Is it a coincidence?
The people we now refer to as the Hopewell culture (circa 100 B.C. – A.D. 400) left no written records chronicling their achievements. So, how do we know the American Indian architects of the Newark Earthworks actually intended to build their monuments in alignment with the risings and settings of the moon? Are modern scientists reading too much into a haphazard arrangement of mounds and walls?
In fact, when Ray Hively and Robert Horn first came to Newark, they were convinced that claims of this sort that had been made for Stonehenge and other sites were unfounded. They surveyed the Octagon convinced they would find alignments to the summer or winter solstice sunrises (or sunsets) that would be explainable by chance alone. In other words, when you have so many walls and gateways aligned to so many points on the horizon, it stands to reason that some of them, whether the builders intended it or not, will align with important astronomical events. What surprised Hively and Horn was that could not find a single wall or gateway at Newark that was aligned to any important sunrise or sunset. This was perplexing, until it dawned on them that there were no solar alignments because the walls were aligned to something else – the moon.
Hively and Horn found that the architecture of the Octagon Earthworks incorporated alignments to all of the eight major moonrises and moonsets that define the 18.6-year lunar cycle. But how do we know this was done purposefully by the Hopewell culture builders?
One of most important lines of evidence comes from the only other circle and octagon earthwork known to have been built by the Hopewell culture. High Bank Works, near Chillicothe, consists of a circular earthwork identical in size to Newark’s Observatory Circle, connected to a much smaller octagonal enclosure. The main axis of the High Bank Works is aligned at ninety degrees to that of Newark’s Octagon Earthworks. This suggests there was an intentional geometric relationship between the two sites, even thought they are more than sixty miles apart. Moreover, Hively and Horn also found alignments to all eight moonrises and moonsets in the architecture of High Bank Works. The fact that both examples of Hopewell circle and octagon earthworks incorporate these lunar alignments is strong evidence that the alignments are not accidental, because then you would have to argue that a very unlikely series of accidents happened in the same way at two separate sites.
Hively and Horn considered the question of just how unlikely it is that the earthworks might have these alignments simply by chance alone. They observed that, of the infinite number of possible octagons that could have been built, the Newark octagon is the one that lines up most perfectly with the eight significant rising and setting points of the moon. In fact, Hively and Horn claimed they were “unable to design an equilateral polygon with eight or fewer sides which incorporates the extreme lunar points more efficiently and accurately than does the Newark octagon.”