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The Great Serpent & Other Indian Mounds of North America

Updated on July 26, 2012

The Great Serpent Mound of North America

When most people think of North American Indians they don’t think of a people who built ancient structures such as Stonehenge, the great pyramids of Egypt or even those of South America. This is a great mistake because the ancient Indians of North America are responsible for structures just as enigmatic and mysterious as those built by other ancient civilisations.

One sample of these is the Great Serpent Mound, along Bush Creek in Adam’s County Ohio. This was first reported in surveys by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis in their book, Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley, published in 1848.

The Great Serpent Mound is an effigy mound 1,348ft (411m) long and 3ft high and like the Nazca Lines of Peru, these mounds take on a new and exciting perspective when viewed from the air. It is a remarkable structure attributed to three different indigenous cultures, possibly dating back to the Adena people of the first millennium BC. Later to the Hopewell people, but archaeologists admit there are still a number of anomalies yet to be explained.

The Serpent Mound follows the curve of Bush Creek with its head resting on a cliff above the stream. There are seven coils ending in a triple-coiled tail. The serpent’s mouth is open extending around the east end of a 120-foot (37 m)-long hollow oval feature. Some scholars propose that this feature symbolizes an egg which links this serpent mound to the Cosmic Serpent featured in various serpent myths from around the world. Serpent effigies also appear in these places.

Other effigy mounds such as, Rock Eagle mound, Putnam Country, Georgia, also exist. Some are shaped like pyramids, others in the shape of snakes, eagles, bears, foxes, buffaloes, elks and sometimes in human form. The Natchez Indians, one of the last mound building tribes lived along the Mississippi. Each of their seven villages had its own mound. These centred on the Great Emerald mound, more than 11m (35ft) high.

Despite the similarity to the Nazca Lines, which also take animal shapes, effigy mounds are unique to North America. Bones and grave goods have not been found ruling out their use as tombs and leaving a mystery that scholars have yet to explain.

The demise of the mound builders coincided with the discovery of America by the so-called civilised world. Early settlers, much as Europeans arriving in Africa, India, Australia and any other land, viewed the North American Indians as little more than savages. Little interest was taken in the culture and history of these people, yet their existence proves that these people were capable of organisation on a scale similar to that required in constructing one of the pyramids of Egypt. The settlers brought diseases like measles and smallpox while those that didn’t die from imported diseases were massacred in the so-called Indian Wars. Mound building spanning 3,000 years of history was brought to an end.

The obvious reason is greed. Greed for land and power but there is another force at work as well, religious oppression. European settlers, wherever they arrived, took with them religious missionaries and these missionaries gave whatever justification was needed for the suppression of the savage. This suppression included suppressing the spiritual knowledge that would explain the purpose and full meaning behind the building of these monuments. Yet surely that is linked to the purpose and meaning behind the building of other monuments built by other ancient civilisations. What drove ancient man to put in so much effort to build such great monuments to their gods?


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    • Radical Rog profile image

      Peter Rogers 5 years ago from Plymouth

      I Agree. Chaco Canyon is an interesting place. Raises the question, who's the savage? The immigrants or the native Americans.

    • mactavers profile image

      mactavers 5 years ago

      Good information on mounds; very interesting. I've lived in Arizona my whole life and I appreciate the Native Americans as builders and traders more each time I visit ruins. The ultimate ruin is Chaco Canyon in NM and those who study there uncover more interesting discoveries each year. Amazing!