Researchers and scholars have proposed the mound to have been built by members belonging to the Adena culture, the Hopewell culture, or the Fort Ancient culture. Radio carbon dating of pieces of charcoal discovered within the mound supports the idea that people had worked on the mound in 1070 CE. The original construction, the identities of those who built it, and the date of the serpent design are the questions still debated upon.
Researchers had firstly attributed the serpent mound to the Adena culture. Scholars thought that since there are Adena graves nearby, the same people would have been responsible for its construction. The Adena people were renowned for their elaborate earthworks and their creation of sacred circles as part of their culture. Carbon dating studies performed in 1996 of material from the mound seemed to aim the construction of the mound as to after the time of the Adena. This then suggested that a culture after the Adena must have formed it.
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Researchers currently believe that the Fort Ancient culture, known for their mound building, must have formed it. They were a Woodland culture, and had inhabited the large notched earthworks in Warren County, Ohio, which were actually built by the earlier Hopewell culture at least 1000 years before the arrival of the Fort Ancient people. These earthworks were abandoned by the Hopewell people long before the arrival of the Fort Ancient people.
Caron dating has placed the forming of the mound to within the time of the Fort Ancient culture, as well as the earlier Adena people or even before. this leads researchers to believe that the Fort Ancient people could have been the builders or, simply the refurbishers, making their own use for the mound. It is also believed to have been uncharacteristic of the mound to have been built by the Fort Ancient culture, since the mound doesn't contain artifacts buried in the mound, as the Fort Ancients often would do. Another indication that they weren't the builders is that they didn't bury their dead in the manner in which those found nearby.
The Serpent mound site itself does not contain any sign of human remains. It was not therefore constructed for burial purposes. The Cherokee people relate the mound to the legend of the Uktena, which is a large serpent with supernatural appearance and powers. Researchers and scholars have believed that ancient native people had created large totemic shrines that were built on platforms made from stones and earth. This then could have been destroyed by whatever changes, resulting in the mound.
Frederic Putnam, of the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, lectured on the Ohio mounds, and in 1885 he noticed that development groups were destroying many of the mounds. By 1886, he had raised funds to purchase 60 acres at the Serpent Mound for preservation. This purchase had also included a couple conical mounds, a village site and a burial place. After obtaining the funds he needed, Putnam returned to the site in 1886 to begin excavating the contents of the area. After completion of his work, he worked on the restoration of the mound, bringing it back to its original state.
In 1900, the Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society (later to become the Ohio Historical Society) obtained ownership of this site. It is listed as a "Great Wonder of the Ancient World" by National Geographic Magazine. In 1967, constructed near the mound, the Ohio Historical Society opened the Serpent Mound Museum. It offers exhibits such as interpretations of the effigy's form, description of the processes of its construction, and the geographical history of the area.
The name "mound builder", was regarded as an imaginary race believed to have constructed earthworks that predated historical Native Americans. They were not believed to be related to Native Americans in any way. There would build mounds were most often flat topped pyramid shapes, elongated ridges, or rounded or flat topped cones. These mounds would be made to be a part of larger villages that had larger populations. They would be used to entomb the bodies of dignitaries, were used to support building and temples atop themselves, or a central in many funeral proceedings. There were usually positioned in bunches, geometrically, and also in open air plazas.
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These mound builders had many different tribes and chiefdoms. These would involve a range of beliefs and cultures, spanning thousands of years. Watson Brake, located in Louisiana, dated roughly 3500, is the oldest dated earthwork in North America.
During the early 18th century, the Natchez were the only mound builders that remained. Antoine Du Pratz was an architect who documented their culture. He noted how the Natchez were preoccupied with social hierarchy and sun worship, and how this war really apparent in their architecture. Their temples and residential houses for the more elite were built on mounds that could be accessed by stairway ramps with steps made out of logs.
The typical platform mound was constructed of layers of dirt that were added in different stages, often when there would be a burial of a dignitary. The overall shape took the form of what looked to be a Mesoamerican stone pyramid. The residence of the chief, atop the mound, was reconstructed with each additional forming stage. Many of the domestic buildings are believed to be built in this way, with floor plans being typically rectangular, and the overall size of the structure ranging fifteen to thirty feet wide. The inner walls would be made of poles that were set vertically within the walls for reinforcement. The outer walls were made by whatââ‚¬â„¢s known as wattle and daub, which involved upright posts interwoven with twigs or tree branches that would be plastered with a mixture of clay and straw. The roofing was then made with cane mats.
Du Pratz determined that the Natchez builders seemed to endure more struggles when building their mounds and positioning them around their plazas then they would when constructing their domestic residences. There was certainly a difference between the ceremonial and utilitarian structures.
Looking at the earlier earthworks from the prehistoric time, Poverty Point, located in northern Louisiana, the largest and most complex in design. Researchers believe its formation to have begun sometime around 1200 BC. It must have required a great deal of man power in order to have formed an estimated 500,000 yard of dirt into six ridges, being separated by four aisles that moved outward. The ridges enclosed a plaza the ranged over 1800 feet across.
Whilst exploring many of the mounds during the late nineteenth century, Ephraim Squier and Edwin Davis considered the possibility that many of the mounds located in Ohio were refuges from flooding rivers. On the other hand, one of their students, Cyrus Thomas, determined that most of the Ohio mounds were actually built on terraces that were safely above the floodplain. Thomas later determined that the mounds many of the earthworks formed in the lower Mississippi Valley were formed on vulnerable bottomlands and could easily have be used for flood control and agriculture. Though more recently, architect William Morgan has supported the idea that many of the formations of linear mounds, like those in Florida, including Fort Center, Big Tonys, and Big Mound City, would use earth to elevate agricultural plots, control their water levels, and circulate irrigation water.
In an Adena burial mound, an adorned corpse would be set in a crib work log tomb along with the bodies of retainers who had been sacrificed after his death. The tomb would then be set afire and the earth then formed into a cone shape. Many of the circular embankments associated with these mounds did not support structures, yet were regarded as communal places where people would gather to worship and also for many celebrations.
The Adena culture had also refined the tradition of building mounds, forming the tons of earth that they would move in order to depict panthers, bears, reptiles, and birds. This depiction of animals as mound forms soon after spread. The function of these forms has yet to be determined, but they have been known to depict ancestors of many of the clans in the Adena social system.
The Hopewell people later replaced the Adena culture in the Ohio Valley. They are known to have built earthwork architecture using square, pentagon, and circle formations found at sites like Marietta, Newark, and High Bank in Illinois and Ohio. The function of these mounds is still unclear, though many are attempting to use astronomical alignments or mathematical consistency of their positioning.
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From 700 to 1000 AD, there was an increase of mounds being built in places around northern Georgia. This later moved across the southern states into Illinois and southern Missouri. It is known as the Mississippi tradition. The settlements around Mississippi honored the traditional burial and effigy mounds.
Cahokia, ten miles from what is now St. Louis, was a major metropolis in Mississippian culture. The formation of its mounds had begun around 800 AD, thus making it one of the oldest sites in Mississippi. The city was known to have been used until 1500 AD, but around 1100 is when the population reached its peak, holding roughly forty thousand people. The city contained about a hundred earthworks, positioned around six of the major plaza areas. This formed a city center that covered an area of six square miles. This city is believed to have controlled the most complex sociopolitical system in North America.