Pipeline Leak Spotlights Threats to the Archaeoecology of the Ohio Valley
Nature Preserves Old and New
The Colerain Earthwork is the second largest bottomland enclosure known in the Ohio Valley. Though sections are barely visible now, it originally comprised an eight-foot high earthen wall surrounded by a moat, walling off at least 95 acres of land within a big bend in the river. James McBride surveyed the site in 1836 and made the following sketch:
The asymmetric bottomland earthwork is highly unusual, suggesting that it represents an early stage of such construction, when experimentation was still underway in order to accomplish the practical purpose of these enclosures most effectively. That purpose is considered mysterious because there generally was no architecture within these enclosures except for mortuary structures like burial mounds.
So what was that practical purpose? Location of the earthwork near a number of modern nature preserves and birding hotspots along the Great Miami River, which forms the fourth wall of the enclosure, gives it away—this was a protective wall against natural predators for a bird nesting or roosting area. Very literally, this created a bird refuge, with much more actual protection than any so-called refuge or preserve built today, “preserves” that don’t even keep out leaky oil pipelines.
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