The ancient tribal area in Ohio where golfers play is changing hands, but the prize is up to a jury

NEWARK, Ohio — The Ohio Historical Society is one step away from gaining control of ancient ceremonial and funerary earthworks maintained by a country club where members play golf along the hills.

A process was set to begin Tuesday to determine how much the historical society should pay for the site, which is one of eight ancient areas in the Hopewell Earthworks system that was declared a World Heritage Site last year.

The earthworks, built between 2,000 and 1,600 years ago by people of the Hopewell culture, played host to ceremonies that drew people from across the continent, based on archaeological discoveries of raw materials from as far west as the Rocky Mountains.

The Ohio History Connection, which owns the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark in central Ohio, won a state Supreme Court ruling a year and a half ago that allowed it to reclaim a lease from the Moundbuilders Country Club so it can change the location transformed into a public park.

Native Americans built the earthworks, which include eight long earth walls, which correspond to the moon's movements and align with points where the moon rises and sets during the 18.6-year lunar cycle.

The Ohio History Connection calls them “part cathedral, part cemetery and part astronomical observatory.”

Numerous tribes, some with historic ties to Ohio, want the earthworks preserved as an example of Native people's achievements.

In 1892, voters in surrounding Licking County passed a tax increase to preserve what remained of the earthworks. The area was developed as a golf course in 1911, and the state first leased the 134-acre property to Moundbuilders Country Club in the 1930s.

A district judge ruled in 2019 that the historical society can reclaim the lease through eminent domain.

The club disputed the attempt to seize the property, saying the Ohio History Connection had not made a good faith offer to purchase the property as required by state law. The country club says it has maintained the hill well over the years and provided public access.

The club suffered another legal blow when the court disallowed evidence regarding the value of the land. The club appealed this decision to the state Supreme Court, which denied jurisdiction.

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