Milford Earthworks, Ohio
The Menorah (Hannukiah) Mounds Controversy
Geometric Earthworks & Mounds—Hopewell
No longer visible but were adjacent to the Little Miami River near Milford, Ohio
By Dr. Greg Little
Portions of this article and the illustration above are from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.
Of all the 1000+ listings and descriptions in my Mound Encyclopedia, the Milford site is one of my favorites because it demonstrates a central controversy in American archaeology—the tension between mainstreamers who disbelieve anything out of their accepted chronology and the many people who revel in archaeological “outliers” (artifacts that contradict mainstream views). The reason I like this site so much is because the final resolution of it contradicts both sides. And it’s odd that the genuine solution to the mystery of this American site came from England and from two British writers who author alternative archaeology books.
Although the site is now completely obliterated by farming, the extensive Milford Earthworks were included in the Mound Encyclopedia because they provide an interesting background to American archaeology’s history and view of the mound builder culture. Several sets of massive earthworks were once found on both sides of the Little Miami River at Milford, and Squier & Davis’s 1848 book presented surveys of a few of those complexes. One of the surveys Squier & Davis presented showed an intriguing complex of earthworks initially called the East Fork Site, which was later dubbed the Hannukiah (sic). This massive earthwork resembled a 9-branched menorah with each branch reaching 2000-feet long. Oddly, surrounding the menorah-like earthwork was another curious earthwork that essentially resembled a Hebrew oil lamp. At the time of the survey there was great debate about whether the mound builders were the ancestors of Native Americans or were a lost race of people—perhaps even people who were considered the Biblical “Lost Tribes.” By the late 1800’s most prominent “archaeologists” had distanced themselves from the “Lost Tribes” idea. But the problem was how to interpret this site. So it was simply decided that they could not have ever existed to start with. In his 1894 Bureau of Ethnology mound report, Cyrus Thomas simply wrote that the site was “imaginary.” More recent archaeologists jokingly turned the survey on its side and said it was a “gridiron” while others related that since it wasn’t there now, it never existed. Perhaps these same archaeologists could say the same about New York’s Twin Towers.
In the late 1990’s, J. Huston McCulloch, a professor at Ohio State University became interested in the site. McCulloch searched the U. S. National Archives and found the original site survey. He found that in 1803 President Thomas Jefferson had become interested in the site and in 1823 the U. S. Army Corp of Engineers dispatched a survey team. They surveyed the site carefully and their product was the survey subsequently published by Squier & Davis. But Squier & Davis had not referenced their source. McCulloch has since published the original survey map, which was signed by Major Isaac Roberdeau, who was then the head of the U. S. Bureau of Topographic Engineers. Thus, the site was clearly not imaginary and it did exist, just as the Twin Towers once existed.
While I could not really see any alternative to the earthwork resembling a menorah that idea changed instantly at a conference I attended in London in 2002. At the conference I showed the Milford survey to two well-known British authors who specialize in archaeology—Andrew Collins and Ian Lawton. I showed the survey to each one independently and did not tell them what the other saw or said. But both of them immediately concluded the same thing. As they gazed at the map they each turned it upside down and it instantly became recognizable as a bird effigy. The bird’s head is depicted as well as a forked tail, and the wing feathers are flowing to the rear of the bird. The Milford Earthworks was, in fact, one of the largest bird effigies ever made.