For reference, the latest and best star chart produced for the public by Cambridge was brought in for accuracy. The map of the Serpent Mound was produced by archaeologist William F. Romain, and was first published in Ohio Archaeologist in 1988. The maps of the effigy produced by Fletcher and Cameron and the Hardmans could possibly be used as well, depending upon one's point of view. The way in which the alignment was found out was serendipitous. It was trial and error, going from the intuition that certain constellations were from the same animal/mythological inspiration all over the ancient world. For example, the Big Dipper (Ursa Major) was seen as a bear by the European and Mediterranean stargazers as well as the Amerindian people. This of course suggests a link to a once world-permeating culture. The Great Serpent is held to have been a very widespread influence over the prehistoric world of the Northern Hemisphere in general, and the star pattern of Draconis corresponding to the effigy only complements this understanding.
In accord with astronomical lore, Draco has been relatively close to or a part of the northern heavenly axis for about 7000 years. The Great Dragon has thus been "circumpolar," i.e., within 30 astronomical degrees of true north for that time. This minimum of 5000 B.C.E. would place Draco in a favorable position for selective viewing and the subsequent creation of mythological archetypes. Time is allotted to develop a broadly accepted cosmology, including variations on a single theme. Such characters as the antediluvian oracle of Gaia, Python, or the Edenic serpent, tempter of Adam's spouse, could be included within such a chronological envelope. One poet suggests that constellations were like trees and the stars their fruits, possibly giving credit to our Old Serpent as one and the same as Ladon, guardian of the Garden of the Hesperides with a tree bearing golden apples. That Draco was the reference in Revelation 12:4 describing the tail of the serpent casting one-third of the stars of heaven to earth is quite acceptable to some scholars.
Caesius considered it to be the Great Dragon that Babylon held in reverence with Bel. The Persian Magi called Draco Azhdeha (Hashteher), the Man-eating Serpent. The Hindus thought of it as a sea-going alligator or porpoise, and named it (for worship) Shi-shu-mara. It may also have been the Egyptian Hes-mut, Raging Mother.
It was Drakon () with the Greeks, although Eratosthenes along with Hipparchos called it Ophis (), the latter being valued at 582 or 770, according to the interpreter's background in Greek (Pythgorean) alphabet science. The two bears (Ursa Major and Minor) are said to have once been seen as Draco's wings, though Thales is held to have 'lopped them off' around 600 B.C.E. By this action he is thought to have encouraged the ensuing asterisms to the ranks of a grand, emerging cosmology. The Egyptians considered it the Crocodile, while the Chinese celebrated it as Tsi Kung, "Heavenly Emperor's Palace." This designation was doubtless due to its most high position in the ancient night sky. Indeed, as already stated, the astral dome was once known as the home dwelling of gods or some similar angelic designation, each point of light a potential house. The creation myth of the Babylonian Tiamut possibly was enjoined as early as 2750 B.C.E., the nativity of that civilization as well as the period of Thuban's tenure as the celebrated pole star.2 Thuban preceded Polaris as the sailor's North Star due to the phenomenon of precession. Precession is caused by a slow wobble in the Earth's axis that displaces the viewing of the stars by degrees from age to age. Precession comes full circle once every 26,000 years approximately, and thus Thuban will again be the Pole Star in the future.
But of special interest is one Babylonian account relating of a celestial serpent with a "snail" attached or "drawn" on its tail. It should be noted here that the Adams County serpent, replete with snail shell-like tail, is located on the constellation in reverse position to the currently familiar allusions of celestial Draconis. In other words, where we usually envision the tail of Draco through the imagination of current artists, the head of Serpent Mound appears on Draco. This suggests a problem with lost or broken tradition, for the constellations as now viewed may or may not offer clues to prehistoric earthwork design. So currently, though the tail stars of Draco include Thuban (just barely fourth magnitude in brightness), the name derives from an old Arabic phrase that refers to "the Serpent's Head." Interestingly, if you unravel the Serpent Mound tail, it nicely completes a covering of the remaining stars in Draco; stars now considered the 'head' of the dragon.
This understanding also triggered the method by which the new dating was made: 4750 B.P., or, in other words, 2750 B.C.E.nearly 5,000 years ago. The method was quite simple. It was noticed that nearly every star nicely fell upon the outline of the effigy except the one beneath the first coil from the head. That star was no less than Thuban, noted above. It was a little disarming at first, because I didn't know what the star was and felt that the constellation's alignment with the earthwork was jeopardized by the fact of this one lonely star not 'fitting in' to my theory. I felt like just another pseudo-scientist trying to 'make' something fit that in reality didn't fit. Then, when the discovery of its being the ancient Pole Star sunk in, I took a good steel compass, and using that point of Thuban beneath the coil as the swivel point, extended the ink tip to the tip of the earthwork. Upon finishing the circle-arc, I noticed that the tail was nicely encompassed. That's when the realization came that the design of the earthwork was Thuban-centric. The dating took the design back to the time that the Pyramids were being constructed on the Giza plateau.
In spite of this, the knowledge of how unyielding the advocacy of established theory can be prompted the search for further alternative evidence of such age. First though, the new carbon dates of 1070 C.E. taken from two small bits of charcoal found buried in the earthwork in the early 1990s, had to be put into perspective. This was relatively simple for two reasons. First, the effigy did not use wood, or burned wood, in its construction as far as is known, so the charcoal could not be linked to the physical creation of the earthwork. Secondly, and more importantly, the understanding of what is termed in archaeology as "formation processes" interrupts the notion of the effigy being dateable to only 830 years ago. Burrowing animals are known to carry surface materials far below, at times going beneath the level of "cultural modification," a term designating the level at which prehistoric human activity began and ended.
In North American archaeological circles, the moundbuilding cultures have rarely been dated back that far. In fact, the one other outstanding example is the recently discovered Watson Brake in Louisiana, believed to be roughly the same age. But Watson Brake is not yet known to have been astronomically aligned, nor is it believed to be on the lines of an effigy construction. So our Great Serpent presents a real mystery, one that may ultimately suggest an affiliation with a culture known to have a facility with all types of astronomical lore.
Was anchoring the ground plan of Serpent Mound in the highest visible stars prerequisite for the incorporation of other events such as the solar and lunar geo-astronomical lore? The answer to this question must be yes, for the actual basic inspiration may only have come from the star pattern, yet part of that same inspiration was a desire to include the solar and lunar alignments, once the 'stars' took form as the effigy. It could hardly have been happenstance that the geo-astronomy is so complete and comprehensive once the star pattern is seen as feasible. The overall purpose would be to demonstrate a masterful knowledge of astronomy. Thus the stars were looked to as a source for an earthly effigy that would subsequently embody the most important cyclical events of the sun and moon.
In this, the grand astronomical phenomenon of Serpent Mound is to date unparalleled. It serves as a brilliant fusion of mythological import successfully incorporating sun, moon and stars into its leviathan form. One would assume that with the uncanny ability of the designer to coordinate and incorporate all this celestial information, he or she would have been satisfied. But the Gitche Manitou (Algonquin, Ojibway: "Great Spirit") may well be the work of a genius, and genius is known to be very thorough in serious undertakings.
The Great Serpent Mound exhibits other schools of thought in addition to those mentioned above and all are thoroughly discussed in the book Mystery of the Serpent Mound by the author of this article, Ross Hamilton. It is currently available at all major book outlets.
1 The effigy is located on the western portion of a cryptoexplosion feature, about eight kilometers (five miles) in width. It may well have been an ancient impact crater, as the rock is highly faulted far below the surface, possibly producing piezoelectrical phenomena.
2 In 2750 B.C.E., Draconis-alpha (Thuban in the Egyptian) was less than 10' from true north, while now it is about 26 degrees. Its light, thought to have been more brilliant then, could have been seen even during the day from the "bottom of the central passage" of the Cheops pyramid, as well as the two pyramids at Abousseir.
Allen, Richard Hinckley. Star Names, Their Lore And Meaning. New York: Dover Publications, 1963.
Hawkins, Gerald S. in collaboration with John B. White. Stonehenge Decoded. Garden City, N.Y: Doubleday, 1965.
Krupp, Edwin C. Echoes Of The Ancient Skies: The Astronomy Of Lost Civilizations. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.
Moore, Patrick. and Wil Tirion. Cambridge Guide To Stars And Planets. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Romain, William F. "Serpent Mound Map." Ohio Archaeologist, vol. 37 (winter 1987).
©1999 Ross Hamilton