Serpent Mound – A Mississippian Work of Art?

Serpent Mound – A Mississippian Work of Art?


In my various blog posts and comments regarding who built the Great Serpent Mound, I have repeatedly called attention to the reasons why I think it makes more sense as a Late Prehistoric rather than an Early Woodland effigy mound. Susan Power, professor emerita of art at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, presents a wonderful description of the Serpent and how it fits comfortably into a Mississippian/Late Prehistoric cultural context. The following quotes are from her 2004 book Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: feathered serpents & winged beings:

“The magnificent Serpent Mound… located in Adams County, Ohio, is the largest effigy mound in the world, stretching fourteen hundred feet. … The placement, size and composition are artistically strong, as well as unique, and evoke the most dramatic impact and visual completeness when see from an aerial view; remarkably, the effigy was created by people who had no means of obtaining such a view. Yet approaching the Serpent Mound on foot, viewers are struck by the fluency of its form and placement, harmoniously integrated into the landscape.While the snake was an ancient image, new serpentine expressions were created in the Mississippian period, often distinguished by their unique size, placement, elaboration, and at times function. Artists gave serpents otherworldly features and frequently combined them with multiple segments of animals. Snakes are depicted in coiled, undulating, and tied positions as accessories to, or parts of, ceremonial regalia and paraphernalia. …

In other Mississippian art, copper snake effigies were found at the Citico site, and serpentine motifs appeared on pottery and carved stone disks at Moundville, among other items. The rattlesnake gorget design, created in both natural and conventional variations between the fifteenth and seventeenth centuries, was found with both male and female burials… The design field of the circular gorget is filled with the serpent’s body, always coiled around the head, which usually faces to the right. The characteristic eye is formed of a series of concentric circles surrounding a central depression with curved feathers slanting backward on the upper jaw.”

Susan C. Power
2004 (paperback edition 2014) Early Art of the Southeastern Indians: feathered serpents & winged beings. University of Georgia Press, Athens

Posted February 23, 2015
Topics: Archaeology

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