The Ohio Serpent Mound:
a LIDAR Based Study of Geometric Geoglyphs in the Western Hemisphere
by Jon R. Haskell, Mark T. Hooten1
September 2016 ©
The dragon/serpent and opposing bird motif pairing had prominent symbolic roles in
world mythologies during ancient times. The duo, along with the triangle shape, have
persisted for millennia and continue to be mainstays in the art, architecture and
symbolism of current major world religions.
In a previous paper which demonstrated the prolific presence of a unknown symbol
using these motifs were located on rock outcroppings at the serpent site proper and
adjacent land, the question was asked where are the serpent's bird partners? If the
constructors had the motivation, resources and knowledge to construct a 1348'
earthen serpent aligned to solar and lunar events, would they not be able to construct
large scale birds?
This follow up paper presents illustrations demonstrating the symbol was duplicated in
large scale at Serpent Mound and other sites in southern Ohio and the Western
Hemisphere. I also present findings that demonstrate the geoglyphs shape, multiple
sizes and number are consistent with canons found in Vedic Śulvasūtra texts specifying
the construction and reconstruction of falcon shaped fire altars requiring geometry
Using independently derived conventions, it is shown how the symbol exponentially
increases in number and their resultant geometric expansion across the landscape.
Graphics also suggest the positioning of the serpent effigy and burial mounds were
based upon the antecedent symbol.
This is presented using working LIDAR images from multiple imaging studies and
symbol template overlays. The paper focuses on my methodology and specific LIDAR
features used in the placement and sizing of the templates.
1 Independent Researchers, Indigenous Peoples Research Foundation, a non-profit Georgia corporation
All that is presently known about the unknown symbol has been acquired over a three year period, most
of which was devoted to determining it's shape, temporal and spatial usage by using free hand tracings
on a wide variety of objects from the Eastern and Western Hemispheres. For example: lithic tools,
sculptured heads, statuary, pottery, facades of religious buildings, mastodon tusks, a bear mandible,
rock outcroppings, Roman coins, cave entrances, waterfalls, and so on. The bulk of the examples were
obtained from images gleaned from internet sources and the balance from photographs taken during
International and North American site visits.
Briefly summarized, the results show use of the symbol in much of the Eastern Hemisphere
commencing during the Paleolithic Period, in both the Far East and Western Europe thru about the
Medieval Period. In North America, it appears first on Pre-Clovis and Clovis examples from eastern
and western sites. Closer to the Serpent Mound region, the symbol was seen on Dorset (500BCE-
1500CE), Glacial Kame (8,000-1,000BCE) and Adena (1,000-200BCE) examples which leads us to the
cultural group generally acknowledged as the constructors of the serpent effigy.
The results of this first phase are paradoxical, suggesting that a symbol exists which has not been
recognized despite centuries of symbol research along with accompanying fantastical implications.
A turning point in the research is presented in this paper; however more compelling evidence comes
from the Middle East during the first century of the Current Era and is the subject in a forthcoming
paper. Directing attention to this region was prompted by the following.
“The paucity of references to Christianity in the first century is due chiefly to the fact that
Christianity appeared to the men of the times as merely a very small Oriental religion, struggling
for recognition, and contending with many others coming from the same region. It had not yet
made any great advance either in numbers or social importance.”2
During this time and the following centuries, there were many groups proselytizing their eastern based
philosophies thru out the Roman Empire vying for converts. One of these, Neopythagoreanism, had
resurrected the teachings of Pythagoras from six centuries before. Surprising, at least to me, is many
ethno-mathematicians seem to be in agreement the Greeks learned of geometry from the Hindu's, who
may have learned it from yet another earlier source.3 Fast forwarding thru the research of this dynamic
period, findings from historiography and color decorrelation imaging studies of religious art clearly
show the symbol transitioning into similar but different shapes. Two examples are the angelic Cherub
and Seraph motifs appearing in early Judeo-Christian literature and symbology, and with the triangle
used to depict the paradox of The Holy Trinity. A glaring example is a 4th century vellum Coptic Codex
showing an erased symbol next to it's 4th century replacement.
Despite the aforementioned and other findings not mentioned, extraordinary claims require
extraordinary physical evidence and scientifically produced data. With out these, it is
necessary to first determine if others can independently reproduce my findings. Thus the
following sections are prepared primarily to be a tutorial of sorts for the reader who may have
2 Ancient Church History From the Apostolic Age to the Close of the Conciliar Period, Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., Ph.D
3Ritual Origin of Geometry, Abraham Seidenberg, 1962
Symbol Conventions and Tracing Methodology
Without knowledge of the following basic conventions and knowing what you are looking for, making
sense of the maze of subtle parallel curvilinear lines coursing across a surface is difficult if not
• The symbol's shape remains constant regardless of spatial or temporal factors.
• Progressively smaller symbols are located within a larger.
• Symbols are always located in three locations within a bird motif.
◦ As the “eye” located in an anatomically correct position.
◦ At the upper breast area with one margin parallel to that of the bird.
◦ Tip of the tail
◦ In some examples, it also presents in the 8 o'clock position of the bird
head with one margin parallel to the bird.
• From each of these symbols, 3 more birds are formed. This process is
repeated resulting with symbols exponentially increasing in number and
spreading across a given surface.
• The symbol will extend across a 3-dimensional surface.
In this study, the procedure begins with preparing a sketch layer and identifying
certain portions of the symbol which historically are distinctive. The is done by
following a curvilinear series of similar features and different color shades that are
consistent with the symbol's shape. No extrapolation is used. When a “line” is no longer
obvious, tracing stops. From experience, guessing on a bird results in a disproportioned
Distinctive margins of the bird include the arcing top of the head, or a double rounded
shape of a pair which mimics the top of the heart symbol. Because there are
progressively smaller birds within a larger, there are multiple closely spaced concentric
arcing lines that can be traced. These lines start to diverge rapidly at the 2 o'clock
position of the head as they start forming the posterior margins
of the various sizes of birds in the array.
Another distinctive feature is the triangular “V” shape forming
the tip of the tail. Because of various bird lengths, this shape
is duplicated vertically and have increasingly larger interior
angles as the bird size increases. Because a symbol is located
in the tail , it serves as the eye of another bird positioned
beneath the tail..
Equally, if not more noticeable, is the rounded triangular
shape. Again because there are smaller symbols within a
larger, on more clearer examples, the margins of the various
sizes were revealed by LIDAR features. Smaller symbols can
appear in the corners and/or centered in a larger. Once familiar
with it's symmetrical shape, it is strikingly obvious,
Once these often subtle diagnostic shapes can be recognized
and understand their relationship to each other, recognizing
Illustration 1: Initial sketch layer of
area between the tail of the effigy and
parking lot. The image is darkened to
show 1&2 pixel dots. Green=bird,
the symbol and either in free hand tracing or using a template becomes not a question of
pareidolia but one of predictability.
Examples are shown in illustration 3 where magenta arrows indicate a bird head facing the ravine, and
yellow and red arrows indicating subtle color differences. There are numerous examples where three
distinctive similarly shaped and evenly spaced LIDAR features are located at the top of a bird head and
tail tip and which will match up with a properly sized bird template (blue, green arrows). These
features are particularly obvious on the flat areas of the New Love site (Ill. 2).
When the bird template is sized to most accurately match sketched dots and untraced LIDAR features,
it is flashed off and on, or reducing opacity, to confirm it's placement. The template is then duplicated,
horizontally flipped and positioned by the same procedure. One side may produce more confirming
untraced features than the other, if so, adjustments are made accordingly. Because additional symbols
are formed from another by the conventions previously explained, great care is taken in achieving the
best alignment as is possible with the visual information available to avoid compounding an error and
skewing a size comparative study discussed later.
The critical component of the procedure is the bird template. The template used in this study was
prepared from a tracing done from a 6K x 4K macro photograph of an exceptionally clear ~6" example
on a large rock at the Interpretative Center at Battleground, Indiana. Despite inherent vagaries
associated with tracing, it is a accurate as possible representation of the bird profile. Though it has
previously worked successfully on a wide range of examples, it does not exactly match the geometry
upon which it is based (Illustration 4). After placing several templates, I was surprised that no rotation
was needed, until realizing the LIDAR images had a north/south orientation and is not different from
the symbols north-south orientation found on other surfaces.
Illustration 3: Arrows indicating distinctive features,
Illustration 2: Arrows indicating the
distinctive group of three Lidar features at
head and tail of bird motif, New Love
Mound Group, Ohio
Briefly explained, findings indicate the symbol is based upon or has parallels with ancient Hindu Vedic
texts known collectively as the Śulvasūtras. Four of these include geometric based measurements to be
sequentially followed in the construction of falcon and symmetrical shaped sacrificial fire altars. One
of these texts is dated c.800BCE.
The various altar shapes, along with a corresponding verbal ritual, are constructed for a specific
heavenly request. Two of these shapes are the triangle = “for those with many foes” and several falcon
shapes = ”for those desiring heaven”. The altars had a one time use and had to be rebuilt in one “unit”
larger which will be discussed later.
The shapes are formed using a rope and stake method following a prescribed sequence. The first step
however is to determine the cardinal compass directions, with the east-west orientation the most
An interactive graphic describing the rope and stake method to determine cardinal
directions and the rituals assigned to various shapes can be viewed at
4 Thanks to Cynthia J. Huffman, Ph.D. and Scott V. Thuong, Ph.D., Pittsburg State University for permission.
Illustration 4: Bird
template profile compared
to the Golden Spiral
Serpent Mound Graphics with Interpretation
A surprising aspect of the tracing study was how effortlessly the bird template could be
positioned on the LIDAR images. While the natural arcing and tapering shape of the hills
in the area somewhat mimic the shape of the bird template, one gets the impression that in
some areas that land sculpturing occurred. An example is the curvilinear feature on the
slope facing Brush Creek (Ill. 6). It is not known if this is a natural or manmade feature,
but it does match the anterior margin of at least two birds, with the green bird posterior
margin following the edge of the upper elevated area. Within the green bird head is an
untraced circular feature giving the impression of an eye (Ill. 7).
The large bird in 7 was positioned based principally on
sizing the tail to correspond with the V shape
topography and other features along the posterior
margin. The bird's eye is the large Adena mound
located near the curved parking area. Presumably there
are other slightly different sized birds occupying this
The placement of the birds in 8 are considered
reasonably accurate because the large bird eye is
positioned anatomically correct and the green bird
head is properly positioned to be the left bird of an
untraced symbol located in the tail. This is mentioned
to illustrate that because of the previous listed
conventions, there are multiple reference points that
confirm the placement of a template. If these do not
appear, then the template is probably misplaced or an
As will be seen and discussed later, there appears to be a positional relationship between the symbol
and the serpent and burial mounds. Before leaving these graphics please note the triangle appearance of
the end of the elevated area and the overall site's resemblance to a bird head.
feature, Brush Creek
Illustration 8: Serpent Mound
The following graphics are included to illustrate the great effort expended to complete a symbol. This
has only been seen before on a large scale at the ~ 12th century Church of St. George (of dragon fame)
in Ethiopia, where large birds span the height of a three story building with their heads on top of a flat
roof all while maintaining a correct shape.
Illustration 10 provides a marginally diagnostic view of the near vertical slope west of the shelter house
but does reveal features that could be traced with confidence that suggest human intervention. The red
dots indicate defined margins of a triangle shape. At the top of the slope, are two examples of the
familiar rounded “V” shape of bird head pairs (green).
The green dots within Brush Creek mark the ends of underwater curved features which conform to the
tail and symbol. The right side, which is less defined than the left, is aligned with a prominent untraced
fissure that extends up the slope. The left side maybe there but cannot be clearly seen. However in 11,
more distinctive features can be seen which align with tail templates. The LIDAR features indicated by
the lower two white arrows are indicative of routinely seen features which just don't look natural and
conform with symbol margins. A possible example of this may be the isolated rocks in a “V” formation
located on the narrow east bank (Ill. 12). For reference, they are located near the left green dot in
Illustration 10: Near vertical slope behind Shelter
Illustration 9: A continuation of 7 with additional layers.
Illustration 11: Close
view of 10
Close inspection of a Google Earth unprocessed image and various software enhanced versions, clearly
show curvilinear lines of partially submerged and underwater rocks that correspond to symbol margins.
Initial tracings were done in green, followed with template overlays which could be applied and sized
with ease. As with the balance of templates in this study,
these did not require any rotational adjustment.
Two attempts to inspect and plot these features failed because
of water level and turbidity which also prohibited underwater
photography and video. It is planned to revisit these features
when better conditions prevail.
Illustration 12: Note triangular shape of largest rock facing
west, Brush Creek east bank
Illustrations 13, 14 : Traced rock features and template
layers in Brush Creek below Serpent effigy.
The extent of the geoglyphs was surprising. Despite the large FOV, pixel density permitted
magnification which provided sufficient detail of smaller features which aided placement. The
areas north, east and south of the effigy site proper, provided more and clearer diagnostic
features than from the site itself. These included two clear examples of the tripartite bird
headdress (Ill. 16).
Illustration 15: Large area view showing symbols north-south orientation
along Brush Creek valley.
One of the more compelling areas suggesting land sculpturing is shown below. The shape is confirmed
by the equilateral symbol template and proportionally sized bird. Other triangle examples are shown in
The larger of the two smaller birds was placed by using the V shape at the top of the slope and arcing
features for the head. The smaller was placed using barely discernible features at the tail and sized to
conform to the enigmatic feature protruding from the serpent head.
Various Serpent Mound Graphics
Illustration 17: Illustration 18:
Illustration 19: Other triangular areas including on which is not marked
Illustrations 20, 21: Template aligned to margins of unknown darker area. Top margin of
next larger head is visible as are other symbol margins.
Illustration 22: 130px 260px 520px template
Illustration 23: 35, 50, 70, 125, 130, 150, 180, 260, 275, 375,
Illustration 24: One example of experimentations with the “Golden
Illustration 25: Select layers from this
Illustration 26: Google Aerial Overlay
Other Ohio Sites
Glenford Enclosure , Perry County, Ohio USA
This image sequence of a bird shape hilltop enclosure illustrates an inherent limitation related to human
visual perception, which can be summarized “you don't see what you are not looking for”. In
illustration 27, it's author identified: arcing features, three similar shaped round features, and red traced
curving parallel lines coursing from the Central Mound area. It is not known the reason for doing this.
but importantly he did see the features.
Similarly, in a paper reporting results from artifacts found at the Page-Ladson site in Florida, the author
in a lengthy paragraph goes into excruciating detail describing the maze of parallel and intersecting
curving lines on a 14,000 BCE mastodon tusk shown below.5
Illustration 29: from Jessi J. Halligan, by author
5 Art Analysis of fig. S31. Composite photomicrograph of new cast made from Webb’s patch mold (24).
Illustration 27: Graphic courtesy of Jarrod
Burks, Ph.D. Illustration 28: Authors interpretation based
upon tracings in 27
These examples illustrate one of the reasons the symbol has not been recognized. Though
essentially a simple symbol, it is exceedingly complex because it differs from the one symbol
per surface area we are accustomed to seeing, and further more, most often the margins are
very subtle. With respect to the later, in a unscientific experiment, people chosen at random,
were shown the image in 29 on an iPad and asked the following question: “Do you see a large
familiar shape”? The following two hints were used if needed: “It is a symbol that has curved
edges and is associated with a day celebrated annually”, followed with “It is a symbol
associated with Valentines Day”.
No one could initially identify the “heart” shape, however one did see a “face” which the
symbol does resemble. After the first hint, 2 people pointed to the symbol and could outline it.
After the second hint, 5 people could recognize it and responded with some astonishment they
had not see it before.
Illustration 30: Triangle altar shape, additional layers added
New Love Mound Group, Clark County, Ohio USA
This site was exceptionally easy to work with because of the flat
terrain, well defined contours and numerous examples of 3-4 evenly
spaced similar LIDAR features mentioned earlier. Also, the
triangular shape was quite distinctive in a number of locations which
is an important landmark in applying and sizing the bird template.
No rotational adjustments were required.
The heart shape in 31 illustrates an unresolved question regarding
the symbol shape. This shape is formed by two birds rotated so their
tails join forming a cartouche around the symbol. The heart shape is
routinely seen but not in great numbers. It is not known if this is
incorporated on all symbols and cannot always be seen, or if it is a
As a side note, the heart shape has an interesting and long history
before appearing on Valentine cards and is discussed in more detail
in a previous paper on Serpent Mound. Illustration 31: Heart shape
formed by subtle difference in
Illustration 32: 2 to 1 length/width ratio rectangular altar substitution, New
Love Mound Group, Clark County, Ohio
Junction Mound, Ross County, Ohio USA
Illustrations 33, 34: Images from Jarrod Burks, by author
Poverty Point, Louisiana USA
Chaco Canyon Holmes Group, New Mexico USA
Aztalan, Wisconsin USA
Illustration 37: from Romain and
Nelson, by author
Baking Pot, Belize CA
Illustration 38: Image from http://www.mdpi.com
Nazca, Peru CA
The introduction of Vedic altar design specifications into the research provided a needed historical
source supporting previous results. Equally important provides a mathematical basis for testing the
symbol's variable size.
At this time there are two known formulas . One method is explained by James L. Kelley.6
“[T]he sacrificer is instructed to build a falcon-shaped altar of seven unit squares: four
squares for the body, one for the tail, and one each for the wings. In an ascending order
of sacredness the next altar is to be built in the same shape, but one unit square larger
and so on until the altar is one-hundred-and-one times as large as the first”
The other is less complex and requires that falcon and other shaped altars be doubled in size.
In a test using the doubling formula, the pixel width of 34 bird templates in one Serpent Mound
imaging study were rounded ( e.g. 86=85, 128=130). Three were excluded because their doubled size
exceeded the largest size template used. A simple average resulted in 55% of the templates having a
double. Those without a double deviated either 10 or 20 pixels from the closest double, with two
outliers at 50 and 60 pixels. While initially thought disappointing, when considering the incalculable
number of symbols not traced, the result may be understated.
Illustration 39: Image from http://seteantigoshepta.blogspot.com by author
A far more simple experiment of the doubling formula is shown in illustration 22. The 130px template,
which was known from a previous exercise, was placed on a new LIDAR image, duplicated twice in a
260px and 520px size and then both effortlessly positioned in place.
A trial and error method in sizing and rotating the Golden Spiral suggests that the geometry associated
with it is a basis in determining the sizes and locations of other symbols. The best results occur with
placing the start of the spiral at the tip of the triangle motif. In many attempts the spiral passes thru
existing earthen ceremonial structures and public architecture in the Belize example.
Four templates required more rotation than the occasional 1-2° adjustment for best fit. Two birds, a
smaller one within a larger, at Serpent Mound required -26.7° from north, and two triangles at Junction
Group required -25°. Although there was little ambiguity in how the templates should be placed at both
sites which seems to minimize the possibility of misinterpretation, this remains a possible explanation.
What makes this outliers intriguing is that it occurred at two different sites with, for all practical
purposes, the same rotation. Because nothing in this exercise indicated randomness and suggests
The purpose of this imaging exercise was to demonstrate the presence of large scale geoglyphs and
acquiring additional data confirming that the enigmatic symbol exists. Both objectives were met for the
As principally a visual based experiment, one compelling result is the lack of effort required to place
and size the templates. Being the first time using LIDAR images, it did not take long to start
recognizing the repeatable visual cues and shapes identifying the symbol. Because of this and the
predictability of the symbol, completing an illustration is merely a methodic repetitious task.
As was evident in many cases, a presumed later in time earthen mound is positioned as the eye of or in
the tail of the bird template which strongly suggests their location is based upon the antecedent symbol.
The lack of accompanying earthen birds suggests a change in burial practices occurring during the
Adena use of the site. The mounds positioning along the trajectory of a Golden Spiral leading from the
symbols further supports the symbol's geometry basis.
Notably, Serpent Mound and Glenford, each had a particularly unambiguous triangular altar feature
diagnostic to the symbol which is most dramatically presented by the Central Mound at Glenford. As
was personally learned during the overall research, the triangle shape is the most unrecognized shape in
Pre-Contact symbology. It is believed that it's use started to wain during Adena and by the
Mississippian Period it disappeared. The reasons behind the introduction of serpent effigies in eastern
North America continues to be confusing and not well understood. It is likely the serpent, and the
symbol's bird motif ultimately were conflated into the “Feathered Serpent” character known by many
names in Western Hemisphere mythologies.
This initial foray into the geometry of Pre-Contact symbology provides a basis for future math related
research, and as a cultural fingerprint, the symbol is an avenue for better understanding human global
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USA, Journal of Archaeological Science, Volume 50, 2014
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Ancient India, http://www.maa.org/press/periodicals/convergence/ancient-indian-rope-geometry-in-
Kelly, James L. jaysanalysis, https://jaysanalysis.com/2013/11/21/prajapati-purusa-and-vedic-altar-
Kramrisch, Stella & Burnier, Raymond The Hindu Temple, Volume1, Motilal Banarsidass, 1976
Romain, William F. & Norman Davis Astronomy and Geometry at Poverty Point, Louisiana
Archaeology. Bulletin of the Louisiana Archaeological Society Number 38. 2011
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Sassoon, Rosemary & Albertine Guar Signs, Symbols and Icons, Intellect, 1995
Seidenberg, A. The Ritual Origin of Geometry, http://www.jstor.org/stable/41133224
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www.peturhalldorsson.com/papers/papers/VistasAst.pdf and personal correspondence