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Ancient Earthworks Electronically Rebuilt

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  • Light Eye
    Dear Friends, Click the link if you don t receive the image. http://www.yubanet.com/artman/publish/article_35178.shtml Love and Light. David A Site to Be Seen:
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2006
      Dear Friends,

      Click the link if you don't receive the image.


      Love and Light.


      A Site to Be Seen: Ancient Earthworks Electronically Rebuilt, Now 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.
      By: University of Cincinnati
      Published: May 1, 2006 at 07:22

      if ("" > "") { document.write (""); document.write (""" + "" + """); document.write (""); } Fort Ancient in Lebanon, Ohio, is the largest prehistoric hilltop enclosure in the United States and is still extant.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."

      The "EarthWorks" reconstructions will be the centerpiece within a 500-square-foot traveling exhibit which will also include a graphic timeline wall with cross cultural comparisons; a giant map wall of the Ohio River Valley (from the approximate location of Pittsburgh to Louisville) indicating placement of Native American earthworks; panels with diagrams, photos and text; and 3-D topographic models of five earthwork sites. The exhibit opens June 20, 2006, at the Cincinnati Museum Center. It remains at the museum center till Sept. 7, 2006. Later venues include the Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, opening on Sept. 30, 2006. Discussion are now underway for later exhibits in the state and nation.

      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.

      The project is built upon archaeological data gleaned from such modern technology as sensing devices and aerial photography as well as frontier maps and other aids provided by archaeologists to re-establish the location, size, shape and appearance of many of the region's earthworks. Then, using architectural software and high-resolution computer modeling and animation, the UC-led team virtually rebuilt these massive structures and further created animated, interactive, narrated "tours" among them..

      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 Fund 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.

      Directing the project is John Hancock, UC professor of architecture, who collaborated with the Center for the Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS) at UC. "It's funny how I came to this project," Hancock recalled. "A graduate student came to me and said, 'I want to do my thesis on the ancient earthworks of Ohio.' I said, 'The what?' I'd been teaching ancient architecture here for 15 years, and I didn't know anything about the truly remarkable roadways and geometric ceremonial monuments built by brilliant native cultures that preceded us here. I literally said, 'I had no idea!' and they were right here under our feet."

      Just so. The massive earthworks are a phenomenon, but remain mostly unknown even though estimates of their one-time numbers range from a few hundred to 10,000. They survived intact up to the 19th century, but, now, it's estimated that 80 percent of the once-extant "mounds" have been destroyed due to farming, looting, highways and sprawl. Made of earth, they were easy to alter or erase. And so, the extent, scope and power of these works - which may have included an ancient 60-mile highway stretching between Newark and Chillicothe in Ohio - has remained hidden.

      Destruction of the mounds

      In the early 19th century, the existence of these mammoth works served as a launching point for American archaeology and was the subject of the first volume published by America's newly founded Smithsonian Institution. That text, the Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, was published in 1848 and recorded the abundance of earthworks across the region.

      Even the earliest archaeologists contributed to the destruction of these prehistoric monuments. Nineteenth-century archaeologists gouged out earthworks, seeking the burial remains and artifacts (pottery, stone smoking pipes shaped like otters and ravens, headdresses with copper antlers and engraved tablets, as well as ornaments worked from copper, silver, translucent mica and stone) placed inside.

      The mounds and their function

      Even though some are so large that they rival the buildings of Mexico's empires, the "mounds" were a subtle form of architecture, according to Hancock. They first took shape as cones and ridges (the simplest forms) and evolved to more complicated structures: giant geometric outlines, symmetrical octagons, perfect squares and, eventually, snakes and possums.

      It's thought that the earthworks were landscape markers and ceremonial centers tied to festivals (including marriage, death and burial), social and cosmological ideas of order, astronomical events and territorial agreements (likely tied to the emergence of planting and agriculture). In the case of hilltop enclosures, fortification may have been a minor or temporary - but by no means primary - motivation for construction.

      The promises and pay-offs from the "virtual" rebuilding project

      Given the challenge that most of the earthworks have been destroyed, how did Hancock and the team of UC students and faculty, scholars from around the country, archaeologists, graphic designers, artists, videographers and others piece the fragments together in order to rebuild and interpret these works? How could they begin even knowing where to site them, since most have been paved, trampled, plundered, cultivated or overgrown? First, there are the 19th-century historical records and maps. They also made use of aerial photographs and satellite images. Also, some ground-level remains enable them to mark and chart and make newly visible the till-now hidden ancient culture.

      Explained Hancock, "In our interactive video environments, people can explore the sites as if they were newly created, when the river valleys of middle America were lined with these vast, precise earthworks. In the project, we've also placed related topics on life-ways of these peoples, their artistry, and practice of astronomy." He hopes UC's "EarthWorks" will emerge as the primary public resource on the ancient Ohio Valley cultures.

      Hancock added, "Think of the cathedrals of medieval Europe or Machu Pichu or the pyramids of ancient Egypt. Ancient cultures need vivid, iconic, architectural images in order to hold a prominent place in the popular imagination. These computer renderings will enable the modern imagination to see and to understand what has been destroyed over the last 200 years."

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