Serpent Mound hosts Archaeology Day

Several hundred visitors from Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana descended on Serpent Mound on Saturday, Sept. 12 for the park’s annual Archaeology Day event.

Those attending had the opportunity to take part in “living history” displays while learning about the daily lives and customs of ancient people who lived in the Ohio valley thousands of years ago.

Living history reenactors shared demonstrations of ancient tools and techniques such as throwing an atlatl, making fire using a pump drill, chipping stone tools from flint and creating pottery using clay.

Young adults encircled the atlatl demonstration waiting to try their skill at tossing a long dart. The atlatl was an innovative device about 18 inches long that was used to throw a long dart or a spear. It gave hunters the ability to throw weapons farther and more accurately when hunting.

Justin Houston of Dayton encouraged children to try their skills at the pump drill, (a tool similar to a spinning top) that was used to start fires and to drill holes into flat stones.

Expert flint knappers, Donny Tincher of Peebles and Harold Elam of Springboro demonstrated the ancient techniques used to create chipped stone arrow heads, spear tips, knives and other implements.

A living history reenactor in colonial garb with an original Kentucky Long Rifle spoke about life on the frontier, and the Indian wars of the 18th century.

Allen Journey of Scioto County and Bill Menke of Cincinnati shared their extensive artifact collections. Both men have been avid collectors since they were very young and their artifacts number into the thousands.

Park Manager Tim Goodwin conducted tours throughout the day and provided information about the mound and the people who built it.

There were also three of Ohio’s top archaeologists who shared their knowledge and research about the ancient cultures of Ohio.

Archaeologist Dr. Jarrod Burks presented the “Hidden Mysteries of Serpent Mound Revealed” and said that a 2012 magnetic survey of the mound conducted by Burks revealed a new and unexpected discovery. Apparently, the Serpent is missing a coil that was either abandoned by the mound builders or lost to erosion. The survey also revealed an extra coil located near the serpent’s head.

Burks also discussed new radiocarbon findings that revealed the mound is much older than was originally thought. The Serpent was believed to be about 900 years old, however, radiocarbon dating has revealed that it was originally constructed 2,300 years ago during the Early Woodland (Adena) period and renovated 1,400 years later during the Late Prehistoric (Fort Ancient) period, possibly to repair erosion.

Burks is the Director of Geophysical Surveys at Ohio Valley Archaeology.

Archaeologist Kathryn Jakes, an expert in ancient textiles, presented “Hopewell Textiles – The Fabric of our Lives.”

Contrary to the idea that Native Americans wore only deerskin clothing, Jakes has discovered that the Hopewell people (a prehistoric people who lived about 1,600 years ago) were skilled in using native plant and animal materials for fiber and dye to create decorated fabrics.

Using forensic photography to examine ancient textiles from burial mounds built by the Hopewell, Jakes discovered the use of dyes and complex patterns in the cloth. “We can learn about a population from what they wore just as we learn from the tools and other gear they used on a regular basis,” she told those assembled.

Jakes is the professor of textile sciences in the College of Education and Human Ecology at Ohio State.

The last lecture of the day, “Art & Wood – Architecture of the Hopewell”, was presented by Bret Ruby. Ruby is the park archaeologist for the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park near Chillicothe.

His research has uncovered evidence that the Hopewell people actually filled the open spaces between mounds and earthworks with ritual buildings made from wood and earth.

An excavation led by Ruby at the Hopewell Mound Group near Chillicothe uncovered evidence of a gigantic ring of huge wooden-posts dubbed the Hopewell “Woodhenge” after Stonehenge in England. The post are part of a formation called the Great Circle. Early magnetic surveys revealed that the wooden circle contained as many as 108 posts.

Ruby presented the results of his recent investigations, and compared the Great Circle to other ancient Native American ritual structures throughout the United States that were used for religious ceremonies.

Visitors were also welcomed to tour the Serpent Mound Museum and and browse through the wide selections of literature, fossils, stones, and authentic and reproduction artifacts.

Here, children learning to use the drill pump at the recent Serpent Mound Archaeology Day., children learning to use the drill pump at the recent Serpent Mound Archaeology Day. Patricia Beech | People’s Defender

Flint knapper, Donny Tincher, demonstrates ancient tool making techniques. knapper, Donny Tincher, demonstrates ancient tool making techniques. Patricia Beech | People’s Defender
Visitors step back in time for a day

By Patricia Beech

Reach Patricia Beech at 937-544-2391 or at