Serpent Mound is a man-made earthwork in the shape of a long, uncoiling serpent nearly a quarter of a mile long. Created between 1000 and 1500 AD for unknown purposes, it is now protected in a state park in Ohio.
History of Serpent Mound
Two different cultures contributed to the Serpent Mound site. The earliest is the Adena people, who lived in this area from about the 6th century BC to the early 1st century AD.
Based on stone axes and other artifacts, we know that the Adena built the two conical burial mounds near the serpent. Other Adena burial mounds in the area indicate that the Adenans buried their dead in log tombs or clay-lined basins; important individuals were painted in red ocher and buried with valuable grave goods.
A third, elliptical-shaped burial mound at the park and a village site near the serpent effigy's tail belong to the Fort Ancient culture, who lived here from about 1000 to 1550 AD.
The Serpent Mound itself had proved more difficult to date, as no artifacts have been found in the mound itself that could connect it to either culture. It was generally assumed that it belonged to the Adena people.
However, a recent excavation of Serpent Mound (1995) uncovered wood charcoal that could be radiocarbon dated. Test results show that the charcoal, and therefore the mound's construction, dates to about 1070 AD. It thus belongs to the much later Fort Ancient culture.
The Serpent Mound and surrounding burial mounds were first surveyed and sketched in the 1840s, and first excavated by the Harvard archaeologist F.W. Putnam in the late 19th century. When Putnam visited in 1886, the serpent was in bad shape — half-destroyed by amateur excavators looking for treasure and badly eroded by rain.
The farmer who owned the mound was about to sell the land for growing corn, a fate that had already destroyed hundreds of other mounds. But Bostonians raised the money to buy the land, saving it for us to see today. In 1900, it was given to Ohio and turned into a state park.
What to See at Serpent Mound
Serpent Mound is 1,200 feet (366 m) long and about 5 feet (1.5 m) high. Made of earth, it is formed in the shape of an uncoiling snake about to swallow an egg-shaped oval in its open mouth. The head of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset and the coils also may point to the winter solstice sunrise and the equinox sunrise.
The specific purpose of this impressive effigy remains a mystery. It was never used for burials. Some have speculated that the vast earthwork was an offering to the gods. It certainly seems meant to be seen from above: the serpent is difficult to see from ground level. Visitors can now climb a tower to appreciate its shape.
The coil of the serpent's tail is a common sacred symbol throughout the ancient world and often symbolizes the sacred forces of the earth. This may suggest that the mound-builders worshipped the earth as a divine mother.
Some New Age practitioners have suggested that Serpent Mound is patterned on the Little Dipper constellation, which could indicate a cosmic energy flow between heaven and earth. Others have analyzed the mounds (along with others in the area) for ley lines, which are believed to conduct healing energy between ancient sacred sites. New Age groups and individuals often use the site for meditation.
Serpent Mound has been a public park for more than a century and visitors may walk along a wooded footpath surrounding the serpent. Also in the area are three burial mounds and an ancient village site. An on-site museum has exhibits on the effigy mound and the geology of the surrounding area.
The Serpent Mound is located on State Route 73, six miles north of State Route 32 and 20 miles south of Bainbridge in Adams County.
Quick Facts on Serpent Mound
|Names:||Great Serpent Mound · Serpent Mound|
|Visitor and Contact Information|
|Coordinates:||39.025731° N, 83.430305° W|
|Address:||3850 State Route 73, Peebles|
|Phone:||937-587-2796; 1-800-752-2757 (toll free)|
|Hours:||Park: Sep 5-Mar 31: Tue-Sun 10-5; Apr 1-May 26: Tue-Sun 10-5; May 27-Labor Day: Wed-Sun 10-5|
Museum: Closed Oct 31-Mar 31; Apr 1-May 26: Sat-Sun 10-5; May 27-Labor Day: Wed-Sun 10-5
|Lodging:||View hotels near Serpent Mound|
- Serpent Mound - Ohio Historical Society (includes printable location map here)
- Norbert Brockman, Encyclopedia of Sacred Places (Oxford University Press, 1997), 184.
- Colin Wilson, The Atlas of Holy Places and Sacred Sites (DK Publishing, 1996), 76.
- Great Serpent Mound (500-1000 AD) - Metropolitan Museum of Art Timeline of Art History
- Elliot M. Abrams, Emergence Of Moundbuilders: Archaeology Of Tribal Societies In Southeastern Ohio (Ohio University Press, 2005).
- E. Barrie Kavasch, The Mound Builders of Ancient North America (iUniverse, 2003).
- Maureen Korp, The Mound Builders: Mysteries of the Ancient Americas (Reader's Digest, 1986).
- Maureen Korp, Sacred Art of the Earth: Ancient and Contemporary Earthworks (Continuum International Publishing Group, 1997).
- Maureen Korp, Sacred Geography of the American Mound Builders (Edwin Mellen Pr, 1990).
- George R. Milner, The Moundbuilders: Ancient Peoples of Eastern North America (Thames & Hudson, 2005).
- Timothy R. Pauketat, Ancient Cahokia and the Mississippians (Cambridge University Press, 2004).
- Robert Silverberg, Mound Builders of Ancient America (Graphic Society, 1968).
- Susan Woodward and Jerry McDonald, Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Mounds and Earthworks of the Adena, Hopewell, Cole, and Fort Ancient People (McDonald and Woodward, 1986).
- Photos of Serpent Mound - here on Sacred Destinations
Map of Serpent Mound, Ohio
Below is a location map and aerial view of Serpent Mound. Using the buttons on the left (or the wheel on your mouse), you can zoom in for a closer look, or zoom out to get your bearings. To move around, click and drag the map with your mouse.