A Serpent's Tale
Discovering America’s Ancient Mound Builders
- 304 pages
- 6 x 9
- 50 b/w illus.
- American History
- World Rights
About this Book
“Lorett Treese’s A Serpent’s Tale is a delightfully literate exploration of how archaeologists and others have struggled to build our modern understanding of the origins and achievements of eastern North America’s mound-building cultures. You will find no better general introduction to the subject.” —Bradley Lepper, Ohio History Connection
“An accessible, well-written, and intriguing narrative of how Euro-Americans’ understanding of the mound builders evolved over more than 200 years. It is a genuine mystery story, well told.”
—Richard Davis, Professor Emeritus of Anthropology, Bryn Mawr College
When American settlers first crossed the Appalachian Mountains they were amazed to discover that the wilderness beyond contained ancient ruins—large man-made mounds and enclosures, and impressive earthen sculptures, such as a gigantic serpent. Reports trickled back to the eager ears of President Thomas Jefferson and others. However, most did not believe these earthworks had anything to do with Native Americans; rather, given the intense interest in the history of Western Civilization at the time, it became popular to speculate that the ruins had been built by refugees from Greece, Rome, Egypt—or even the lost continent of Atlantis. Since their discovery, the mounds have attracted both scholars and quacks, from the first investigations sponsored by the then new Smithsonian Institution to the visions of the American psychic Edgar Cayce.
As Lorett Treese explains in her fascinating history A Serpent’s Tale: Discovering America’s Ancient Mound Builders, the enigmatic nature of these antiquities fueled both fanciful claims and scientific inquiry. Early on, the earthworks began to fall to agricultural and urban development. Realizing that only careful on-site investigation could reveal the mysteries of the mounds, scholars hastened to document and classify them, giving rise to American archaeology as a discipline. Research made it possible to separate the Mound Builders into three distinct pre-contact Native American cultures.
More recently, the mounds have attracted practitioners of new disciplines like archaeoastronomy who suggest they may have functioned as calendars. There is no doubt that the abandoned monuments that made the Midwest’s Ohio Valley the birthplace of American archaeology have yet to reveal all the knowledge they contain on the daily lives and world views of persons of North American prehistory.
LORETT TREESE is the author of a number of books, including Valley Forge: Making and Remaking a National Symbol, Railroads of Pennsylvania, and The Storm Gathering: The Penn Family and the American Revolution. She holds an undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr and an MA in American history from Villanova University.