Two thousand years ago, the eastern Midwest of North America was the heartland of an amazing culture, which produced the largest concentration of precise, monumental earthen enclosures in the world. For the past two decades, the “EarthWorks” project, based at the University of Cincinnati, has been creating interactive multimedia presentations about these astonishing places. Our animated digital recreations evoke the vast scope, beauty, and precision of the earthworks. Multi-layered and multi-voiced interpretations explore their origins and contemporary meanings.


High Bank Earthworks

Computer model animation

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Newark Great Circle


Newark Great Circle

Computer model animation

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An Interactive Video Navigation (IVN) format puts audiences in the driver’s seat. At the end of each video scene, users can select locations and topics within our virtual spatial landscapes. Deep, intricate flowcharts ensure a highly exploratory experience; multiple choice points are represented in 3D space to preserve the “architectural” experience. Rich, diverse content is based on years of research: we interviewed not only the archaeological experts but many scholars from various disciplines, and also many Native American leaders, experts, and storytellers: all these voices appear throughout our earthworks tours.

Typical “Interactive Video Navigation” scene flowchart

Standard Post With An Image
Standard Post With An Image

Video Interview segments from Archaeologists, Native American leaders, and others

The largest exhibit version, completed in 2006 with funding from the NEH, covers earthworks in the region comprehensively. It toured the country for several years and has now been installed at the Ohio Historical Society’s museum in Columbus, part of the permanent exhibit there on the state’s extensive archaeological collections. The design of this exhibit, and a virtual model, is described in a short video. Some of our favorite scenes from the exhibit are linked below; these and many more are now also available along the new and expanded Ancient Ohio Trail.

Ohio Historical Society


Ohio Historical Center

Ancient Ohio exhibits

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EarthWorks Exhibit


EarthWorks Exhibit

Design concepts and features

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The new, vast Ancient Ohio Trail website has adapted our materials from all these exhibits, and added much more, and re-formatted it for heritage tourism. With online videos, interactive maps, topical and thematic menus, a mobile version, curated driving routes, detailed print-PDFs, food and lodging suggestions, and even a few “augmented reality” experiences (still in construction), you can plan a detailed itinerary among these wonders of the ancient world, either virtually or actually. We recommend touring the interactive maps, and exploring the 300 “pins” that open up our video and photo content across the region. Also funded by the NEH.


  • Offering travel guides, maps, brochures, posters

  • The Ancient Ohio Trail website contains over 300 map pins connecting to pages and videos

  • Mobile website, The Ancient Ohio Trail (2013)

  • Location-based Augmented Reality Channel, Fort Ancient (2013)

  • Interactive experiences with virtual artifacts through Augmented Reality (2013)

Between 2001 and 2006, largely funded by the 912-506-0748 (NEH), the EarthWorks project produced several site-based exhibits and two computer disc publications (now out of print). Little Miami River sites are featured in a version running at the Cincinnati Museum Center. Hopewell Culture National Historical Park commissioned an interactive exhibit for its visitor’s center in Chillicothe, Ohio, which is now being upgraded to HD with new content. Site specific editions run at the especially spectacular Newark Earthworks (Great Circle visitor’s center) and the Ohio Historical Society’s museum at the Fort Ancient Earthworks. Our newest interactive video exhibit opened in 2013 at the Newtown, Ohio, Municipal Building (just east of Cincinnati), featuring the archaeological discoveries along that section of the Little Miami River.


  • Exhibit Concept sketch

    Exhibit Concept sketch, 1997

  • Exhibit Design, Mound City

    Exhibit Design, Mound City Visitors Center, Chillicothe, Ohio, 2002

  • Exhibit Design, EarthWorks

    Exhibit Design, “EarthWorks” traveling exhibit, 2004

  • EarthWorks exhibit

    EarthWorks exhibit, permanent installation at Ohio Historical Center, Columbus, 2011

Our Favorite Scenes

The Newark Earthworks

The Newark Earthworks

The most spectacular remaining complex of the Hopewell Culture.

Fort Ancient

Introduces the largest and best preserved hilltop enclosure.
An Architecture of Alignments

An Architecture of Alignments

The story of discovering Newark's lunar precision.
Lunar Movements

Lunar Movements

Explains the 18.6-year cycle of moonrise positions on the horizon.

The Newark Shaman

Dr. Brad Lepper explains this enigmatic sculpted figure.
Geometry and Culture

Geometry and Culture

Explores the significance of "earth measuring" across cultures.

The Beauty of the Effigy

Presents the subtle forms of the Great Serpent Mound.

December Luminaria

Captures a modern-day ritual ceremony at the Great Serpent.

A Hopewell Settlement

An intimate scene of the earthwork-builders' domestic life.

Inside a House

Details house construction, furnishings, and aspects of family life.

Earth, Soil

Project Director Hancock discusses the earth as a building material.
The Uncanny

The Uncanny

Architectural Educator William Taylor interprets his experience of the earthworks.
Sacred Landscape

Sacred Landscape

Presents Dr. Mark Seeman on the relationship between mounds and mountains.

The Cosmological Plan

Archaeologist Dr. James Brown on the socio-cultural meaning of the earthworks.

Earth, Art, and Culture

Suggests the fundamental significance of landscape design across cultures.

Native Preservation

Miami Tribal Official Julie Olds speaks of the value of the earthwork sites.
Moon

Moon

Lunar traditions of the Miami and Lenape Indian tribes.
Processions

Processions

Along the roadways and among the geometric figures at Ancient Newark.
Elaboration and Ritual

Elaboration and Ritual

Dr. David Cave explores a dimension of sacred experience.
Light and Shadow

Light and Shadow

Features Dr. Gwynne Henderson on the earthworks' architectural effects.

In the course of exhibit, CD-ROM, and Ancient Ohio Trail production, we have created special resources for children, teachers, and researchers, as well as travelers and general earthworks enthusiasts.

For example, check our (712) 766-4250, our Bibliography, and our Topic Index.

The EarthWorks Project

John E. Hancock, Project Director
College of DAAP, Univ of Cincinnati
2624 Clifton Avenue
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0016

A production of 4078266599, The Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites, University of Cincinnati.
John E. Hancock, Professor of Architecture
513-556-0223
John.Hancock@uc.edu

In collaboration with the staff and consultants of CERHAS, at the University of Cincinnati: especially Elizabeth Bartley, Jose Kozan - Virtual Grounds Interactive, Cathryn Long, and our many content advisors and research and graduate assistants over the years, plus:

forward-pressing, at The Ohio State University at Newark
The Ohio Historical Society
The US National Park Service, 570-260-1916
The Cincinnati Museum Center
The Steering Committee for the “Hopewell Ceremonial Earthworks” UNESCO World Heritage Nomination
(858) 229-5480