Serpent Mound is the world’s biggest surviving effigy mound—a mound in the form of one animal—from the primitive era. Situated in southern Ohio, the 411-meter-long (1348-feet-long) indigenous American structure has been excavated a few times because the so late 1800s, but the origins of Serpent Mound space still a mystery. Some approximates place the building of the National historical Landmark—also called good Serpent Mound—at approximately 300 B.C.

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What Is Serpent Mound?

As its name suggests, Serpent Mound resembles a large sinuous snake v a cutting tail in ~ the west end, a head in ~ the eastern end, and also seven winding coils in between. In all, the line stretches a quarter of a mile and ranges from 1.2 come 1.5 meter (3.9 come 4.9 feet) in height and 6.0 to 7.6 meters (19.7 come 24.9 feet) in width.

Serpent Mound is located on a high plateau overlooking Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio, around 73 miles eastern of Cincinnati. It’s top top the site of an old meteor affect dating to around 300 million year ago; the crater, measure 8 to 14 kilometres (5.0 mile to 8.7 miles) in diameter, is well-known as Serpent Mound crater.

Experts disagree about what the head the the mound represents, through some scholar positing the oval shape signifies one enlarged eye when others believe it’s one object—a hole egg, because that instance—being swallowed by open jaws.

Purpose of Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound may have had actually a spirituality purpose, provided that the countless native cultures in phibìc and central America revered snakes, attributing superordinary powers to the slithering reptiles.

Additionally, graves and also burial piles near the site indicate Serpent Mound’s building contractors may have created the framework for some kind of important burial or mortuary function, such as to guide spirits. But the mound chin doesn’t contain any graves or artifacts.

Serpent Mound might have further had temporal significance—the head that the serpent aligns through the summer solstice sunset while the tail points to the winter solstice sunrise. As such, old peoples may have actually used the framework to mark time or seasons.

The style of the mound likewise matches the form of the constellation Draco, through the star Thuban (Alpha Draconis, which served as the phibìc pole star from the 4th to 2nd millennium B.C.) lining up through the very first curve in the snake’s torso indigenous the head. This alignment suggests another purpose because that Serpent Mound: a sort of compass that helps identify true north.

Great Serpent Mound Excavations

In the late 19th century, frederic Ward Putnam, an archaeologist at Harvard University, carried out the earliest scientific excavations of Serpent Mound.

Since these an initial excavation efforts, archaeologists have deadline Serpent Mound to among two indigenous American cultures: The early Woodland Adena society (500 B.C. Come 200 A.D.) and Late Prehistoric fort Ancient culture (1000 come 1650 A.D.).

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Though the state “Adena” and also “Fort Ancient” hadn’t however been coined when Putnam first placed trenches in Serpent Mound and also its surrounding earthen piles in 1887 to 1889, the archaeologist recognized that people of two various time periods occupied the Serpent Mound area. He attributed the effigy come the earlier group (the Adena).

Decades later, various other archaeologists additionally attributed Serpent Mound to the Adena, largely based upon circumstantial evidence. The is, Serpent Mound contains no artefacts that deserve to be used for identification, but the surrounding conical piles do.

Putman originally excavated a conical mound located 200 meters (656 feet) southeast of Serpent Mound, unearthing lot of burials and associated artifacts, including pottery and also projectile points. In the 1940s, archaeologist James Bennett Griffith analyzed this artifacts and also identified them together Adena, and also thus deadline the effigy to that culture.

Griffith likewise found both Adena and also Fort old materials in nearby cultural features, however he considered it much less most likely that the more recent world would have developed Serpent Mound, especially because the effigy is similar in format to various other Adena earthworks in the Ohio Valley, such together Portsmouth works (a mound complicated in Scioto County, Ohio).

Adena culture or fort Ancient?

In the mid-1990s, a study team reopened one of Putnam’s trenches and collected charcoal from 3 locations over and below what they thought about the mound base. Using radio carbon dating, they determined that the samples—and Serpent Mound—date ago to about 920 A.D., part 1400 years later than initially thought.

This brand-new data, i beg your pardon is based on the first direct aging the the structure, put the effigy in the Late ancient (Fort Ancient) period.

But in 2014, one more research team carbon-dated a number of other charcoal samples, put the building of Serpent Mound in between 381 B.C. And 44 B.C., v a mean date of 321 B.C.

The new evidence suggests, when again, that the Adena were the original contractors of Serpent Mound. The research study team believes the the Fort old people likely modified and/or renovated it, pointing come the truth that other adjacent monuments likewise show evidence of fix or modification by prehistoric groups.

Serpent Mound conservation

In addition to top the first excavation efforts of Serpent Mound, Putnam also led efforts to restore and preserve the effigy. Special, his efforts helped raise funds because that Harvard university to acquisition the site, i m sorry the Yale Peabody Museum of natural converted into a public park until 1900.

Serpent Mound then ended up being property the the Ohio State Archaeological and also Historical Society, now known as the Ohio Connection, which tho manages the site. The organization constructed an observation tower in ~ the site in 1908, and later built the Serpent Mound museum and also other visitant facilities.

Serpent Mound (along with multiple other Ohio American Indian earthworks) is being thought about for consists on the UNESCO people Heritage List.


Herrmann et al. (2014). “A brand-new multistage building chronology because that the an excellent Serpent Mound, USA.” journal of archaeological Science.

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Milam, Keith A. (2010). “A modification diameter for the Serpent Mound impact crater in southerly Ohio.” The Ohio newspaper of Science.Serpent Mound; Ohio Connection.Fort ancient Culture: good Serpent Mound; khan Academy.Ohio Central, Serpent Mound; Ohio Connection.Serpent Mound; UNESCO, Tentative List.Serpent Mound Crater, Ohio; United states Meteorite influence Craters.