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Alternate Perceptions Magazine, October 2016

Sending Souls to the Stars: Magic Machine of Earth in Butler County, Ohio

by: Dr. Greg Little

Greg Little is author of The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Native American Indian Mounds & Earthworks

In 1806, 18-year old James McBride moved from Pennsylvania to Hamilton, Ohio. James was trained as a surveyor by his father who had died several years before his move to Ohio. After working as the Butler County clerk he was elected Sheriff in 1813 and later served in a variety of other elected positions. From the moment he arrived in Hamilton, McBride was fascinated with Ohio’s ancient mounds and earthworks. He spent large amounts of time surveying sites, excavating mounds, collecting artifacts, and documenting his finds. He wrote over 3,000 pages of mound and earthworks-related material and supplied Squier & Davis with 100 pages of written descriptions and numerous surveys for their classic (1848) work “Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley.” McBride was widely considered to be one of the most accurate and meticulous surveyors of those active in the 1800s. The present author is related to the McBrides.

One of McBride’s published surveys was of an unusual square earthwork complex near Hamilton, Ohio (published on page 84 of Squier & Davis’s book), which was only referred to as an “Ancient Work, Butler Co., Ohio” in the book. It was a somewhat uniquely-shaped Hopewell-era earthwork and mound complex located in Fairfield Township, about 4 miles southwest of Hamilton, Ohio. (See McBride’s survey below with key alignments shown.) McBride surveyed the site in 1828 and noted that about half of the enclosure had been eroded by river flooding—but it was all still visible and could be “distinctly traced.” Today the site is known as the “Fairfield Township Works.” It is—or actually was—located on the east side of the Little Miami River at the south end of the Great Miami River Recreation Trail in a Fairfield subdivision. It was constructed at the point where a small creek called Pleasant Run enters the Miami. The site is now totally obliterated. In “Antiquities of the State of Ohio” (Shepherd, 1887) related that it was one of the “most interesting and sacred enclosures of the entire Miami Valley.”

The earthwork was dominated by a square enclosure clearly oriented to the northwest. It had three gateways, several large mounds, and an unusual circular “portal.” The square enclosed 13 acres and was formed by walls of earth that in 1828, were 4-5 feet in height and an astonishing 50 feet in width. The circular earthwork extending to the northwest formed a gateway or portal that was usually referred to as an “entrance” in the old literature. It was much more likely a portal leading out of the enclosure. This gateway was constructed with walls of earth much wider and higher than those of the square and an interior ditch was on the inside of it. A conical mound was prominently located in the center of this “gateway” and the formation terminated on the bank of Pleasant Run.

On the far western side of the square was a large, oblong mound with a small gateway on each side. About 100 feet south of the end of the square enclosure were two stone mounds. They were 80 feet in diameter and 15 feet in height. In the late 1870s J. P. MacLean excavated at the site. He related that there were over 200 mounds in the immediate area and that over 200,000 artifacts and implements had already been removed from the area. At that time one of the stone mounds had already been completely destroyed by a sorghum mill. MacLean excavated the remaining stone mound. He found an inscribed copper gorget and various other copper artifacts. Turning his attention to the conical mound inside the circular enclosure, MacLean found a series of burials and burned skeletons before uncovering a tomb at the base. The tomb contained a circular arrangement of skeletons, like wheel spokes, with the heads pointed toward the center. The largest skeleton had “large bones” and a “thick skull” and was judged to be a man of age 60. An inscribed copper headband was on the skull.

Fairfield’s Astronomical Alignments to the Path of Souls’ Ritual

There were dozens of square-shaped Hopewell earthworks in Ohio and many more found in other states. The Fairfield site is, however, somewhat similar to the Winchester, Indiana earthworks known as the Fudge Site. The Fudge Site was clearly a ritualistic, mortuary complex utilized in the Path of Souls death journey. The present author has described these ancient geometric earthworks as “magic machines of earth” since the late 1980s. The overall similarity between the orientation of Fairfield and the Fudge site is so striking that an analysis of the Path of Soul’s star alignments at Fairfield is appropriate.

This Path of Souls ritual took place on the evening of the Winter Solstice (December 21) and involved Orion’s Nebula and the Cygnus Constellation. The key alignments for the death ritual on the Winter Solstice were the sunset itself, the setting point of Cygnus (specifically the star Deneb), and the rising and setting points of Orion’s Nebula. It was also important that a body of water be located to the west and that the constellation of Scorpius not be visible during the night.

On the night of the Winter Solstice a series of star alignments were viewed. These alignments were typically made from the top of a prominent mound directly across another important mound or an important earthwork point such as an opening or corner of the formation. On the distant horizon and directly above the aligned mound, observers would see the setting and rising of the stars involved.

To determine the horizon sightlines from the mounds and key points of the square at Fairfield, the precise GPS locations and surrounding horizon altitudes were determined on Google Earth and from location information supplied in prior archaeological reports. “Starry Night Pro” and “Stellarium” were used to generate the movements and azimuth positions of the stars on December 21, AD 1. That particular year (AD 1) was utilized for the stellar calculations because it was the center point of dates cited for the site by archaeologists (50 B.C. – A.D. 50) in an environmental impact evaluation made for the Great Miami River Recreational Trail. The “Cross Azimuth/Distance Calculator” was used to determine the exact horizon altitudes and azimuths of the stars investigated.


The initial calculation was performed to determine the position of the sunset on the Winter Solstice. It occurred at 5:38 p.m. on an azimuth of 243°. From the center gateway on the northeast side of the square, the sunset would have been viewed directly above the large, oblong mound on the southwest corner. (See figure above.) Results showed that Cygnus (specifically the star Deneb) set on the northwest horizon at 11:58 p.m. on an azimuth of 323°. This alignment would have been viewed directly through the circular portal across the top of the conical mound in the middle of the gateway. At 6:55 p.m., shortly after sunset, Orion would have been seen elevated in the sky at 106°. As viewed from the entrance into the circular portal from the square, Orion would have been viewed directly above the east point of the square. Orion would then have been perceived to move over the site and toward the west. The slightly southwestern setting of Orion on the horizon (specifically Orion’s Nebula), took place at 5:16 a.m., not long before dawn, on an azimuth of 260°. From the east point of the square (where Orion was first viewed), the setting of Orion would be seen directly over the oblong mound on the western side of the square. Finally, Scorpius was not visible during the night and only began to rise at dawn.


This report demonstrates that the key solar and stellar alignments involved with the Path of Souls death journey were incorporated into the earthworks and mounds at the Fairfield site. From early excavations at the site it is known that it was utilized as a mortuary complex as evidenced by tomb burials and cremation remains uncovered within the mounds. The unusual shape of the northwest “portal” from the square enclosure is especially interesting and has a more than cursory similarity to the earlier analyzed Fudge Site. The portal at Fairfield is aimed directly at Cygnus. Describing these earthwork sites as “magic machines” designed to send souls to the stars aptly describes the rituals and beliefs associated with the death journey. The extent of the Path of Souls ritualistic belief system has now been confirmed in wide range of mound and earthwork sites located in the eastern half of the United States. These include Hopewell earthworks at Winchester (Indiana), Marietta (Ohio), Portsmouth (Ohio), Liberty Township (Ohio), and Mississippian mound complexes in Evansville (Indiana), various sites in Mississippi and Louisiana, and at Moundville (Alabama).

Saturday, April 13, 2024