Travel to the mounds of Ohio

The 1,348-foot-long Serpent Mound is Ohio's biggest ancient mystery. The mounds are 2 to 6 feet tall and 20 to 25 feet in width. It appears to be undulating snake with seven curves and a spiral-coiled tail. It sits on a bluff 90 feet above Ohio Brush Creek. (Bob Downing, Akron Beacon Journal, MCT / January 10, 2005)

AKRON, Ohio - Ohio is filled with lots of history.

There are presidents (eight in all), Indians, a Revolutionary War fort, a War of 1812 naval battle on Lake Erie, the National Road and the Ohio & Erie Canal.

There are figures from Annie Oakley and Gen. George Armstrong Custer to the Wright Brothers and Thomas A. Edison. There are three top Union Civil War generals: Ulysses S. Grant, William T. Sherman and Phillip Sheridan. There is moon walker Neil Armstrong. There are industrial giants like John D. Rockefeller.

But for me, there are two sites in Ohio that offer the best history in the Buckeye state.

They are the mysterious earthworks built by prehistoric American Indians: the Serpent Mound State Memorial near Peebles in Adams County and the Newark Earthworks State Memorial in Newark in Licking County in east-central Ohio.

Honorable mentions go to three other Hopewell sites: Fort Ancient State Memorial in Warren County; Hopewell Culture National Historic Park in Chillicothe; and little-known Fort Hill State Memorial in Highland County. A great source on Ohio's Hopewell sites is http://www.ancientohiotrail.org.

But start your visit to Ohio's past at the Serpent Mound, Ohio's biggest mystery and what is likely an elaborate astronomical calendar.

The 1,348-foot-long earthwork appears to be in the shape of an undulating snake with seven curves and a spiral-coiled tail. It sits on a bluff 90 feet above Ohio Brush Creek. The site is owned by the Ohio Historical Society and managed by the nonprofit Arc of Appalachia Preserve.

No one knows who built the serpent or why it was constructed, but it obviously was a major religious or mythical symbol to its makers.

The grass-covered mound is 2 to 6 feet high and 20 to 25 feet in width as it stretches and rolls for nearly a quarter mile. The bottom of the mound is yellow clay from nearby pits and rock covered with soil.

It is the largest and most outstanding serpent effigy in the United States (others have been found in Ontario and Scotland) and one of Ohio's only effigy mounds. It is a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

The head of the snake is aligned with the summer solstice sunset and the coils may point to the winter solstice sunrise and the equinox sunrise.

The earthworks may have been built atop where a meteor or asteroid crashed into the Earth. Some rocks rose 1,000 feet and others sank 400 feet for reasons that befuddle geologists. Whatever happened - a meteor, a volcanic eruption - occurred 200 million years ago. It affected 15 square miles around where the Serpent Mound is now.

There is no evidence that the Indians who built the serpent mound buried any dead in it. They were buried in other nearby mounds.

The site was first surveyed by Ephraim Squire and Edwin Davis of Chillicothe, Ohio, in 1846. Harvard University archaeologist Frederic Ward Putnam visited in 1885 and purchased the site to protect it. He spent three years excavating the effigy and nearby conical mounds. He suspected the mounds were built by Adena Indians (800 B.C. to A.D. 100).

More recent radiocarbon testing of charcoal from the Serpent Mound dates it to the Fort Ancient Indians in the 11th century.

Harvard turned the site over to the Ohio Historical Society in 1900. The 54-acre site is off state Route 73 about 10 miles north of Peebles in Bratton Township, about four hours from Akron. Admission is free but there is a $7 parking fee.

There is a small museum, and an observation tower offers an up-high look at the earthworks.

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekends in April and May, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily June through October, and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekends November through Dec. 18. It is also open for the winter solstice.