An Atlantis Replica in Kentucky?
Portions of this article and the illustration above are from The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Mounds & Earthworks.
Last issue I introduced one component of what I consider to be one of the most impressive and important earthwork and mound sites in all of Americas—the Portsmouth earthworks. At the confluence of the Scioto and Ohio Rivers, sprawling across both sides of both rivers in a miles-wide area of Ohio and Kentucky, rests the remains of what was once an incredible set of mounds, complex geometric earthworks, and leveled walkways extending for tens of miles. This complex rivals all other earthworks built in the ancient world and it is known that the formations were constructed around 500 B.C.—2,500 years ago. The flat walkways were 160-feet wide and had massive earthen walls enclosing them. The parallel walls on the edges of the walkways were an astonishing 20-feet thick and were 4-feet high when they were surveyed in 1848. Three walkways radiated from the Portsmouth, Ohio side from a bizarre earthwork complex located high on the side of a mountain. One of these walkways ran to the southwest for 7-miles terminating on the banks of the Ohio River. Immediately on the other side of the river, in Kentucky, the walkway continued until it terminated at what is now known as the Old Fort Earthworks. This complex geometric earthwork is one of three equally impressive components of the entire Portsmouth site and was described in the last issue.
A visit to the Portsmouth earthworks should begin at the concrete levee located along the Ohio River in downtown Portsmouth. There are several hotels and shops nearby. On the levee are several mural paintings that depict the history of Portsmouth and one of the most impressive of these is an incredible depiction of the ancient Portsmouth earthworks. This mural provides an astonishing view of the entire site. Just across the Ohio River from the focal point of the complex is a bizarre circular complex known as Portsmouth Earthworks Group C. The illustration above shows the survey of Group C as it was depicted by Squier & Davis in 1848. The mural and other sources relate that this odd formation was completely destroyed, but as will be discussed, that is not the case.
An adjacent part of Group C, with a small burial mound and surrounding circular earthwork and moat is known as the Biggs Site. Many people confuse it with the larger circular earthwork, but Biggs was a small part of the much larger complex.
Group C (in Kentucky) was joined to the complex on a hill in Portsmouth, Ohio by two flat walkways that were 160-feet wide. The walkways were enclosed by linear earthwork embankments running parallel on both sides. The linear earthworks enclosing the walkways were 4-feet high and 20-feet wide. The initial walkway ran 5 miles southeast from upper Portsmouth, Ohio to the edge of the Ohio River. On the other side of the river, in Kentucky, the walkway picked up at the edge of the river and continued up several terraces for another 1.5 miles where it terminated in the Group C earthworks.
This complex consists of four circular rings of earth cut through by four walkways placed at the cardinal points. A 22-foot high flat-top mound was placed in the center with a moat surrounding it. Located on irregular and undulating ground, the mound gave an imposing view of the river and the entire surrounding terrain. (The same view is present today.) The diameter of the circular earthwork was over 1,000-feet and by the time Squier & Davis surveyed it in 1848, but much of it had been degraded by farming.
Not surprisingly, many people have noted the uncanny resemblance of this formation to the description Plato gave to the Center City of Atlantis. The circular earthworks created moats that collected rain water forming three rings of water interspersed by land. A few years ago we were given a special treat by being allowed to visit the site by the wife of the mayor of Portsmouth and we were escorted by the land owner. We were joined by Brent & Joan Raynes. Everything we had read about the site related that it was completely destroyed, but that was not the case. The central mound is now almost totally degraded into a “hill” by grazing cattle but we were able to see some of the walkways and circular embankments. The overall layout and design was clearly discernable. It was odd but quite intriguing to see this amazing site. And it is accurate to say that if someone was trying to construct something that mimicked the layout of Atlantis as Plato described it, that earthwork arrangement is what would be built.
While I doubt that it will ever come to pass, one of the things that I’d personally like to see is all of Portsmouth Earthworks—including the 15+ miles of walkways—be not only preserved, but restored to their original condition and layout. It would require land donations and extensive funds, but it could be done. It could become one of the most amazing archaeological parks in the world and Portsmouth, including both sides of the river, would become an important tourist site.