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VANISHING HERITAGE
Planning for the Future of Ohio's Past
Two Recently Discovered mid-19th Century Views of the Alligator Mound by David Wyrick and James H. Salisbury
THE ALLIGATOR MOUND is located on a prominent point at the southern extension of  a long glaciated ridge in Licking County. For years it laid relatively isolated and almost forgotten. Although only a mile from the center of the Village of Granville few individuals knew of the mound's exact location.

Research conducted by the Licking County Archaeology & Landmarks Society to obtain more information about the mound began in 1983 and has continued through a 1988 grant from the Ohio Humanities Council and research assistance from the Ohio Historical Society.

Most archaeologists agree that this effigy mound was constructed during the Middle Woodland period (100 B.C.-A.D. 400) by the Hopewell Culture. The mound was first identified and described by E. Squier and E. Davis in Ancient Monuments of the Mississippi Valley (1848). As Squier and Davis and many other writers have noted, the mound does not represent an alligator, but early settlers in the area called it the Alligator Mound and the name stuck.

A relatively large feature on the landscape, the mound measures approximately 210 feet in length. It faces slighty southwest toward Granville. Its tail curls and its legs spread out as if grasping the hill. A long extension projects from the mound's north side between the front and hind leg. Squier and Davis concuded that this projection served as an altar. In profile, the mound rises to a maximum height of about four feet at the front shoulders. Unfortunately it has suffered considerably from erosion due to decades of cultivation and the grazing of livestock.

Two recently discovered images of the Alligator Mound, found as a result of this project, contrast with each other. James H. Salisbury (right side) refers to it as the "Panther" Mound and his illustration (cir. 1862) is the most accurately drawn of any known to date. David Wyrick's (left side) is drawn out of proportion and is naive or stylized. Wyrick probably made this drawing sometime between 1850 and 1860. During this period both Salisbury and Wyrick also produced surveys of the Newark Earthworks. Salisbury's survey, again discovered as a result of this grant project, provides exicting new information about the size and complexity of the Newark Works. The Newark Earthworks are located a few miles east of the Alligator Mound and are considered to be contemporary with the mound.

About the mound, Salisbury states: "Unknown centuries have passed since this symbolic pile was reared, and still it keeps its watch over the consecrated soil where repose the silent ruins of one of the great citadels of the Mound Builders."

Today, the Alligator Mound has been preserved as part of the landscape design of a housing development called Bryn Du Woods. It is situated on the Newark-Granville Road approximately one mile east from the center of the village of Granville.


The above information is from a poster put out by the Licking County Archaeology and Landmarks Society. For further information, contact:

LCALS
P. O. Box 271
Granville, OH 43023
 



 

Notes by webmaster Joe Knapp (jmk@copperas.com):

I've long been interested in the archaeology of stone monuments and earthworks, especially those thought to be inspired by astronomical uses. Stonehenge and other western European monuments of course come to mind in this regard, but less well-known is the increasing consensus that the Native American people known as the "Hopewell"--who inhabited the river valleys of what is now central Ohio from 100BC-500AD--designed their famous geometric earthworks using the same astronomical considerations, specifically the extreme rising and setting points of the sun and the moon. A particularly good example of this is the Octagon earthwork in Newark, Ohio. The axis of the Octagon is aligned to coincide with the extreme northernmost rising point of the moon, about 52 degrees azimuth at this latitude (40N). This is incidentally the same alignment as the earliest structure at the Stonehenge site (phase I), which was a circular raised embankment or "henge" that had an opening at the point where an observer standing in the center would similarly observe the northernmost moonrise.

The rising point of the sun changes in a relatively simple pattern, moving from northeast to southeast and back again over the course of one year. The rising point of the moon by contrast makes a similar swing over the span of only one month. Assuming one can observe the moonrises, the moon may be seen to rise a little further north each day until it eventually reverses course and starts rising further south each day. The next month the general pattern will be repeated, but the moon may very well reach a point even further north before reversing course. It turns out that due to a complicated interaction of the sun-earth-moon system, the extremes of the moon's monthly swing of rising points will vary over an approximately 19-year cycle. Only for a brief period every nineteen years or so will the moon rise far enough north to be seen rising directly along the axis of the Octagon, or along the axis of Stonehenge phase I. This seemingly arcane astronomical event apparently inspired huge construction efforts on both sides of the Atlantic, separated in time by thousands of years. We can only speculate on the reason, but one possibility is that as societies get more complex and geographically widespread, as the so-called "Hopewellian interaction sphere" and the earlier European neolithic cultures undoubtedly were, there is more and more need for clocks and calendars with greater time spans. Today, with our excellent clocks and sophisticated calendars, we have little need for astronomical observations, and thus may have trouble comprehending what all the fuss was about.

I traveled to England to see Stonehenge and other Neolithic observatories (like at Bodmin Moor) first-hand. But as a resident of central Ohio, it is apparent that such observatories may be found much closer to home. One day back in 1985 while exploring the Octagon, I met local archaeologist Paul Hooge, who told me that he was fond of the nearby "Alligator" Mound and the possibilities it had as an observatory, being situated on a high hill. So I promptly checked it out.

At the time, the mound was still the province of cows and cow pies. As stated above, the mound has suffered over the years from such agricultural wear and tear. The farm was eventually sold and the slippery developer promised to preserve the mound and did, but in the end afforded it no significant space. The mound is today hemmed in by a ring of asphalt, around which have sprung up yuppie trophy houses which mar the view, which had been quite beautful. Obviously the Hopewell were themselves impressed with the horizon from this high vantage point in the Raccoon Creek valley. The photo below, taken from the mound, shows one of the first houses going up.



Although today it is possible to drive right to the mound, when it was a farm the only access (at least for archaeological interlopers) was through an adjacent golf course, across a small wood, and up a fairly steep hill, on the top of which lies the mound as described. After possibly having to stare down a few cows munching on the top of the mound (some were a little belligerent), one could stand there and take in the view. One distinct impression I had, huffing and puffing up this hill, was that this place of worship, if that's what it was, was not for the very old, young or feeble. Perhaps only the shamans and their acolytes made the trek, not the whole village.

One trek I made was in the early winter, during the mound's farm days, and a light snow had just fallen that morning. The sun was rising higher and the snow was rapidly melting, and it afforded a great opportunity to outline the mound by dragging my heavy boot all around it (not a trivial task given the mound's size, but I was inspired to do it). The snow even seemed to oblige by melting off the mound last for some reason. It also did a good job of covering up the cow pies! The following photos show the result.
 

head and front right foot


standing on head, looking towards tail curving off to the right


looking at tail from rear after the snow had melted a bit
from front along left side, showing how the figure seems to "hug" the hill


"altar"


view to southeast of the Raccoon Creek valley, at sunset later that winter


sunset, winter solistice, from "Alligator"


panorama of horizon, from "Alligator" (click for larger image)


Uh oh... he let the cows out--time to exit
 

Conclusion

So, is the "Alligator" mound an integral part of the Hopewellian observatory represented by the Octagon and other local earthworks? It's a hard proposition to prove, although the location, on a spar which projects out into the Raccoon Valley, seems ideally suited for observing the sun and moon over much of their wanderings.

I like an analogy from another Neolithic observatory complex, located at Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England. The numerous stone circles, hilltop cairns and earthworks in Bodmin Moor were studied by a retired geologist named Christian O'Brien, who found much solid evidence of lunar and solar alignments there. He published his findings in a 1983 book, "The Megalithic Odyssey" (Turnstone Press).

O'Brien writes:

Below is a map summarizing O'Brien's findings in the area:




The only detail I'll point out in that map is the feature labeled 'A,' which is the Goodaver Stone Circle. O'Brien says:

Other "Alligator" links:




Other Hopewell links: