Mound Country


I left Greber in Chillicothe and the next day made some quick stops at sites I had missed: Story Mound, a large Adena burial mound owned by the Ohio Historical Society and located in a residential section of Chillicothe; Fort Hill, a hilltop enclosure southwest of Chillicothe, where, on a trail deep in the woods, I came across a man hunting wild rosemary—just like the hunter-gatherers of old, I thought. And finally the spectacular effigy Serpent Mound, near Locust Grove, the seven curves of its body covering nearly a quarter of a mile. Visitors can get an overview of the serpent from an observation tower, but how the Adena—or maybe the later Fort Ancient people—were able to achieve its faultless proportions is a mystery.

As I headed home, I thought about what Greber had said about how people “arranged themselves”—maybe in ways that we know nothing about—and what Lepper had said about their ability to cooperate without compulsion and how this could be a “message from the past.”

I had to admit that the message seemed faint, but then, to me, messages from the past often are. More to the point, I thought, was a story Susan Yoho told me about a farmer who went out daily to his fields to look for prehistoric artifacts. Every day his wife would say to him, “Honey, I don’t know what you’re looking for, but I hope you find it.”

Archeology has produced more questions than answers. How many people did it take to build the mound? How was it used? Who was buried in there?

Well, I thought, I didn’t know what I was looking for in the Ohio Valley, but I had found it aplenty. I had gotten in my mind a vivid picture of what a nineteenth-century traveler called “the great monuments and pyramids … of the ancient nations of N. America” and, in my pocket, an arrowpoint from a tobacco field in West Virginia that I at least found beautiful.