Weird History
28k readers

What Is The Mysterious Serpent Mound In Ohio, And How Did It Get There?

Updated October 30, 2019 28k views11 items

It might seem difficult to believe there could be anything out of the ordinary about a town called "Peebles." Located in Adams County, Ohio, just over an hour outside of Cincinnati, Peebles is home to less than 2,000 people - as well as an ancient effigy mound in the shape of a serpent. 

Essentially the United States' equivalent of Stonehenge, the Great Serpent Mound is a raised, fortified pile of earth and rocks built in the shape of an animal of worship. One of several effigy mounds in the American Midwest, the Serpent Mound is one of the best known. These mounds are of great spiritual value to those indigenous to the area, and were often used for prayer and as burial sites.

Thanks to the preservation efforts of the Ohio Historical Society and the Arc of Appalachia Preserve System, the mound is freely accessible to the public. It is currently up for UNESCO World Heritage status, which would grant it the same international legal protection as two other serpent mounds located in the United Kingdom.

  • Photo: Ephraim George Squier and Edwin Hamilton Davis / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

    At 1,348 Feet, It’s The Largest Effigy Mound In The World

    The Serpent's Mound is the largest effigy mound in the world, measuring 1,348 feet long from the head, through seven winding coils, to the tip of the tail. 

    Nearby, there are three similar burial mounds, smaller in stature but most likely related. It is theorized that two of the smaller mounds were built by the Adena culture sometime between 800 BC and 100 AD, while another was crafted by the Fort Ancient culture between 1000 and 1650 AD.

  • Photo: Heironymous Rowe / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    The Mound’s Exact Age Is Hotly Contested

    There are two prevailing theories on when exactly the Serpent Mound was built.

    First discovered by Frederic Ward Putnam of Harvard in the late 19th century, for the following 100 years archaeologists and anthropologists agreed that the mound was built by the Adena culture around 300 BC. In 1996, another carbon dating excavation revealed evidence that it may have actually been built by the Fort Ancient culture much later, around 1070 AD. 

    While there is undeniable evidence that both of these tribes existed in the area and worshipped at the mound, many experts feel that it was most likely constructed by the Adena and then rehabilitated by the Fort Ancient people.

  • Photo: Timothy A. Price / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY 2.5

    It Rests At The Edge Of A 4-Mile-Wide Meteor Crater

    A meteor left a massive impact crater in modern-day Southern Ohio about 320 million years ago. This is one of only 28 impact craters located in the entire country, and Serpent Mound rests right at the edge of it.

    A local Ohio scientific newsletter from 1994 describes the crater's unique attributes

    A circular area of more than 12 square miles suffered utter chaos, wrought at an uncertain time by a force that remains speculative. This event had sufficient energy to disturb more than 7 cubic miles of rock and uplift the central portion of the circular feature at least 1,000 feet above its normal position.

  • Photo: Eric Ewing / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Its Sophisticated, Layered Construction Suggests It May Have Been Used To Mark Seasons

    In 1996, Ohio Historical Society researchers Robert V. Fletcher and Terry L. Cameron discovered another significant element of the mound's construction. They learned that on the summer solstice, the head of the snake is perfectly aligned with the setting sun. 

    Archeoastronomer William F. Romain expanded upon this discovery, stating that many of the coils in the snake's body are carefully placed to match lunar arrays. The coils point to the winter solstice and equinox sunrises, suggesting that the ancient cultures responsible for the effigy had a sophisticated understanding of astronomy.