Hopewell Cahokia and Other Mound Builders

The excavation of two buried, gigantic Earth images of snakes (called the Kern effigies) has provided us with figures that are unmodified, unlike the badly damaged surface features. One of these is aligned (whether deliberately or not) on the winter solstice rising Sun, and the other on the summer solstice rising Sun. They belong to the Fort Ancient culture of ~1100-1200 a.d. See White (1987) for a fuller discussion.

An unusual duo of scholars, a philosopher, Horn, and a physicist, Hively, became interested in archaeoastronomy and have worked particularly on two Hopewellian sites, the Newark earthworks and the Highbank site (Hively and Horn 1982,1984; Horn and Hively 1994). Each of these sites contains, with other features, an equilateral octagon joined by a short avenue with a circle. The size of the two circles is nearly identical (they measured 321.3 m for the Observatory circle at Newark and 320.6 m for the Highbank circle). However, the Newark octagon is substantially larger than is its counterpart at Highbank. At Newark, the octagon is generally northeast of the circle; at Highbank, it is southeast, rotated by about 90° (the azimuths of the connected avenues are 52°0 at Newark, and 143°3 at Highbank for a difference of 91°3). At Newark, Hively and Horn found no evidence for any solar alignments, but massive evidence for alignments to lunar rise and set points at both the northern and southern maximum extreme positions and at both northern and southern minimal extreme positions (i.e., major and minor standstill lunar rise and set positions). Several of these alignments were repeated in different contexts and all together are convincing. Despite the change in orientation of the Highbank octagon, they found the same alignments were present there, although in different patterns. At Highbank, they also found alignments to the rise points of the Sun at both the winter solstice and the summer solstice. The two sites are about 60 miles apart, and Bradley Lepper has argued that the two areas are connected over much or all of the distance by an extremely straight road defined by two walls about a meter high and separated by somewhat less than 60 m. Over the most clearly defined part of its course, it has a bearing of 31° west of south, which Lepper has associated with the rising of Capella between about 100 b.c. and 100 a.d.—within the range of dates in which Hopewellian sites were constructed and therefore a reasonable but far from certain range of dates for these ruins.

Proposed archaeoastronomical alignments in earthworks of northern and eastern North America have been examined in some detail by James Marshall (1995 and references cited therein). Marshall has surveyed more than 220 sites (about half in Ohio) and collected data on 150 others. He shows that many earthworks are oriented (with as high precision as is possible without modern instruments) to the cardinal points but finds no evidence for any other alignments. Marshall presents evidence that complex geometric figures were sometimes replicated with high fidelity at different sites but with different orientations. Thus, the Hopewell period site at Newark, Ohio, with a center line azimuth of 52°. 08, is a close replica of the Seip Work site in Ross Co., Ohio, with a center-line azimuth of 91°40. Marshall has inferred that a unit of measure close to 57 m was in widespread use at sites throughout eastern North America. Marshall's work (1995) has shown that the maps published by Squier and Davis (1848) are seriously in error, in some cases by more than 30°; so that any claimed alignments based on Squier and Davis maps are, therefore, untrustworthy. They do not need additional discussion here. We are also in agreement with

Marshall's criticisms of the Cahokia "Woodhenge" interpretation. We do not share Marshall's belief that the sophisticated geometry of the sites precludes astronomical intent, but we do share his views that only accurately surveyed sites provide a basis for archaeoastronomical work and that similar sites should show comparable interests (although not necessarily identical alignments) in terms of astronomical interpretations.

Allegations that the Great Serpent Mound was built shortly after a specified locally visible eclipse are silly. The frequency of eclipses is greater than the precision of our dating techniques for these earthworks; so any earthwork was always built "shortly after" a local eclipse.

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