Serpent Mound

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Serpent Mound is a spectacular effigy earthwork of a serpent uncoiling along a prominent ridgetop in northern Adams County, Ohio. From the tip of its nose to the end of its tail, the effigy is 1,348 feet long. When it was originally described, in 1848, the body of the serpent was five feet high and 30 feet wide.

Excavations between 1887 and 1889 by Frederic Putnam, of Harvard University's Peabody Museum, revealed the structure of the earthwork.  But Putnam did not find any artifacts that revealed the age or cultural affiliation of the mound. Until recently, archaeologists assumed that Serpent Mound was built by the Adena culture (800 B.C. to 100 A.D.) since two Adena burial mounds are located nearby. Yet Putnam also discovered traces of a village of the Fort Ancient culture (1000 A.D. to 1650 A.D.) near the Serpent. Excavations conducted in 1991 recovered charcoal that returned radiocarbon dates suggesting that the Fort Ancient people built the mound between about 1025 A.D. and 1215 A.D..

Serpents are a common feature in the art of the Late Prehistoric Period (900 A.D. to 1650 A.D.). Many American Indians of the Eastern Woodlands believed the Great Serpent was a powerful spirit of the Underworld. Serpent Mound may be a representation of these beliefs..

The head of Serpent Mound is aligned to the setting sun on the summer solstice and the coils may be aligned to the summer and winter solstice and equinox sunrises. These alignments support the idea that Serpent Mound had a ceremonial purpose.

Frederic Putnam saved Serpent Mound from destruction. On his urging, funds were raised for Harvard University to purchase the site. Later, the ownership was transferred to the Ohio Historical Society.

Serpent Mound is recognized as a National Historic Landmark. Serpent Mound State Memorial is located 20 miles south of Bainbridge in Adams County.

See Also


  1. Squier, Ephraim George, and Edwin Hamilton Davis. Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley: Comprising the Results of Extensive Original Surveys and Explorations. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution, 1848.
  2. Putnam, F. W., The Serpent Mound of Ohio.  Century Magazine 39:871-888, 1890.
  3. Griffin, James Bennett. The Fort Ancient Aspect: Its Cultural and Chronological Position in Mississippi Valley Archaeology. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1966.
  4. Lepper, Bradley T., Great Serpent.  Timeline 15(5):30-45, 1998.
  5. Glotzhober, Robert C. and Bradley T. Lepper, Serpent Mound:  Ohio's Enigmatic Effigy Mound. Ohio Historical Society, 1994.  
  6. Fletcher, Robert, Terry Cameron, Bradley T. Lepper, Dee Anne Wymer, & William Pickard, "Serpent Mound: a Fort Ancient Icon?"  Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology 21(1)105-143, 1996. 
  7. Woodward, Susan L., and Jerry N. McDonald. Indian Mounds of the Middle Ohio Valley: A Guide to Mounds and Earthworks of the Adena, Hopewell, Cole, and Fort Ancient People. Lincoln: The University of Nebraska Press, 2002. 
  8. CERHAS. EarthWorks, Virtual Explorations of the Ancient Ohio Valley. The Center for the Electronic Reconstruction of Historical and Archaeological Sites (CERHAS). Cincinnati, OH, 2006.
  9. Lepper, Bradley T. Ohio Archaeology: An Illustrated Chronicle of Ohio's Ancient American Indian Cultures. Wilmington, Ohio, Orange Frazer Press, 2005.