CIRCLEVILLE, Ohio (WCMH) — Fred Gordon was a student at Ohio State University in the late 1950s when he collected a vast number of Native American artifacts along Hargus Creek near Circleville.
Sadly, Fred Gordon died unexpectedly in 1957 before graduating from OSU. Seven years later. his parents, Edith and Circleville Mayor Ben Gordon, ensured that his collection of about 5,000 relics found along the Pickaway Plains was in good hands at the Pickaway County Historical and Genealogical Society.
Remarkably, he left approximately 1,800 pages of meticulous research notes that marked the precise locations of his finds. Among the discoveries, on display at the Clarke-May Museum in Circleville, are an axe handle and gardening implements from 5,000 years ago, along with some older tools dating back 8,000 years.
The museum’s archaeologist, Jonathan Bowen, estimates that Fred Gordon “would have spent a minimum of 300 hours (or about 2 months of 40-hour work weeks)” to create his records.
The Gordon collection contains “every worked piece of flint or hardstone, as well as fragments of pottery, that he encountered,” according to Bowen, who wrote about this stunning collection in the Pickaway Quarterly (Winter 2020-21).
Circleville was named for a circular earthen Hopewell mound that was 1,100 feet wide and linked to a 900-foot square in the center of town. The city was laid out in the early 1800s in a design that mirrored the earthworks.
Although the earthworks were lost over time, the timing of Fred Gordon’s countless hours retrieving pieces of the past, before completion of the Circleville bypass along U.S. 23 in 1958, preserved a significant part of ancient history along the lower Scioto River Valley.
Brad Lepper, senior archaeologist of the Ohio History Connection’s World Heritage Program and curator at Newark Earthworks, said, “It’s a complement to the historic record; it tells you stories that maybe history didn’t record in the books.
“Fred Gordon’s donation of his incredible collection to the Clarke-May Museum, is an important contribution to our understanding of Pickaway County’s and Ohio’s ancient Indigenous history. His careful record keeping adds tremendous scientific value to the artifacts he found.”
The Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks, representing a group of eight Ohio earthworks in Licking, Ross and Warren counties, were recognized on Sept. 19 as a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, which includes the Octagon Earthworks in Newark and Great Circle in Newark and Heath. Additionally, the Fort Ancient Earthworks and Nature Preserve in Warren County, and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Chillicothe, are part of the Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks.
The earthworks were constructed by Native Americans between A.D. 1 and A.D. 400. The Newark Earthworks are considered to be the largest group of geometric earthen enclosures anywhere in the world.
“The major (Native American) tribes that have known to have been in Ohio include the Shawnee, the Wyandot, the Seneca, the Iroquois, the Delaware, and many other tribes,” Lepper said. The Shawnee were indigenous to Ohio, before being forced to relocate west of the Mississippi River by the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
“I hope his example encourages others with similar collections to consider donating them to Ohio museums where they can be appreciated and studied by anyone interested in our ancient past,” Lepper said.