highlighted.

[box item: Website]

The results of their initial survey was a bit startling. For all the chances, there were no sunrise related major events of the solar year pointed to at all. That already seemed to show that their theory was incorrect, but to be thorough, Hively and Horn checked the rise points of the moon.

That was a bit of a leap, because few ancient astronomers anywhere in the world had built any structures aligned with moonrises. The sun follows a very regular, annual pattern with essentially no changes from year to year (and a good thing, too, or winter and summer might swap from era to era). Moonrises are a different thing entirely.

In fact, the European scientist Sir Isaac Newton, the inventor of calculus in the 1600’s, remarked that the only mathematical problem “that ever gave me a headache” was calculating the movements of the moon, rising in a varying pattern of northern and southern rises across an 18.6 year cycle. This complexity meant that few pre-modern societies anywhere in the world had marked and measured this moonrise pattern.

When Hively and Horn applied moonrise data to their survey of the Octagon, the results were immediate and striking. The central axis of the connected Circle and Octagon structure pointed directly to the maximum northern moonrise of the 18.6 year cycle, and other walls and gateways of the architecture encoded most of the other key lunar alignments.

After publishing their find to great excitement in the archaeological community, they realized to their chagrin that the most recent maximum north moonrise had passed by. For the last nearly twenty years, they have continued to study and analyse the data “encoded in the design of this internationally recognized wonder of the ancient world” in the words of the Newark Earthworks Initiative, sponsors of Hively and Horn’s return to the Newark area in preparation for the upcoming maximum northern moonrise.

Their talk, entitled “Lunar Observation and Hopewell Architecture at Newark,” refers to the term used to refer to Native Americans in the Ohio area around 2000 years ago. One exciting aspect of the upcoming moonrise cycle, with visibilities beginning next fall, is that since the culture known as Hopewell faded from view around 500 AD, this may be the first occasion people have watched the moonrise over the Newark Earthworks aware of the alignment it’s built around -- for over a millennium and a half, 1,500 years. When cathedrals were built in Europe and cliff dwellings in the American southwest, these structures were already a thousand years old. When Vikings first set foot on North America, they had been abandoned for 500 years; when Columbus fatefully arrived, they had waited silently for a thousand.

Hively and Horn believe that they have discovered even more traces of the original intention of the ancient architects, geometers, and astronomers. The Newark Earthworks Initiative of the OSU-Newark campus and a group of local historians, archaeologists, and interested parties have created a website for those interested in the earthworks and the upcoming moonrise:

The Ohio Historical Society, owners of the site known as Octagon State Memorial, have negotiated dates of open public access with the leaseholders of the grounds, Moundbuilders Country Club, on June 6, August 8, and October 23, with access for the general public starting on the 22nd at sunset (which is around 6:30 pm), one of the early visibilities for the maximum northern moonrise.

After the city of Newark and Licking County had voted to preserve the remaining earthworks in the 1890’s, preservation options were limited: once the state militia had finished using the area for summer maneuvers as originally planned, the area was used for a golf course as early as 1901. The current lease with the country club begins in 1910, and part of the preservation history of the site is the use for golf. While not an ideal plan in modern terms, the original intent of both community and club members was to find a way of managing a large, open site before the idea of national or state parks had even come about.

In fact, the club itself is part of Ohio history, being not only one of the ten oldest golf courses in the state, but the “back nine” or original nine holes of golf laid out by Thomas Bendelow in 1911 are likely the oldest continuously played links in the state.

The Newark Earthworks have a fascinating history, prehistory, and ongoing story of discovery. You are invited to come join the still unfolding story on Wed., May 4 at 7:00 pm on the OSU-N campus in Founders Hall auditorium.

Caption -- This computer generated image represents the view of one of the moonrises over the main axis of the Octagon of the Newark Earthworks. One of the "Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World" according to England's Cambridge University, the largest geometric earthworks in the world contain secrets of astronomy still being revealed. (Courtesy CERHAS - Univ. of Cincinnati)

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