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Serpent Mound (Ohio)

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Serpent Mound, Ohio

Serpent Mound, Ohio

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Definition:

Serpent Mound, also known as Alligator Mound, is an earthen spiral mound in the shape of a partially coiled serpent, with four legs and a head. Located on the north side of the Raccoon Creek valley not far from Newark in Licking County, Ohio, the Serpent Mound was mapped by Squier and Davis in 1848, and excavated by W.H.H. Holmes and F.W. Putnam.

Alligator mound is some 76 meters (250 feet) from the head to its tail, and when first reported it was between 1.2-1.8 m (4-6 feet high). Early excavators reported that a collection of fire-cracked stones measuring three feet wide (ca. one meter) and one foot high (30 centimeters) and covered with charcoal and ashes was connected to the effigy at its midsection. Because of this, scholars believe its shape may be a shrine to the Underwater Panther, an iconic figure in historic and prehistoric Native American figurative art.

Serpent Mound is located near the Newark Earthworks, an earlier, Adena-Hopewell mound and village complex, and for decades Serpent was considered to have been built by Hopewell people. Mounds built in effigy shapes are more common in Ohio at Adena-Hopewell sites, although Mississippian sites in Wisconsin and Minnesota do have effigy mounds. However, recent radiocarbon dates of the effigy mound called Serpent Mound indicate that it was built by the Fort Ancient people of the Mississippian civilization, between AD 1170 and 1270.

In 1994, a landscaping crew inadvertently truncated the Alligator's left forelimb, and archaeological inspection of the new cut revealed a substructure build of angular, fire-cracked sandstone cobbles and silt loam. Charcoal from this excavation allowed researchers to securely place the mound in the Mississippian period.

Visiting Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound site and museum is managed by the Ohio Historical Society, and open to visitors during the summers.

Sources

This article is a part of the About.com Guide to the Mississippian culture, and part of the Dictionary of Archaeology.

Lepper BT, and Frolking TA. 2003. Alligator Mound: Geoarchaeological and Iconographical Interpretations of a Late Prehistoric Effigy Mound in Central Ohio, USA. Cambridge Archaeological Journal 13(2):147-167.

Also Known As: Great Serpent Mound, Alligator Mound

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