Serpent Mound Mysteries

The Star Mystery of Ohio's Great Serpent
Identifying Gitche Manitou, the Great Spirit

Lying atop a bluff overlooking one of Ohio's few remaining unpolluted streams, the Great Serpent Mound of Adams County is one of the last reminders of a prehistoric world known for its brilliant architectural achievements. No one knows who designed the Great Serpent, although attempts have been made to date the physical earthwork by some means. All have assumed it as conceived at the same time it was constructed. This is where the mystery begins. There have been no recognizable artifacts discovered within its mighty bulk. While the earth sculpting has attracted visitors from every corner of the world over the last 150 years, it has only been recently that the long process of uncovering its hidden or "occult" secrets has begun.

The reason for this is obvious in hindsight. First, no accurate mapping of the great terraform was made until relatively recently. It is a strange terrain, hundreds of feet in length, dipping at the middle and rising at the tail like a rattlesnake in defense. Moreover, unusual gravitational and magnetic anomalies at the site of Serpent Mound had made it virtually impossible to determine magnetic north.1 It was through the figuring of both magnetic and true north coupled with the first accurate mapping that caused sealed doors to be opened regarding the earthwork's skill in design and the exquisite incorporation of esoteric cipher.

Beginning in the 1980s, three independent archaeological investigations demonstrated a minimum of eleven geo-astronomical alignments with the head, coils and helix of the earthwork. Geo-astronomical is a new term specifying a land-situated site's correspondence to the rising or setting times of celestial phenomena at specific points on the horizon. Clark and Marjorie Hardman showed that a line of vision facing northwest bisecting the great oval at the head of the effigy marked the line of the setting sun on summer solstice. The seasonal markings of the yearly equinoctial and solstice events on the eastern horizon were first proposed by the Hardmans and later demonstrated by Robert Fletcher and Terry Cameron. William F. Romain discovered that the 18.6-year lunar cycle's main events could be traced through six of the serpent's seven coils. Romain was also the first to demonstrate a true north alignment coordinating specific features of the serpent. All told, these discoveries point out a very interesting fact: the Great Serpent Mound is the first known synthesis of solar and lunar divinings taking the consolidated form of an effigy anywhere in the world. Not to understate it, the Serpent Mound may have been an effort to create a creature that literally was the embodiment of the sun and the moon—a creature composed of captured and radiating light.

But this isn't all, for there is another form of archaeoastronomy that has nothing to do with horizon alignments—not connected with the comings and goings of the sun and the moon. This adaptation of the science looks directly to the stars themselves for proof of the ancient's broad and expansive skills. The concept of sympathetic resonance can hardly be dismissed when one looks to the constellation Draco and notes how many of its lights fall directly upon the pattern of the Serpent Mound. Taking into consideration the fact that Harvard University restored the great earthwork to its original under-pattern of clay and stone in the late 1880s, the recent discovery of the constellation alignment underscores a possible new dating for the structure as well. The methodology for this dating technique is quite novel, and this article is in part an attempt to explain it. Once all the astronomy is brought together, it may be said that no where else on our planet has such a comprehensive expression of astral lore been found embodied in a single monument.

Star Map Of The Serpent Mound
The map of the Serpent Mound showing the correspondence to a large asterism of the constellation Draco. Note the Little Dipper, and its actual make-up of star clusters. Each point of light is represented on the effigy equal in size to lend some idea of the possible way the constellation was considered for the effigy's pattern. Some of the lights are very faint, while some are of the higher magnitude. (Hamilton, 1996, after W.F. Romain)

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.

Thuban Circle
The Pole Star-centric circle was created on a hunch that the earthwork was designed as a clockworks, the effigy divided in half from that star's point beneath the first coil nearest the head. Since a Pole Star appears not to move, the effigy would have swung about once in the elapsed time of a day and night. In this discovery alone it is tempting to date the Serpent Mound's design to the time of the ancient North Star, Thuban, currently called Draconis-alpha.

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.

Two identical representations of the full constellation consisting in its main stars as recognized by modern astronomers. The figure on the right demonstrates the current allusion to the Dragon, while the Serpent Mound figure on the left has the head area of the effigy in a reversed position in comparison. This comparison aptly reveals a possible gap in the way in which constellations have been viewed between prehistoric times and the present. (Hamilton, 1999, after Romain ; dragon illustration correspondence to Draco discovered by Pat Mason, dragon after a seventeenth-century French doorway.)
Draco and the Dragon, Then And Now

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.

Selected References:

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
Computer Images ©1999 Patricia Mason
All rights reserved

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