Mystery of the Mounds

The strange and unexplained Serpent Mound near the shores of Lake Erie in Ohio. Photo: The Ohio History Connection.

Had he witnessed a parallel and invisible world that no one knew existed?

Phoebe and Irene, two retirees, had taken a side-trip from their vacation cabin near Lake Erie.  They wanted to get a close-up look at a famous earthen work created by Native Americans long ago.  They remembered how a color photo of it had been in their art history textbook many moons ago—along with classic works of art.  Possibly they could get some good pictures, themselves, if they could find the right vantage point.

They were getting out of breath, huffing and puffing as they came to the crest of the small hill.

Irene panted, “Ugh!  Is this the head of the thing?”

Then everything became spookily quiet.

Phoebe did not answer Irene’s question but instead she squealed, “Oh! I am being captured by an aura of eerie mystery.”

Irene would have laughed out loud at this.  She often had to laugh at the goofy statements Phoebe blurted out on a regular basis, even if it did make  Phoebe a little mad—for some reason it didn’t seem funny at this moment in time.  But, yes, they actually were on the head of the thing.

Long before Europeans arrived to put their marks on the New World, native peoples were making their own marks by way of magnificent earth sculptures.  In the area that is now the upper Midwest of the USA, these mound-builders can be divided into three main groups by archaeologists:  Adena, Hopewell, and Mississippian.  The construction of the first, Adena mounds, spanned from approximately 1,000 B.C. to 200 A. D.

The Hopewell culture paralleled the culture of the Nazcas in Peru, between 200 B.C. and 200 A.D., overlapping part of Adena.  The Hopewells were skilled at arts and trading.  The Mississippian was the last of the mound-building cultures in that same area and began about 600 A.D.  It lasted over 1,000 years.  They built the pre-Columbian metropolis at Cahokia in what is now East St. Louis, and are responsible for building the strange pyramid there.

“The face of the earth is the red man’s book, and those mounds and embankments are some if his letters.”  So said De-coo-dah, a medicine man, to William Pidgeon, a trader and amateur archaeologist who had a fascination for the earth works.  Pidgeon was possibly the first newcomer to make a personal study of the mounds.

A stark-looking man, scrawny, with spectacles, Pidgeon spent years of his life trying to learn more about the ancient cultures.  He traveled both South and North America gleaning what he could about his obsession.  In the 1830s, he came to settle at Fort Ancient on Ohio’s Little Miami River.  In the 1830s, he built a boat and set out to explore the streams alongside the Great Lakes.  He was not disappointed.  He came across menageries of animals formed into the earth by purposeful hands.  There were lizards, birds of prey, panthers, turtles, and the charming family of bears marching in single file.

The most wondrous of the Adena creations is possibly the Great Serpent Mound of Ohio.   It uncoils itself across a distance of 1,000 feet.  The green mounds of the coils are perfectly engineered and they end at one end with a tapered tail that continues, forming into a spiral.  The other end seems to be an open mouth grasping a sphere, or egg.

What can these earthworks mean?  Are they simply artistic expressions or is there something more?  De-coo-dah had hinted that the earthen mounds had an astronomical quality.  He told the tale to Pidgeon that when peoples were animal-worshippers, and they had major setbacks due to skirmishes and battles with other tribes, they then had to then worship the heavenly bodies.  They felt it necessary to put the original subjects of worship into the earth, a symbolic entombment.

A century and a half later there is still no better explanation for the animals represented in the mounds.  Snakes have been representative of celestial events in many ancient cultures across the planet.  In fact, points of the Green Serpent Mound, correspond to points in the Little Dipper.  Points in the Big Dipper and The Northern Cross can find corresponding points in the effigies of birds and bears.

These are just guesses.  There are no better answers, to date.  There can be no doubt that those who view them in person are captured by an aura of eerie mystery—the mound builders seem to be present as sentinels.

In 1975, a sociologist who had visited the Serpent Mound many times as a child decided to visit it once again.  The November day was still and windless as Robert Harner stood on the serpent’s head.  As he lingered there alone, he could not help but wonder why the mound builders had chosen that inconvenient spot for the head of the reptile.  Then………he was overpowered by a feeling of impending doom.  The air around him was permeated with dread.  He was frozen in terror as he felt the presence of some invisible entity or entities.  Though the air was perfectly still, the fallen leaves on the ground around him levitated in groups at the base of the rise—then they rose up the rise in these same groups, rising and falling, rising and falling like the pacing of human feet.  They swirled about him, fluttering in a danse macabre.  He tried to break away.  He wanted to get to his car for his camera—maybe he could capture this unbelievable scene.  As he started to go, the leaves made footfalls, back down the hill.  The spell was broken.

A shaken Harner came to two possible conclusions.  He had either witnessed a parallel and invisible world that no one knew existed, unleashed by his own intrusion—or the mound had been built in that exact spot because the builders already knew that special things tended to happen there.   Will we ever know?

Sara Marie Hogg is the author of Curious Indeed, a collection of true stories about the unknown and unexplained. Please click HERE to purchase the book on Amazon.

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