The marker, at the site of the largest effigy mound in the world, mutely implies that the date is accurate and everyone agrees with it.
But not only is the archaeological community divided about the date, a major research project by Ross Hamilton of Silverton challenges everything academia knows about this most amazing of Ohio's artifacts, including its purported age.
Hamilton's voice drops to a reverential whisper.
"When the Serpent was active, the energies ran through the Cherokee Ulûñsû'tí crystal and sun disc," he says. "The current would split and reunite where the summer solstice setting-sun line crosses the true north line.
"There, on a pedestal, sat a spirit animal, perhaps a dragon. Impregnated with this life force, he'd take off in a bolt of thunder, and the people at the lodge 50 miles away would know that food, medicines and peace were on the way. And this wonderful animal would alight on the eagle mound's platform in the middle of the Great Circle, and the elders would receive the gifts. Then this incredible life-force energy would fill the lodge and the people would be able to visit the next world."
For the past hour Hamilton has crouched like a shaman. His storytelling seems pure fantasy. But this is the truth about life at the Serpent 5,000 or more years ago, according to his research and as Cherokee legends suggests.
Author of The Mystery of the Great Serpent Mound, Hamilton is a speaker at the Oct. 15 Universal Light Expo at the Veterans' Memorial Hall in Columbus.
The mound is "what they had in all parts of the ancient world -- spiritual machinery that made things grow and gave people long life and access to the home of their ancestors," Hamilton says.
The mound today is "the platform where they'd build a serpent out of wood or stone, cover it with mother of pearl, and power it by a forgotten spark," he says. "A splendid effigy that distilled the current of the earth with the current of the sky through a holy process, it was created either by a genius or in a previous age."
The mound's creators were likely people giant in stature, he says.
Hamilton's interpretation and dating of the mound rests on knowledge of esoteric science, fragments of native legends and stories from old township diaries.
Adding to known solar and lunar alignments, Hamilton discovered that the mound ties in with the constellation Draco -- the Serpent, in other words -- and the pole star 5,000 years ago.
A reference to a foot of topsoil made by Frederick Putnam, who saved the Serpent Mound for posterity in the late 19th century, prompted Hamilton to examine rates of soil accumulation. Comparing them with Putnam's figure, he came up again with 5,000 years.
There is a spiritual-cosmic cultural context rooted in the deep past for the creation, operation, interpretation and dating of the Serpent Mound, Hamilton says.
Brad Lepper, an archaeologist with the Ohio Historical Society, the Serpent Mound's owner, says "plugging" the Serpent "into a cultural context" is vital.
"Native Americans are different from the Hopewell, the Adena and the Archaic cultures," he says. "Therefore, the date of the building of the mound is fundamental."
But the true age of the Serpent Mound is only around 1,000 years, based on carbon dating of two samples excavated from the mound in the 1990s, Lepper says.
This interpretation aligns the Serpent's construction with the Fort Ancient cultural site near Lebanon. Archaeologists "are free to use the historical beliefs of that time with which to interpret the mound," Lepper says.
He dismisses Hamilton's ideas, which "don't come from the evidence. It clearly served an important role, a spiritual role," Lepper says. "It may even have guided the spirits of the dead, but it's not as concrete or physical as Hamilton suggests."
Hamilton, of course, disagrees.
"Fort Ancient actually began more than 2,100 years ago and was not made by the so-named Fort Ancient Culture any more than Serpent Mound could have been. Dr. Lepper withholds some facts from his arguments, and this problem carries over in his interpretation of the Great Serpent's original design and construction."
Don't bet the farm
Hamilton agrees our culture can only make sense of the Serpent if it proceeds from the knowledge and perceptions of the time of its creation, but he says the applicable knowledge comes from 5,000 years ago. His book is full of applications of the esoteric science, sacred geometry and earth energies that Hamilton used to decipher the mystery of the mound.
But traditional academia discounts this knowledge. Hamilton's book is not available at the Serpent Mound or through the Ohio Historical Society's Web site.
Lepper stands behind the carbon dating, even though one of the three samples from the Serpent Mound produced a date of 3,000 years ago, tying in with the Adena or possibly an even earlier period.
But the archaeological community is divided. Robert Connolly is an archaeologist whose doctoral research between 1987 and 1993 focused on Fort Ancient, with which the Serpent Mound is now officially grouped by the Ohio Historical Society.
Formerly in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Cincinnati and principal investigator for the Ohio Historical Society during the building of Fort Ancient's museum, he now lives in Jackson, Miss., having researched at the 4,000-year-old Poverty Point in Northeast Louisiana.
"It's a bit of a rush to judgment to proclaim the Serpent Mound only 1,000 years old, based on less than a thimbleful of carbon from a single section of the earthworks," Connolly says. "The nearby 1,000-year-old village site may support this, but two conical mounds close by can also argue for an earlier date. Experience makes me more cautious. Many earthworks were reused by succeeding cultures" and later activities "could give a misleading interpretation of the true date of a site.
"The Serpent may have been constructed by the Fort Ancient culture after 1000 A.D., but I wouldn't bet the farm on it, based on the evidence to date." ©