On a plateau overlooking Brush Creek in southern Ohio’s Adams County stands Serpent Mound, a beautiful and mysterious prehistoric effigy. Built by Native Americans around 1070, the earthen effigy takes the form of a giant, undulating serpent. At nearly one-quarter mile in length, it is the largest effigy mound in the world. The serpent winds along the ground at a height of about three feet and consists of seven coils, a triple-coiled tail, and a head whose jaws are open in the process of swallowing a 120 ft. hollow oval that might represent the sun, an egg, or perhaps a frog.
No one knows why the mound was built. While various Native American cultures in Ohio built mounds, there is only one other mound in the shape of an animal (an alligator); the others are simple conical structures, often serving as burial mounds. But Serpent Mound was not a burial mound. So what purpose did it serve?
There may be astronomical purposes behind its construction since the serpent’s coils are aligned with the two solstice and two equinox events occurring each year. In addition, some researchers believe that Serpent Mound was designed in accordance with the pattern of stars that make up the constellation Draco. If that is true, then the effigy may have been constructed as long as 5,000 years ago.
The head of the serpent comes to rest atop a cliff that overlooks the Serpent Mound Crater, a large impact site almost four miles in diameter caused by a meteorite slamming into the earth about 248 to 286 million years ago. Is it only by chance that the mound builders placed their effigy alongside the crater (badly eroded today with much of it submerged) or was it by design? And, if by design, why?
I visited Serpent Mound on a warm, sunny day. There were only a few people at the site—now a National Historical Landmark—and once I headed down the path that runs beside the effigy, I found myself alone. Quiet and peaceful, the grassy coils of the gigantic serpent unwound beside me. It was easy to imagine the Uktena—in Cherokee stories, the giant serpent endowed with supernatural powers—coming to life right here on the plateau above the creek. There is no doubt that the site was sacred to Native peoples—it exudes a spiritual aura to this day—and it is often frequented by people seeking a metaphysical experience.
If you’ve visited Serpent Mound, feel free to post a comment about your experiences there.