The Midwest’s immense earthworks, structures built by ancient Native American cultures, have been all but lost to plow and pavement. No longer. An ambitious effort by the University of Cincinnati has rebuilt the mounds of two millennia ago. These virtual earthworks will soon be set to travel.
Native American cultures that once flourished in Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and West Virginia constructed geometric and animal-shaped earth works that often rivaled Stonehenge in their astronomical accuracy.
|Rendering of how a Hopewell village might have looked.|
A few are still extant – Serpent Mound in Adams County, Ohio, for example – but most of the region’s ancient architecture was all but squandered. Earthworks, from as early as 600 BC that stretched over miles and rose to heights of 15 feet or more, were either gouged out or plowed under in the 19th century or paved over for development in the 20th.
But now, this lost heritage from the Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures is returning in the form of a traveling exhibit that will include virtual reconstructions of earthworks from 39 sites. The electronic recreations represent nearly ten years of work by an extensive team of architects, archaeologists, historians, technical experts and Native Americans. Project director is John Hancock, professor of architecture at the University of Cincinnati, working in partnership with the Center for the Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at the University of Cincinnati. The title of the project and the coming traveling exhibit is: “EarthWorks: Virtual Explorations of the Ancient Ohio Valley.”
|Seip Earthworks in Ross County, Ohio, once held elaborate tombs.|
Set amid the physical elements of the exhibit, the 3-D virtual reconstructions by Hancock and his team recreate the earthworks for school children and scholars alike. The centerpiece of the exhibit is a large screen on which the 3-D explorations of “EarthWorks” by a user at the touch-screen computer can be shared with a larger audience. Virtual exploration of a gallery of period artifacts is also possible at two stand-alone kiosk stations.
|Shaman figure found at Newark earthworks in Licking County, Ohio. The shaman is wearing a bear skin.|
Funding for the traveling exhibit has been provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities. In all, the NEH has provided close to $500,000 for the project. Additional development support over the years has come from the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Humanities Council, the Ohio Arts Council, the George Gund Foundation, and in-kind donations from the University of Cincinnati. Add up all funding and in-kind donations, and project support totals around $1.5 million.
Below are links with additional information about the project: