From woods, to cornfield, to international renown:
How Serpent Mound was saved for future generations –
Story and photos by Patricia Beech –
At one time or another most residents of Adams County have visited Serpent Mound Park and walked the ½ mile-long path that encircles the effigy, the largest of its kind in the world.
Generations of local children and their families have scaled the park’s 101 year-old viewing tower to take in the full scope of the 1,420 foot-long serpent.
It is now a familiar sight, but there was a time when the ancient earthworks was threatened with extinction.
When renowned archaeologist, Dr. Fredrick Putnam, first visited Serpent Mound in 1883, the entire bluff upon which the effigy rests was planted in corn, according to Friends of Serpent Mound (FOSM) member, Jeffrey Wilson.
Wilson was a featured speaker at the park’s Archaeology Day event on Saturday, Aug. 19.
He spoke about Putnam’s efforts to prevent the mound from being permanently plowed under, and how he and a group of philanthropic women from Boston, led by American ethnologist Alice Cunningham Fletcher, successfully raised the funds to purchase the site in 1886, thereby insuring the effigy would not meet the same fate as many other prehistoric earthworks in Ohio that were destroyed by farming.
Archaeology Day at the park offers a unique glimpse into the lives and culture of the people who who built the serpent effigy more than 1,000 years ago. Visitors may take advantage of seeing the museum, touring the mound, and walking the 0.4-mile nature trail down below the cliff, upon which the effigy is located.
Demonstrations by artisans and crafters showed how ancient people used flint knapping, woodworking, and pottery techniques to create their primitive weapons, tools, and basic utensils. A living history re-enacter in colonial garb also talked with visitors about life on the frontier and the Indian wars of the 18th century.
Artifact experts were on site to share their collections and answer visitor’s questions.
“We have 24 tables of artifacts from across Ohio,” said Park Manager Tim Goodwin. “You’ll see more artifacts here than anywhere else – some of these pieces are absolutely exquisite, and some of these people have been collecting for many years.” Goodwin went on to say that all of the artifact experts are members of the Ohio Archaeological Society, and as such are opposed to people digging in the mounds.
Amateur archaeologist Dale Bailey has collected artifacts across Adams and Brown Counties for over 30 years. He says finding these relics of antiquity is a matter of “training your eye”.
“You have to look for a piece of it, a tip, an edge, or an ear,” he says. “Flint has a shine to it that normal stone doesn’t so you either look for that shine or look for that edge.”
Bill Pickard, a professional archaeologist for the Ohio History Connection, was also on hand to interpret artifacts for visitors.
For visiting children there was face painting and Native American games throughout the day, and internationally acclaimed Native American singer, songwriter and recording artist, Steve Free performed outside the visitor center.