What is the Junction Group

Squier and Davis (1848) map of the Junction Group.

Figure 1. Squier and Davis (1848) map of the Junction Group.

The Junction Group (state site number 33RO28) is a Native American earthwork complex in Ross County, Ohio located on a terrace overlooking Paint Creek just southwest of the town of Chillicothe. The site was built approximately 1800-2000 years ago. It belongs to a select class of earthwork sites consisting of numerous small geometric enclosures and is perhaps the best preserved of these sites.

When it was first mapped in the 1840s by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis (Figure 1), the site was thought to consist of nine ditch-and-embankment enclosures, including four circles, three partial circles, and two squares with rounded corners. The darker portions of the enclosures in Squier and Davis’ map are ditches; around them are the embankments. Four mounds are also present, with three in among the enclosures and the fourth to the west along the terrace edge overlooking Paint Creek. Squier and Davis conducted excavations in one of the mounds, uncovering several burials, plentiful charcoal, and an “altar”–what was likely a prepared clay basin used for ceremonially burning special objects and perhaps cremating the dead. 

Like most earthwork sites in Ohio, the Junction Group was a ceremonial center. As part burial ground, gathering place, and sacred space, the earthworks at Junction Group served as the local hub for many of the same functions that we today ascribe to cemeteries, churches, community activity buildings, and perhaps even local government centers. As important as they were to the families and community(s) who used them, the earthworks at Junction were not the site of every-day life, rather they were places that people visited for special occasions. They might also have hosted pilgrims from far away.

The Junction Group in 1934 from above.

Figure 2. The Junction Group in 1934 from above.

In the 1840s when Squier and Davis visited Junction, the site was located well outside of the town of Chillicothe, but in the intervening years Chillicothe has continued to grow closer to the site, to the point now of being right at the site’s front door, so to speak. The first aerial photographs of the site were taken in 1934 by Dache M. Reeves, before Chillicothe had managed to creep much closer to the site (Figure 2). These aerial photos, now archived in the National Anthropological Archives of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., are the best aerial imagery of the site. In no other aerial photos taken since have the earthworks appeared so distinctively. In fact, in most subsequent images the earthworks are nearly invisible. This likely is one reason why the Junction Group has been overlooked in recent times by most archaeologists and preservationists, perhaps leading many to even give the site up for “lost” or “destroyed.”

Magnetic survey results of Junction Group: note the quatrefoil.

Figure 3. Magnetic survey results of Junction Group: note the quatrefoil.

In 2005 Dr. N’omi Greber (Cleveland Museum of Natural History), Dr. Wesley Bernardini (University of Redlands), and Dr. Jarrod Burks (Heartland Earthworks Conservancy) set out to see what was left of the site using geophysical survey. With a small grant from Bernardini and the assistance of Greber, Burks spent about two weeks conducting a magnetic survey of the earthwork locations. Though the site has been thoroughly plowed and the earthworks are now quite hard to see at the surface, the magnetic survey was a resounding success (Figure 3). Not only was the site remarkably visible in the magnetic data, but the team was caught off guard by a pleasant surprise–the site contains a very unique earthwork shape not documented before in Ohio, a quatrefoil! This unique shape was missed by Squier and Davis, who in the 1840s thought the quatrefoil was a square with rounded corners. No doubt the earthworks were already somewhat flattened and eroded by plowing and Squier and Davis simply could not discern the quatrefoil’s subtle curves. The magnetometer has detected the enclosures’ filled in ditches and the faint signs of the embankment foundations.


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