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Serpent Mound State Memorial

3850 State Route 73
Peebles, Ohio

Phone: 513/587-2796 --

Statement of Purpose:

Serpent Mound, an embankment of earth resembling a snake nearly a quarter-mile long, is the largest and finest serpent effigy in North America.

Who built the mound - one of the few effigies in Ohio - and why they constructed it, remains a mystery.

The mound represents a gigantic snake uncoiling in seven deep curves along a bluff overlooking Ohio Brush Creek; the oval embankment near the end of the bluff probably represents the open mouth of the serpent as it strikes.

Serpents are prominent in the religious beliefs of many peoples as symbols of evil forces or benevolent deities. To some ancient societies, they represented eternity because their habit of shedding their skin seemed to be a renewal of life. The feathered serpent was important in the art and religion of the ancient Maya of Mexico. In eastern North America, snakes figured in American Indian mythology and religious beliefs. Traditionally, some Native Americans used snake teeth or flesh in rituals to cure illness, and wore rattlesnakes to assume the power of the reptile and frighten their opponents in games. They also tattooed their bodies with serpent images and engraved them on their ornaments. The Hopi of Arizona still perform the snake dance as a rain prayer.


The serpent undoubtedly symbolized a significant religious or mystical principle for the builders of Serpent Mound because of the time and effort that must have been spent constructing it. However, the details of that belief are unknown. The builders carefully planned the effigy, first outlining its form with stones or clay mixed with ashes and then covering it with basket loads of earth.

Serpent Mound was not built over any burials or remnants of living areas, nor were there any artifacts found in it to identify which prehistoric culture constructed it. Nearby, however, there are several conical burial mounds built by the prehistoric Adena Indians sometime between 800 B.C. and A.D. 1.

Later, around A.D. 1000, the Fort Ancient Indians established a small habitation site on the south side of the bluff. Although archaeologists frequently associated the effigy with the Adena people because of the proximity of the conical mounds, the serpent possibly may be the handiwork of the Fort Ancient people. Continuing investigations should shed new light on the mound's origins. Recently, researchers have been studying the possibility that the effigy may have been laid out in alignment with various astronomical observations.

Serpent Mound has stirred the curiosity of laymen and scientists for more than a century. Some people speculate that the serpent is shown in the process of swallowing an egg, the oval earthwork. Another interpretation has the snake striking at a frog that has leaped away as it ejects an egg, again the oval earthwork. Still other ideas suggest that the oval symbolizes the heart of the reptile or its conventionalized head and eye. Archaeologists now believe that the oval wall represents a snake's mouth, open to its fullest extent, as it strikes its prey.

Highlights & Collections:


Serpent Mound first was surveyed by Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis of Chillicothe in 1846. Later, they published their map and descriptions in "Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley" (1848). The book's wide distribution brought Serpent Mound, and the other sites included in it, to the attention of many people throughout the United States.


Among the people who were interested in the mound was Frederick Ward Putnam of the Peabody Museum at Harvard University. After visiting the site in 1885 and seeing that it gradually was being destroyed by plowing, Putnam raised funds to purchase the mound in the university's name for use as a public park.

Beginning in 1886, Putnam spent three years excavating the effigy and nearby conical mounds, then restoring them to their original forms. In 1900, Harvard University turned the site over to the Ohio Historical Society, which has maintained it as a state memorial ever since.


Serpent Mound is located within an unusual geological area known as the Serpent Mound cryptoexplosion structure. This is an area nearly five miles in diameter containing extremely faulted and folded bedrock. Such faulting is uncommon in the normally flat-layered rocks of Ohio. A meteorite strike or a volcanic explosion are among early theories used to explain the area's unusual geology, but the site contains no volcanic material or meteorite debris. Current thinking favors an origin caused by an explosion of gas generated deep within the earth that escaped along a zone of weakness in the rock layers.


The Serpent Mound museum, which opened in 1967, contains exhibits illustrating various interpretations of the effigy's form, the processes of constructing the effigy, and the culture of the Adena people. There also are displays illustrating the geological history of the area. The museum shop offers publications on archaeology and American Indians, as well as souvenirs and refreshments.


April - mid-May:

Memorial Day weekend - Labor Day:

After Labor Day - October:

School groups by appointment. For information about events and other places of interest around the state, please call toll-free 1 800 BUCKEYE.

Admission & Directions:



Serpent Mound is on State Route 73, six miles north of State Route 32 and 20 miles south of Bainbridge in Adams County.

Key Personnel:

Keith Bengtson, Site Manager.

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