Mariemont (USA) : Remnants of a serpent mound built by Fort Ancient Indians between 1400 and 1800.
Mariemont serpent mound could be world's largest
To the untrained eye, there’s nothing special about the earthen hump that runs for hundreds of feet alongside picturesque Miami Bluff Drive and curves down along the edge of the woods toward the Mariemont Swimming Pool.
At certain points, it’s undetectable from the road because trees, honeysuckle and weeds grow on parts of it.
But to the eyes of University of Cincinnati anthropology professor Ken Tankersley, this hump is extraordinarily special.
Using modern technology, he has identified this hump as the remnants of a serpent mound built by Fort Ancient Indians between 1400 and 1800.
This serpent mound is 2,952 feet long, more than twice the length of the celebrated Great Serpent Mound in Adams County, which many believe to be the largest serpent effigy in the world.
“This Mariemont serpent mound is much better preserved than the one in Adams County, which was largely reconstructed,” Tankersley said. “The fact that this much of the Mariemont earthwork survives is miraculous.”
Part of the mound along Miami Bluff Drive is about 7 feet high, close to the original height of the entire earthwork when it was built, he said. Most of the remnants are about 3 feet high.
Tankersley believes the serpent mound was built by women as a symbolic landmark and also as a way to channel water down the slope to the Indian village, which was located at the bottom of what is now Mariemont Avenue. He said it’s highly unlikely anything is buried in the earthwork because serpent mounds weren’t used for that purpose.
The Mariemont serpent mound is in an area that has fascinated archaeologists since 1879, when physician and amateur archaeologist Dr. Charles Metz
discovered that a Native American village had existed in the southwestern part of Mariemont.
This area, known to archaeologists as the Madisonville site, is one of Ohio’s most important archaeological sites. The serpent mound abuts the Madisonville site and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Mariemont earthwork.
But Tankersley is the first person to identify that earthwork as a serpent mound. Its shape had eluded other archaeologists because much of its remnants had become hidden by trees, bushes and other vegetation.
“Metz knew the earthwork was there, but he had no idea of its geometry,” he said.
Tankersley, who has been studying the Madisonville archaeological site off and on since 1973, didn’t discover the serpent shape until 2007. He used satellite imagery and tracking and a geographical information system.
His wife, Ruth, who did some of the fieldwork for his study of the Mariemont earthwork, saw the serpent shape before he did.
She held up a satellite image showing the outline of the earthwork and said to him, “What in the world is this?”
“It’s a snake!” he said in amazement.
Tankersley published a paper about his discovery in a scholarly periodical, The North American Archaeologist, in 2008. Mariemont officials didn’t become aware of the serpent mound until Tankersley gave a presentation earlier this year at a Mariemont Civic Association meeting.
Mariemont Mayor Dan Policastro wants to clear away the honeysuckle and other vegetation that obscures much of the remaining serpent mound. He also wants to post signs informing people of its historic importance and warning them not to walk on it.
“We have to protect this for the future,” Policastro said.
The cliff on the south side of Miami Bluff, where part of the serpent mound is, has serious erosion issues that eventually could threaten the street itself.
The presence of the serpent mound gives Mariemont an additional reason to seek a federal grant to stop the hillside erosion.
Policastro would like to create a permanent Indian artifact exhibit in the Mariemont Junior High School building that the school district will vacate after the 2011-12 school year for a new school.
The Mariemont Preservation Foundation has some Indian artifacts. Policastro said the village might ask to borrow some of the thousands of artifacts that were collected in archaeological excavations at the Madisonville site and are now stored, but not exhibited, at Harvard University’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology.
A Harvard University team, Metz and his crew excavated the Madisonville site through 1911. But the Harvard team never mapped the Mariemont earthwork, Tankersley said. Other unauthorized excavations that occurred later also didn’t see that the earthwork formed a serpent’s head and body.
The Mariemont municipal swimming pool is in the center of the large circle that formed the serpent’s head. The pool was built in 1958. At that time, village officials mistakenly believed there were no more Indian artifacts or other cultural remnants left in that area.
The serpent’s body begins in a wooded area on the south side of Mariemont Avenue and runs along the south side of Miami Bluff to just east of Center Street. Houses are on Miami Bluff’s north side, but not the south side.
A serpent was an Indian clan symbol, Tankersley said. Indians associated snakes with water because they so often were found in bodies of water, including rivers like the Little Miami, which runs along the southern edge of Mariemont near the former site of the ancient Indian village.
“Serpent mounds were built as monuments or landmarks,” Tankersley said.
CIV 106 206 : Civilisations paléo-indiennes / Amerindians of North America
The Mariemont serpent mound is aligned with the setting sun because of an Indian myth that a beast called the Great Horned Serpent would eat the sun, he said.
As a result, the Mariemont serpent’s head faces west, where the sun disappears.
The Great Serpent Mound in Adams County also faces west.
The Shawnees, who regarded snakes as powerful symbols, were among the Fort Ancient Indians who lived in the Mariemont village.
“The Shawnees would sign treaties with the snake symbol,” Tankersley said.
He attributes the survival of so much of the serpent mound to Mariemont’s devotion to preserving history and green space since the community’s founding in the 1920s.
Tankersley grew up in nearby neighborhood of Madison Place in Columbia
Township and often rode his bicycle down Miami Bluff Drive and Mariemont Avenue. He liked to hunt for Indian arrowheads and found many in that area.
But he never dreamed he was walking right by a major Indian serpentine earthwork.
“A lot of people think you have to travel halfway around the world to find a world-class archaeological site,” Tankersley said. “But here’s one right in our own backyard.”