By Greg Wright
Gannett News Service
According to a Cherokee legend, prophets long ago led the people.
And the prophets would dream and ask the people to build monuments to make their visions reality.
That is how as many as 10,000, massive American Indian earthworks that once dotted the Eastern and Southern United States and Midwest came to be, said Barbara Crandell, 74, of Thornville, Ohio.
"Some were built for the sun and some for the moon," said Crandell, who is of Cherokee descent and heard the story from her mother and grandfather. "And some were for ceremony and for different things they did - to bring good luck to them and to bring the blessings of the gods."
The long-abandoned earthworks or mounds have fallen to encroaching cities and farms - probably less than a dozen remain complete, researchers say.
Millions of Americans live or work near earthworks in more than 20 states from Florida to Wisconsin but do not know they exist.
A University of Cincinnati project is trying to rebuild the earthworks - at least on the Internet. In July, the university announced that its project - to visually reconstruct about two dozen earthworks in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky - is 80 percent complete.
The Web project aims to teach the public something most people don't learn in school, said John Hancock, an architecture historian at the university who led the work.
More than 2,000 years ago, American Indians were building sophisticated, large-scale projects - including the Great Circle 1,200 feet across and 15 feet high in Newark, Ohio, and a giant, 1,360-foot-long Serpent Mound about 60 miles east of Cincinnati.
Many of the structures are absolutely level and precise and are aligned with the cycles of the moon, Hancock said.
Some 19th-century historians said American Indians could not have built the structures. Vikings, Egyptians, lost sailors from Wales and even the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel were credited instead, Hancock said.
Historians who reviewed the University of Cincinnati project say giving American Indians recognition for the work is long overdue.
"I'm for justice generally, and historic justice is one kind of justice," said Roger Kennedy, a former National Park Service director and author of Hidden Cities: The Discovery and Loss of Ancient North American Civilization.
"So my interest, according to my Indian brothers and sisters, is credit for the wonderful thing their ancestors did," he said.
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