Friday, November 21, 2008

(1) Serpentine Summers

Upon arriving at the Ohio Historical Society's Center at the
Serpent Mound, I was put in a two-week accelerated class
that taught what was the then known history of this special
place. We were told about the early archaeological excavations,
about a number of nearby burial grounds, though the Serpent
Mound itself held no remains. It was not a burial mound.

What interested me most was the Indian history that circulated
around the Serpent Mound. This history seemed more like an
onion, where we had to peel away the layers to reach further
back to the core, to the earliest inhabitants in this area. As
was known then, there were three cultures that may have been
linked to the Serpent Mound. As follows:

• Adena Culture (1000 b.c.e. - 100 b.c.e.).
• Hopewell Culture (500 b.c.e. - 500 c.e.).
• Mississippian Culture (900 c.e. - 1600 c.e.).

Since the discovery of the Serpent Mound, scholars have
pondered over exactly who built this 1330 foot-long,
three-foot high effigy mound. More easy to understand,
this mound is approximately a quarter mile long. It is
designed as a coiled serpent (or snake) presumably
about to swallow an egg.

Slowly I eventually began to realize that we were studying
"cultures" rather than "tribes." Like most Americans, I had not
even begun to think of Indians in terms of a culture. I went to
my dictionary to more readily see the difference.

A "tribe" is a social division in a traditional society consisting
of families or communities linked by socio-economic,
religious or blood ties, with a common culture and dialect.

A "culture" focuses on the manifestations of human
intellectual achievement regarded collectively. It's about
the customs, arts, social institution, achievement and
attitudes of a particular nation, people, or other social group.

And, in general terms, I experienced a small "eureka" when
it came to the term of these Indian cultures as Woodland
Indians. When I looked out on Ohio, as well as my under-
standing of the Greater Midwest, for the most part I saw flat
fields of crops with only patches of woods here and there.
This is now, but these Indian cultures lived in a different world.
Before colonization and the clearing of land, the Midwest was
a vast forest, a wilderness that nonetheless was full of trails
that enabled the tribes to interact and trade with one another.

• The Adena Culture consisted of mound-builders, but their
mounds were usually conical or dome shaped--and much
taller than the Serpent Mound. Also, their mounds were burial
mounds. So if they built the Serpent Mound, it would have
been the exception to the rule. They inhabited central and
southern Ohio.

• The Hopewell Culture likely transitioned out of the Adena
Culture. Situated mostly in the Ohio River Valley, they also
were mound-builders. Again their mounds were burial mounds,
and they seemed more elegant than those of the earlier Adena

• The Mississippian Culture was spread around a far more
vast territory, ranging over Eastern, Midwestern, and South-
eastern terrains. The Indians in this culture built effigy mounds,
which are the likeness of animals.

When working at the Serpent Mound, I placed my bet on the
Mississippian Culture as the builders of this great mound.
Indeed, years later, carbon dating pretty much placed the
Serpent Mound within the Mississippian dateline.

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