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July 20, 2017

PBS Student Reporting Labs: Lessons in STEM from early Native Americans

National Park Service seeks World Heritage Site designation for Ohio's Hopewell earthworks from Student Reporting Labs on Vimeo.

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  • The U.S. National Park Service marked its 100th anniversary in 2016, and PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs observed the milestone by producing video stories about national parks across the country in a series called “America the Beautiful.”
    • One story covered the importance of preserving the Hopewell culture’s earthworks. It was produced by students at Hughes STEM High School in Cincinnati, Ohio.
  • According to Bruce Lombardo, a biologist at Hopewell Culture National Historical Park in Ohio, the eastern United States contains beautiful forestry and ancient history that is as rich as some of the more famous sites like the Old Faithful geyser and the sequoia forests in the West.
  • Hopewell Culture National Historical Park features enormous geometrical earthworks and burial mounds from the Hopewell people, who flourished in the river valleys of modern-day Ohio from about 200 B.C. to 500 A.D. Some of the earthworks are up to 128 acres in size.
  • Experts believe that the Hopewell peoples used the earthworks as gathering places for trade, ceremonies and celebrations. According to Lombardo, the earthworks indicate that this culture was highly advanced 2,000 years ago in mathematics, architecture, engineering, astronomy and artistry.
  • The Hopewell Culture National Historical Park is currently undergoing efforts to become a designated World Heritage site, which is granted by the United Nations to recognize cultural and natural significance. Applying for World Heritage status is a lengthy process, but rangers at Hopewell believe that it would ensure effective management and preservation long into the future.

  1. Essential question: Why should areas of natural and cultural significance be protected?
  2. The Hopewell earthworks were complex, geometrical, precise, enormous and astronomically aligned. What does that tell us about the Hopewell people? How does the complexity of the Hopewell earthworks affect your previous beliefs about early Native American culture?
  3. What can national historic parks teach us about the importance of early Native Americans like the Hopewell culture? What can the Hopewell culture teach us about the importance of national parks?
  4. Do you think it’s important to have federally protected lands, like national historic parks? Why or why not?

Key Terms

earthworks: human-made constructs that alter the land contour (see image below)

Hopewell tradition: common aspects of Native American culture that flourished in river valleys in the northeastern and midwestern United States. Hopewell refers not to a single society but a widely dispersed set of populations connected by a network of common trade routes.


America the Beautiful is a video series produced by PBS Student Reporting Labs in celebration of the U.S. National Park Service’s 100-year anniversary. Many of the videos examine how experts and scientists are working across the country to protect American landscapes, wildlife and natural history from challenges such as climate change and invasive species.

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