The traditional ceremonial burial floor debate is happening within the Ohio Supreme Courtroom – CBS Pittsburgh
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – A public access debate to a number of ancient ceremonial and burial earthworks is taking place in the Ohio Supreme Court in a case involving the State Historical Society battling a country club on its grounds the earthworks are located.
The trial is about the 2,000-year-old Octagon Earthworks in Newark, central Ohio. The Ohio History Connection, which owns the earthworks, has proposed the site, along with other Ohio ancient sites, for nomination on UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The historic society, which is a nonprofit that contracts with the state, argues that it must control access to the earthworks in order for this nomination to proceed.
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Indians built the site almost 2,000 years ago. The arrangement of the earthworks, including eight long earth walls, corresponds to the movements of the moon and is based on points at which the moon rises and sets over the course of the 18.6-year lunar cycle.
The Ohio History Connection calls it “part cathedral, part cemetery, and part astronomical observatory”.
The people who built the earthworks sometimes preceded the later Ohio Indians by centuries, but numerous tribes, some with historical ties to Ohio, want the earthworks to be preserved as examples of the achievements of the indigenous peoples. The National Indian Congress, the Inter-Tribal Council, which represents the tribes living in northeast Oklahoma, and the Seneca Nation of New York State advocate, among other things, the application of historical society to the list of cultural heritage.
Designating the Ohio earthworks as a World Heritage Site “would protect the earthworks from further development and destruction and provide a place to celebrate the accomplishments of the Native Americans,” the National Congress of American Indians said in its letter of support.
Such a placement would be a first in Ohio and only the 25th nationally. Designation as a World Heritage Site is associated with prestige and international recognition, but has no financial advantage.
UNESCO says it can help provide emergency relief to places that are in imminent danger, and provide technical assistance and professional training to protect certain places.
The organization describes its goals as promoting “international cooperation in the preservation of the cultural and natural heritage of our world”.
Two other examples of pre-Columbian earthworks on the heritage list are the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Missouri and Monumental Earthworks of Poverty Point in Louisiana.
In 1892, voters in the Licking County area issued a tax increase to preserve the remains 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.
The historic society now plans to buy back the lease, convert the property into a park to improve public access to Octagon Earthworks, and open a visitor center. The country club’s lease does not expire until 2078.
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A judge in Licking County ruled in May 2019 that the historic society can reclaim the lease on a significant domain. That decision was upheld by the Ohio Fifth District Court of Appeals last year.
The club objects to the attempt to take over the property and states that the Ohio History Connection made no good faith offer to acquire the property in accordance with the law. The country club says it has taken care of the proper maintenance of the hill over the years and has given it public access.
An agreement between the historic society and the country club from 2003 allows unrestricted access to the site four days a year. The agreement also allows public access in daylight from November to March and Monday mornings the rest of the year if the club has no golf activities planned on those days.
The historical society argues that public access to the site has actually been restricted since the 2003 agreement. Individuals and groups are finding it increasingly difficult to schedule visits during game times and for golf course maintenance, including spraying pesticides and herbicides.
Country club attorneys – referred to as the MCC in court documents – argue that the historic society’s real intent in acquiring the country club’s property is in hopes of securing the World Heritage List, which is a highly competitive, low-pass process said in a court motion from September 2020.
“Is it in the public’s best interest to risk losing all of the benefits MCC offers in order to have the property inscribed on the World Heritage List?” The lawyers quarreled.
They also claim that historical society neglected another nearby ancient earthwork known as the Great Circle, despite being operated as a park for nearly 80 years.
The historic society argues that their 2020 proposal to buy out the lease for $ 1.66 million was a good faith offer based on an independent evaluation, and their primary goal is public access. The historical society denies the country club’s claims that its plans for the site are contingent on a World Heritage List placement.
Establishing a park with the Octagon Earthworks would allow the History Connection and others to schedule their own research on the site, which in turn would enable the History Connection to better educate the Ohioans (and the world) about the Earthworks and their works historical significance, ”said Attorney General Benjamin Flowers in a court case in October.
The state’s Supreme Court held an oral hearing on Tuesday. A decision is not expected for weeks.
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