Who Built Serpent Mound

The phenomenal archaeological site of Serpent Mound in Ohio has been the subject of a growing recent controversy among Midwest archaeologists as to who built Serpent Mound and when.

There are two important cultures in ancient times in the area, the Adena culture and the Fort Ancient culture. The Adena culture spanned 1000 BCE-100 CE and lived in the area of the site then, while the Fort Ancient culture lived there from 1000-1650 CE, a thousand years later.

The Adena lived in what is now Ohio, Pennsylvania, Indiana, Kentucky, and surrounding areas. They created elaborate earthworks, including sacred circles, as well as mounds. So they were capable of constructing this huge effigy.

The Fort Ancient people were a farming culture, and many believe they introduced maize farming to the area. They were also mound builders. They constructed low, plateau-like mounds used to defend their villages or as ceremonial places. Some are thought to have been used to record solstices and other important astronomical events. So some of the signatures of the effigy match Fort Ancient iconography and build.

Serpent Mound is the largest effigy mound in the world, stretching 1,348 feet, built from thick layers of ash and clay anchored by rocks over the top, and then a thick layer of soil over the stones so that grass and vegetation could cover it. It was built in the shape of a serpent with its head directly aligned with the setting sun on the summer solstice. It is built at the edge of a four mile wide meteor crater.

The controversy centers on the construction dates for the effigy mound. Those believing it was constructed by the Fort Ancient culture believe it was built at 1070 CE. The other group of archaeologists believe it was constructed by the Adena culture at 320 BCE. There are three burial mounds adjoining the serpent, one Adena and two Fort Ancient and a Fort Ancient village. The largest group have a large number of radio-carbon dates from the mound and surrounding areas indicating that the Fort Ancient culture built the effigy mound. They also have Mississippian related dates and iconography contemporaneous with the Fort Ancient culture showing similarities in the serpent style.

The team believing the much earlier Adena culture built Serpent Mound have recent radio-carbon dates in the mound itself dated to the Adena culture, but these findings are questioned.

The head of the giant serpent is constructed in a U-shape looking like it is ingesting an egg. The serpent has seven coils which may align with the phases of the moon. Since the head aligns with the sun on the summer solstice and the body could represent phases of the moon, this structure combines both solar and lunar alignments.

The Fort Ancient adherents base part of their proof on the art and iconography of the Mississippian Civilization to the east. They look to Picture Cave in Missouri for the Fort Ancient design styles of the serpent. Radio-carbon dates from Picture Cave match radio-carbon dates taken at Serpent Mound. Immigrants from the Mississippian Civilization were making their way into Ohio to escape severe droughts at that time. They would have brought with them Mississippian religious ideas. One of the main ideas would have been the idea of a great serpent, Lord of the Beneath World, who would help in productive harvests. The intertwining of the Great Earth Goddess with the serpent in the Mississippian world is a constant theme. And there is a cave painting at Picture Cave (which I was able to find after a lot of research) showing a serpent figure with the head shaped in a U-shape just like the head of the serpent at Serpent Mound. There is also the Mississippian chunky ball game where the round chunky stone is associated with the sun, which may have something to do with the head of the serpent swallowing a round object representing the sun.

Both cultures would have seen eclipses of the sun, so the head of the serpent swallowing a round object may be a religious depiction of those events in the iconography of the serpent swallowing the sun.

After having done extensive research for this article, I strongly believe Serpent Mound was built by the Fort Ancient culture. Finding the Picture Cave, Missouri coiled serpent cave painting with the U-shaped mouth which was contemporaneous with the Serpent Mound construction, and with Mississippians entering that area at the same time, it is pretty certain the builders are Fort Ancient – despite the serpent burials and an Adena artifact you can view in the slide show I created for this article: 


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