Elizabeth Bartley is a wearer of many hats, but underneath them all is a mind with a unified mission: To preserve historical sites and integrate them into our lives today. An adjunct instructor in Mount St. Joe’s design department who earned a degree in archaeology from the University of Glasgow, Bartley is a member of the board of trustees for the U.S. International Council on Monuments and Sites and is working to get Ohio’s Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks (in areas around Newark, Chillicothe, and Fort Ancient) awarded World Heritage status. She spoke recently about our ancient mounds of earth.
What do you say at a cocktail party when people ask what you do? [Laughs] It depends on which cocktail party I’m at. Usually, instead of what I do, I tell what I am passionate about—our past and our history.
What’s important about the Hopewell Earthworks? Once you understand what was going on, they’re so sophisticated, these huge precise geometries that create plazas—you could drop multiple coliseums inside of one of them. They’re precisely aligned with moonrises at very specific points in the calendar, and then they are repeated across the landscape for hundreds of miles up and down tributaries. The complexities start making your head hurt in a really good way—and most people don’t even know they’re there. When you’re standing on these complex, amazing places it sends shivers up your spine because we don’t associate this level of sophistication and beauty with the tribes of ancient North America.
Why can so few of the mounds still be seen today? Because they were farmed away—and development. European settlers came in. Cities were built on top of them. We had them in Cincinnati right where Washington Park is. People were not seeing these as worth saving.
Why do they deserve World Heritage status? There were hundreds of years of peace while these monuments were being made. How were people brought together? Why were they being made? They were huge. They could handle thousands of people in one gathering. It’s this fantastic mystery.