At the end of the American Revolution, thousands of settlers from the newly formed United States left their homes behind and came to the new land north and west of the Ohio River.

The new government had little money to pay its soldiers and sailors, so Congress paid its debts in land. Much of that land soon would become the state of Ohio.

The settlers came to a place where Native Americans still lived in large numbers. In 1795, the Treaty of Greenville opened the southern two-thirds of what is now Ohio to settlement.

Many new arrivals wrote long letters home, remarking on the dense virgin forests and the large plains with grass growing 4 to 5 feet tall. But most impressive was the topsoil. Coming from places in New England where the primary product was rocks, settlers were astonished to find topsoil up to 5 feet deep.

As wars with American Indians and the reluctantly departing British dragged on until 1815, more than a few people died in Ohio. But most of the newcomers hung on, hacking away at the forest and making homes in a place so grown over with trees 100 feet tall that they believed no one could have lived here for any length of time before them.

Then they discovered they were wrong.

People had been living in central Ohio for generations. The former residents left no written record of their language or their society. Instead, they left monuments.

In 1797, frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant came up the Scioto River and selected a place for a new town at the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy, which he called Franklinton. Across the river was high ground, but Franklinton sat on the low west bank and frequently flooded. But the town held on and became a model for other towns in central Ohio.

At the intersection of what is now Mound and High streets in Columbus was a earthen mound, 40 feet tall, that early settlers thought was part of the frontier landscape. Trees were growing on the mound. But the mound was not a natural feature. It had been built by hand by the native people. Neither was it the only feature of its kind left in the area.

In later years, Joseph Sullivant, son of Franklinton's founder, remembered growing up in the new country. He remembered that at one time, three burial mounds were on the site of what is now Franklinton. He also recalled a trail heading out of Franklinton, lined on each side by mounded embankments.

All those places were removed by settlers clearing the land of the remnants of the people who once lived here.

Who were these people? To this day, we aren't sure. With no trace of written language available, their history has been inferred by the graves and monuments.

Scholars have assigned names to the various cultures revealed by their research, but these names -- Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient -- are names given to them by their successors. We do not know what these people called themselves.

We do know they lived here for at least 1,000 years before they moved on.

Protected by federal, state and local government, some of their mounds still survive. Serpent Mound in Adams County, Mound City in Ross County and the Newark Earthworks in Licking County are classic examples of the art and industry of these people. Most of the mounds of central Ohio have not survived. The great mound at Mound and High streets was gone by the mid-1830s. The mounds in Franklinton vanished as well.

A few of the great mounds of central Ohio did survive. Campbell Mound on McKinley Avenue and Jeffers Mound in Worthington are two examples.

Campbell Mound is a historic site protected by the Ohio History Connection. Jeffers Mound is in a park in the middle of a suburban subdivision.

All of this was a world we lost and -- over the last 100 years or so -- a world we have tried hard to find once again.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.