A friend of mine told me he would be visiting Serpent Mound in Southern Ohio for the Summer Solstice. A few years ago we were lucky enough to be in the area on the Solstice and decided to go and witness the phenomenon ourselves.
My husband and I grew up in the area and have been visiting the Mound since we were children. Of course, we thought it was cool, and the significance was explained to us but we just thought it was a fun place to play. When we were children we were allowed to play ON the mound, now of course prohibited. Today we know that parts of the Mound line up with celestial objects, in this case, the head of the Serpent lines up with the setting sun on the Summer Solstice.
The year we went we got there early to hear a park ranger talk about the Serpent and the heavens. It was an enlightening talk, and he explained some of the theories are educated guesses since like most pre-historic sites not much is left to tell the tale. And just for this special day, we were once again allowed to walk ON the mound.
As the sun set over Ohio Brush Creek, beyond the Serpent head, we settled in to wait. There was a Native American gentlemen performing a ritual with burning tobacco. There was another woman chanting , walking in circles and shaking a sage stick. Others were posed on the ground as in contemplation. It had been a cloudy day, but as the sun set the clouds parted and the SUN SET OVER THE SERPENT’S HEAD! Wow. It was very moving – to stand in that place and think of the “old ones” being in the same place, at the same time, behind us in time. Even those of us there purely for curiosity left quietly, still contemplating what we had just witnessed.
The next year we were able to visit Serpent Mound again while they were having an Archaeology Weekend. In a picnic pavilion, local collectors had their Native American treasures displayed – flint arrowheads, stone axes and grinding stones, stone knives, carved shells and other amazing and wonderful ancient weapons, utensils and decorations. It appeared most of the items were collected locally from fields and streambeds. Collectors generally are careful not to reveal their “hunting” grounds and with good reason. Often they are there at the pleasure of the landowner and do not want to abuse their privilege. Believe me, there are some amazing things that show up all the time in plowed fields and post-flood streams.
While we were at this event we were privileged to hear a talk by Ross Hamilton, author of The Mystery of the Serpent Mound, and see his diagrams of how the Serpent lines up with the sun and moon. He believes that 5000 years ago when the night sky was in a different configuration than today (due to the wobble of the earth), the Serpent lined up with the constellation Draco, the Dragon, and that the star, Draconis, was at the center of the Serpent, since at that time it would have been the “pole” star. (Today of course the pole star being Polaris.)
Serpent Mound is a great place to visit 3 seasons of the year. It is on a very curvy road that I would not recommend in winter. There is a fire tower you can climb to see the Serpent from above and a nice visitors center. Take a picnic – there are lots of picnic tables and though primitive, there are restrooms. For hours of operation and directions see the Ohio Historical Society’s Serpent Mound page.
About Serpent Mound:
The Great Serpent Mound is a 1,330-foot-long, three-foot-high prehistoric effigy mound located on a plateau of the Serpent Mound crater along Ohio Brush Creek in Adams County, Ohio. Maintained within a park by the Ohio Historical Society, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark by the United States Department of Interior. The Serpent Mound of Ohio was first reported from surveys by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis in their historic volume Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, published in 1848 by the newly founded Smithsonian Museum.
The Serpent mound is the largest effigy mound in the world. While there are several burial mounds around the Serpent mound site, the Serpent site does not contain any human remains. It was not constructed for burial purposes.
The Cherokee relate the legend of the Uktena, a large serpent with supernatural appearance and power. The existence of the legend attests to the importance of the figure. Researchers have speculated that perhaps ancient native people created large totemic shrines that were built on platforms made of earth and stone. Such an effigy could have been destroyed by war or changes among inheriting cultures, with the result that only the platform (the mound) was left.
Researchers have attributed construction of the mound to three different prehistoric indigenous cultures. Based on the use of more advanced technology, including carbon dating and evidence from 1996 studies, many scholars now believe that members of the Fort Ancient culture built it about 1070 CE (plus or minus 70 years). There are still anomalies to be studied.
In 1987 Clark and Marjorie Hardman published their finding that the oval-to-head area of the serpent is aligned to the summer solstice sunset. William F. Romain has suggested an array of lunar alignments based on the curves in the effigy’s body. Fletcher and Cameron argued convincingly for the Serpent Mound’s coils being aligned to the two solstice and two equinox events each year – source, Wikipedia-Serpent Mound