Dec. 20, 1999
Contact: Mary Bridget Reilly

Seip Mound in Ross County

Cincinnati -- Everything old will soon be new again, at least in terms of Ohio prehistory.

Thanks to a University of Cincinnati researcher, Ohio as it was 2,000 years ago will be a virtual reality for school children and others in the coming millennium.

John Hancock, UC professor of architecture, is using advanced visualization technology to reclaim Ohio's ancient heritage by "virtually" rebuilding mammoth earthen crescents, circles, squares, octagons, mounds and walls the largest geometric earthworks known anywhere in the world originally created by the Hopewell between 100 B.C.-400 A.D.

His ongoing "EarthWorks" virtual reality computer constructions, include:

  • Newark, Ohio: A once-enormous complex of geometric shapes rose out of a man-made prairie and stretched four square miles and used more than seven million cubic feet of earth. Most of this site, astronomical in both a literal and figurative sense, has been lost to development.

  • Chillicothe, Ohio: Mound City, is the still visible center of a ten-mile strip of geometric forms in the Scioto River Valley. Mound City covers 13 acres and consists of 23 large burial mounds enclosed by a square-shaped earthen wall.

  • Ross County: The Scioto and Paint Creek River Valleys still contain many mounds; however, most of the surrounding walls were leveled by farming and settlement. Included among the virtually reconstructed earthworks are an octagon that accurately marks the moon's rising, a diamond-shaped enclosure and an avenue.

  • Lebanon, Ohio: Because of summertime plant growth and because of its sheer physical size, Fort Ancient, the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the country, is difficult to appreciate. From the ground, it's impossible to view its entire expanse where some of the walls rise as high as two-story buildings.

  • Warren County: Stubbs Earthworks, lost to development, is remarkable for the number and variety of wood structures, including a "Woodhenge," a temple consisting of a ring of perfectly spaced 30-foot-high poles forming a circle 240-feet across.

  • Greene County: Pollock Earthworks today contains a set of high earthen gateways. These once supported an impressive ten-foot-high wood stockade. The stockade was ceremonially burned, broken and then buried within the earthwork to release its spirit into the sky and earth.

  • Adams County: Serpent Mound (this is the one site in the project not originally constructed at a much earlier date) erected about 1070 A.D. in the form of a 1,360-foot- long sinuous snake, spurred the birth of American archaeology.
  • When completed within a year's time, these virtual reality sites will be available on DVD-ROM, along with interviews of archaeologists, authors, and American Indians representing cultures descended from the Hopewell. Fifty copies of this DVD will be distributed to regional schools. If possible, more copies will be made available for sale at museums and through historical societies.

    Hancock, an architectural historian, explained that this advanced computer technology gives us another way of looking at our homes, at the land and the hidden cities literally under our feet. The DVD project fills a gap in education since there is no thorough general book for the lay public on these prehistoric sites.

    "Ohio sits on one of the most amazing prehistoric legacies in the world, yet fewer than ten percent of Ohioans have an idea of the extent of the earthworks," Hancock added.

    The design of the project which blends history, architecture and technology is meant to appeal to the human sense of excitement with exploration. Users will virtually fly into the Ohio River Valley and opt to follow one of the Ohio's tributaries like the Little Miami River to Stubbs Earthworks or Fort Ancient; Brush Creek to Serpent Mound; or the Scioto River to Mound City. "You get to wander and explore. You'll never take the same pathway twice. It would take quite some time to get through the whole project, and it should have a lot of replay value," added Hancock who is leading the collaborative team completing "EarthWorks." To get a taste of how users will move through the project, click on the "reconstructions" portion of the "EarthWorks" website at http://www.earthworks.uc.edu.

    On Hancock's team are UC colleagues and students, faculty from Cleveland State University and Wright State University, researchers at the Cincinnati Museum Center as well as writers, computer modelers, photographers, videographers and others from across the country.

    Funding for "EarthWorks" has come from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Ohio Board of Regents, the Ohio Arts Council, and the Ohio Humanities Council.

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