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Thursday, December 21, 2006

Ancients & Ohio's Stonehenge: Awaiting the Winter Solstice

PEEBLES, Ohio (TDB) -- Archaeologists now are openly speculating the massive earthen serpent that uncoils on a plateau near Ohio's Brush Creek Valley was a solar observatory built by ancient people who used it to mark the arrival of today's Winter Solstice, which starts in North America at 7:22 p.m. The shortest day of the year can be tracked at Serpent Mound -- which many believe is a mysterious monument the equal of Stonehenge -- by watching the sun align with the snake's coils.

Keith Bengsten, who manages the south-central Ohio site for the state's Historical Society, opened it up at 6 a.m. today so people could be present at sunrise. He was expecting a group, but told The Daily Bellwether that they failed to show. Bengsten said he's seen the sunset align with the 1,330-foot long serpent's head for the Summer Solstice, and has witnessed a similar phenomenon with the coils at the start of winter. ''I do believe it is true that the people who built it had a purpose. They lined it up for the Winter Solstice, and summer. I've seen it happen. You couldn't see anything this morning because of clouds and rain. I know it's true. I've seen it,'' Bengsten said.

A scientific journal for researchers who study the past, Archaeoology, published a report 10 years ago suggesting that the snake was built about 1070 A.D., by the Missippian people, a Native American culture that dominated the Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland river valleys and had a fairly advanced civilization with powerful chiefs and kings. They cultivated maize and had to know the arrival of the seasons to plan their agricultural calendar.

The Ohio Historical Society owns the site and says it has been a park for more than a century. Officially, it is not certain the snake has anything to do with the Winter Solstice. ''The head is aligned to the summer solstice sunset and the coils also may point to the winter solstice sunrise and the equinox sunrise. Today, visitors may walk along a footpath surrounding the serpent and experience the mystery and power of this monumental effigy,'' the historical society said, adding that the park has attracted visitors from all over the world.

Amy Roell, a program manager for the Hamilton County park system, notes in an online article that today's solstice was an important event in other times. "For many cultures, the winter solstice was seen as a triumph of the sun over the growing darkness. In order to celebrate the 'rebirth' of the sun and its increasing amount of daylight, many would hold festivals and feast days. In addition, many of these same cultures built earthworks that coincided with the astronomical events of the equinoxes and solstices that perhaps helped them keep track of the 'calendar.'" Roell said.

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