Serpent Mound is the world’s largest surviving effigy mound—a mound in the form of one animal—from the primitive era. Located in southern Ohio, the 411-meter-long (1348-feet-long) indigenous American structure has been excavated a couple of times due to the fact that the so late 1800s, but the beginnings of Serpent Mound are still a mystery. Some estimates place the building and construction of the National historic Landmark—also called great Serpent Mound—at around 300 B.C.

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What Is Serpent Mound?

As its surname suggests, Serpent Mound resembles a giant sinuous snake with a cutting tail at the west end, a head at the eastern end, and seven winding coils in between. In all, the line stretches a 4 minutes 1 of a mile and ranges from 1.2 come 1.5 meter (3.9 to 4.9 feet) in height and 6.0 come 7.6 meter (19.7 to 24.9 feet) in width.

Serpent Mound is situated on a high plateau overlooking Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio, about 73 miles east of Cincinnati. It’s ~ above the site of an old meteor influence dating to around 300 million years ago; the crater, measure 8 come 14 km (5.0 miles to 8.7 miles) in diameter, is recognized as Serpent Mound crater.

Experts disagree about what the head of the mound represents, with some scholars positing the oval form signifies one enlarged eye when others believe it’s an object—a hole egg, for instance—being swallowed by open up jaws.

Purpose of Serpent Mound

Serpent Mound might have had a spiritual purpose, given that the numerous native societies in north and central America revered snakes, attributing supernatural powers come the slithering reptiles.

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

Serpent Mound might have additional had temporal significance—the head of the serpent aligns with the summer solstice sunset if the tail points to the winter solstice sunrise. Together such, ancient peoples may have used the structure 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 north pole star native the 4th to 2nd millennium B.C.) lining up through the first curve in the snake’s torso native the head. This alignment suggests one more purpose because that Serpent Mound: a sort of compass the helps determine true north.

Great Serpent Mound Excavations

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

Since these very first excavation efforts, archaeologists have deadline Serpent Mound to one of two native American cultures: The at an early stage Woodland Adena culture (500 B.C. Come 200 A.D.) and Late Prehistoric ft Ancient society (1000 come 1650 A.D.).

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Though the terms “Adena” and “Fort Ancient” hadn’t however been coined once Putnam very first placed trenches in Serpent Mound and its surrounding earthen mounds in 1887 to 1889, the excavator recognized that human being of two various time periods lived in the Serpent Mound area. The attributed the effigy come the previously group (the Adena).

Decades later, other archaeologists likewise attributed Serpent Mound to the Adena, largely based on circumstantial evidence. The is, Serpent Mound contains no artefacts that can be used for identification, but the adjacent conical piles do.

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

Griffith likewise found both Adena and Fort ancient materials in nearby social features, yet he thought about it much less likely that the an ext recent civilization would have built Serpent Mound, especially because the effigy is comparable in format to other Adena earthworks in the Ohio Valley, such as Portsmouth works (a mound complex in Scioto County, Ohio).

Adena culture or fort Ancient?

In the mid-1990s, a research team reopened among Putnam’s trenches and collected charcoal from 3 locations over and listed below what they thought about the mound base. Utilizing radio carbon dating, they identified that the samples—and Serpent Mound—date earlier to about 920 A.D., part 1400 years later than initially thought.

This new data, i beg your pardon is based upon the an initial direct aging the the structure, placed the effigy in the Late ancient (Fort Ancient) period.

But in 2014, another research team carbon-dated a variety of other charcoal samples, put the construction of Serpent Mound in between 381 B.C. And also 44 B.C., v a mean date of 321 B.C.

The brand-new evidence suggests, as soon as again, the the Adena were the original building contractors of Serpent Mound. The study team believes the the Fort ancient people likely modified and/or renovated it, pointing to the truth that other surrounding monuments also show proof of fix or modification by primitive groups.

Serpent Mound conservation

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

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

Serpent Mound (along v multiple other Ohio American Indian earthworks) is being considered for inclusion on the UNESCO human being Heritage List.


Herrmann et al. (2014). “A brand-new multistage building and construction chronology for the an excellent Serpent Mound, USA.” newspaper of archaeological Science.

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Milam, Keith A. (2010). “A revised diameter for the Serpent Mound impact crater in southern Ohio.” The Ohio journal of Science.Serpent Mound; Ohio Connection.Fort old Culture: good Serpent Mound; cannes Academy.Ohio Central, Serpent Mound; Ohio background Connection.Serpent Mound; UNESCO, Tentative List.Serpent Mound Crater, Ohio; United states Meteorite impact Craters.