Serpent Mound is perhaps the most recognizable icon of ancient America. The gigantic earthen serpent, eternally frozen as it uncoils, extends more than 1,300 feet along a bluff in northern Adams County.
Although it is clearly a snake, which makes it, to some extent, immediately accessible to modern visitors, the meaning of this particular serpent for its builders is not so readily apparent.
And this sense of familiarity can lead to overreaching interpretations, as when the Rev. Landon West foolishly concluded that the mound represented the serpent in the Garden of Eden.
In order to get some sense of what it might have meant to its original builders, George Lankford, an emeritus professor of folklore at Lyon College in Arkansas, has turned to an examination of the beliefs of the Native Americans whose ancestors would have been in a position to know.