Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

October 3, 2012

The great serpent mound

Ben Morris
Greensburg Daily News

Greensburg — Many of you who are familiar with the one-quarter-mile-long Serpent Mound in south-central Ohio, may be interested in knowing that studies show that the effigy was built as many as 2,000 years later than archaeologists previously thought.

The new dates were obtained by the University of Pittsburgh archaeology student Robert Fletcher and a friend who began mapping the site on weekends. The mound had not been scientifically studied since the late 1800s.

Based on human burials excavated in close proximity to Serpent Mound, the effigy was thought to have been built by people of the Adena culture (1000-100 B.C.). However, two pieces of wood charcoal from an area of the effigy that had been undisturbed, yielded C-14 dates of ca. A.D. 1070, which suggests that the structure was not built by Adena but rather by people of the Fort Ancient culture who lived in the central Ohio Valley between ca. A.D. 900-1600 and may have been ancestral to the Shawnee. Archaeologists from the Ohio Historical Society and Bloomsburg University obtained the samples for dating and conducted excavations.

A Fort Ancient village some 100 or so yards south of the effigy also supports a later date as do rattlesnake motifs on ornaments that were worn around the neck. Studies also indicate alignment with the summer solstice and possibly the winter solstice sunrise.

Interestingly, the A.D. 1070 date coincides somewhat with two remarkable astronomical events. Light from the supernova that produced the Crab Nebula reached Earth in 1054 and was visible to the naked eye for about two weeks even during the day.

And Halley’s Comet — that was recorded by Chinese astronomers in 1066.

On a personal note, I will be undergoing an open-heart surgical procedure in a few days and will not be writing my weekly articles for awhile. I jokingly told my good friend Charity Mitchell at the Decatur County Historical Society that I am not sure where I will wake up, and she quickly responded, “Indiana.”

Ben Morris, MA, RPA, is an archaeological and historical columnist for the Daily News. He can be reached at 812-932-0298 or via email at