Preliminary investigations at the Skeleton Mountain site, 1CA157, Calhoun county, Alabama.
Timber (Protection and preservation)
Historic sites (Protection and preservation)
Native Americans (Protection and preservation)
Holstein, Harry O.
Pub Date:
Name: Journal of the Alabama Academy of Science Publisher: Alabama Academy of Science Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Science and technology Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2009 Alabama Academy of Science ISSN: 0002-4112
Date: Jan, 2009 Source Volume: 80 Source Issue: 1
Product Code: 9121640 Forest Service; 7949130 Historic Sites; 9106330 Historic Site Programs NAICS Code: 92412 Administration of Conservation Programs; 71212 Historical Sites SIC Code: 9512 Land, mineral, wildlife conservation
Government Agency: United States. Forest Service

Accession Number:
Full Text:

In 2007, the Jacksonville State University Archaeological Resource Laboratory and several volunteers began the investigation of a stone feature on the crest of Skeleton Mountain overlooking the former Fort McClellan in Calhoun County, Alabama. JSU-ARL researchers believe prehistoric Woodland and/or Mississippian Indian populations constructed this structure between 2500 to 800 years ago as part of their ceremonial/mortuary rituals.


In March 2007, Jacksonville State University Archaeological Resource Laboratory (JSU-ARL) staff and volunteers began the preliminary mapping and photographing of the stone snake effigy. Approximately three days were spent clearing, mapping, and photographing the stone structure and other stone features within the immediate vicinity.

In 1976, University of Alabama in Birmingham (UAB) staff archaeologists conducted the initial investigation of this stone feature and recorded it as site lCal57. Several recent push piles created by earth-moving equipment along the northern portion of the site were also noted (McEachern et al., 1980).

In the 1990s, as part of a Phase I Archaeological Survey of Fort McClellan, Jacksonville State University (JSU) archaeologists revisited the site and noted that the stone feature was constructed of loose, angular quartzite and limestone cobbles in a raised walkway-like structure of homogeneous height and width. This feature was laid in a serpentine fashion along the edge of the steep, western slope of Skeleton Mountain (Holstein et al., 1995) (Fig. 1).


During 2004, Creek and Seminole tribal leaders, local officials, and JSU archaeologists visited the site. Native American representatives were in agreement as to the ceremonial and spiritual sacredness of the site, that it needed immediate protection, and that plans should be made to map and photograph the structure.

Site 1Ca157, is positioned along the edge of the steep western slope of Skeleton Mountain in southeastern Calhoun County, Alabama. Skeleton Mountain, in turn, is a portion of the southern end of Choccolocco Mountain, the first major northeast/southwest ridge of the Ridge and Valley Physiographic Province. The site lies approximately 518 m (1700 ft) above mean sea level. Access to the site via United States Fish and Wildlife Longleaf pine Preserve roads is difficult, requiring, in most cases, four-wheel-drive vehicles. The present vegetation is mainly longleaf and southern pines mingled with scattered hardwoods. The soil is shallow with bedrock frequently exposed across the land surface. The ridgeline is littered with moss and lichen-covered cobbles and boulders. No surface water is located on or near the site, and surface erosion appears to be minimal.


The fieldwork was carried out over a two-day period on March 5 and 6, 2007. The Field Director for the project was Dr. Harry O. Holstein. The field crew consisted of JSU-ARL staff Jacob Kohute, Scan Williamon, Tim Hobgood, and Ed Hill. Tim Moon of the Anniston Museum of Natural History, the Reverend Monty Clendenin, Gary Lawson, and Richard Haynie volunteered for the project. Robert Perry and Matthew Grunewald provided and operated the total station for mapping the site. Ron Ellington, of Ellington Enterprises, provided assistance with unexploded ordnance (UXO) avoidance at the site. The initial objective was to determine the extent of the site so that it could be mapped and photographed, and to assess the damage from previous bulldozer activity.

To accomplish this objective, a limited surface pedestrian survey was undertaken. It was hoped that the surveyors would be able to locate additional stone features that may be related to the snake effigy. Due to UXO constraints, the steep slopes located along the western edge of the snake effigy were designated off limits. Eight members of the field crew were lined up along the northern end of the effigy (near bulldozer push piles) and were spaced at 5 m (16 ft) intervals. Walking parallel transects southward along the eastern slope, adjacent to the serpentine feature, surveyors continued until they reached a noticeable decrease of the ridgeline approximately 30 m (98 ft) beyond the point where it was believed the head of the snake was positioned. At that point, three of the surveyors moved to their right and began 5 m (16 ft) interval transects north to cover the area that was located in front of the head. The steep western slope was visually inspected from the edge of the effigy and ridgeline. This resulted in locating old bulldozer cuts through the surface of the natural boulder-strewn slope associated with the northern portion of the site. One man-made, loosely stacked, horseshoe-shaped, low wall feature was identified a few meters east and middle of the serpentine structure.

The second objective was to prepare the site for photographing and mapping. Utilizing leaf blowers, rakes, and tree limb loppers, crewmembers began work in the northern portion of the site and systematically removed all vegetation and leaf litter from the surface of the stone effigy as well as the surrounding ground surfaces. Additional clearing also was conducted upon the stone feature and throughout the northern push pile area and possible tail section feature. Once site preparation work was complete, mapping and photographing commenced.

Global positioning system points were generated by using a Topcon GTS 230W[TM] total station. A temporary site datum was placed adjacent to the structure. All points were shot from this datum to improve horizontal and vertical accuracy across the entire site. These points were used to create the plan view map of the snake effigy and associated stone features (Fig. 2).



Upon completion of the 2007 investigation, it was determined that site 1Ca157 was more complicated than first thought. For example, several stone features straddle the edge of Skeleton Mountain along the 518 m contour line overlooking the former Fort McClellan to the west and a panoramic view of Cheaha Mountain to the south (Fig. 3).


Also, beginning in the southwestern corner, researchers located a triangular pile of stones believed to represent the serpent's head. This pile measures approximately 1 m at the base and 1.5 m in height (Fig. 4).


Directly behind the stone pile "head" (northeast) lies a 18 m zone of loosely scattered surface boulders similar to the stones used in the tightly constructed main body of the serpentine structure, but without any apparent pattern. If the stone pile is the head of the snake effigy, then the scattered surface boulders have either been disturbed after their initial deposition or, may be, an area where the serpentine wall was never completed. Although similar loose stone surface boulders are located across the entire ridgeline adjacent to the serpentine feature, this area between the head and the rest of the body does appear to be more dense. The result is the appearance of trying to fill in the natural surface boulders with more rocks in order to create the same stone pavement and connect the tightly-packed stone segment to the stone pile head.

Beyond this scattered surface stone segment and continuing toward the northeast, the tightly-packed pavement begins (Fig. 5). This stone pavement gently curves back and forth along the ridgeline in a southwesterly direction for approximately 49 m terminating adjacent to a recently bulldozed area. This stone segment is relatively homogeneous in size and construction. The pavement is approximately 2 m in width for its entire length and 0.25 m in height. It is apparent that these dimensions were purposely maintained throughout this segment. All of the stones used in the construction are available in the immediate vicinity (Fig. 5). In addition, researchers observed that several of the quartz cobbles appeared to have been intentionally shaped (knapped) so that they would fit into the relatively level surface of the pavement.

What is noteworthy, the stones placed along both edges of the pavement tend to be consistently larger than most of the interior stones. This suggests the builders first laid two parallel rows of large stones to maintain the homogeneous shape of the structure as it was constructed across the ridgetop.


Two other man-made structures were observed in the vicinity of the serpentine pavement. The first man-made structure is a horseshoe-shaped 0.5 m high stone structure that lies on the southern slope of the ridge approximately 10 m south of the middle of the pavement. The three sides of the horseshoe-shaped structure are approximately 2 m in length with the mouth of the horseshoe facing northwest towards the serpentine pavement (see Fig. 2). It should also be noted that looking southeast from the horseshoe-shaped structure through a gap in the ridge east of Skeleton Mountain, Mount Cheaha, Alabama's highest mountain, is clearly in view.

The second man-made structure is a linear, low stone wall immediately north of the possible tail of the serpentine structure, a separate linear stone wall runs for 65 m in the same southwesterly to northeasterly direction along the very edge of the steep western slope of Skeleton Mountain. It crosses closely behind and past the disturbed bulldozed area and the associated large push pile of boulders, terminating at what appears to be a spiral array made of single stones lying directly upon the surface. This stone wall averages between 1 to 1.5 m in width and less than 1m in height.

Two push piles of loose stones are located just east and south of the spiral feature. It is possible that the smaller stone (less than 1m high and 1m in diameter) may be of aboriginal origin. However, due to the apparent disturbances surrounding this structure, it is more likely that it is of recent origin. Nevertheless, a nearby larger rectangular stone pile (2m high and 10 m in length by 3 m in width) is clearly the result of twentieth-century mechanized activity. Bulldozer tracks through the natural boulder-strewn surface leading to the mound's base are evident along three sides. There has been a large amount of recent bulldozer activity within this northern area but to the south, in the vicinity of the stone pavement, no recent disturbance was apparent.

Since the linear stone wall is located directly on the edge of the ridge crest and directly behind the bulldozed area, it is unlikely this feature is the result of recent earth-moving activity. However, in most areas adjacent to this linear feature, there is no evidence of machine tracks or push piles. Also, the wall is constructed of loose stone quartz cobbles similar to the serpentine pavement and does not contain any quartz pebbles or intermixed soil typical of the recent push piles. This wall appears to be comparable to the linear stone wall features found at other stone structure sites throughout northeast Alabama, thus lending credence to the possibility that it may be of prehistoric origin.

To summarize or observations, it is apparent that the primary serpentine pavement, required planning and skill to maintain its consistent shape and size of the structure for the distance of 40 m across the stony ridgetop. However, the overall structure may be incomplete as the head appears detached from the serpentine "body" by some 18 m. The adjacent horseshoe-shaped stone feature appears to be of aboriginal construction and is probably associated with the serpentine pavement (Fig. 6). The 65 m stone wall likewise appears to be of aboriginal construction and terminates on the northern end of the site into a spiral single-stone "tail" section. Disturbances from bulldozer activity are apparent throughout the northeastern portion of the site and may include a small area of the northern end of the stone feature. For the most part, the central and southern portions of the stone structure are undisturbed by recent earth-moving activities.



The effigy is actually a low, loose rock wall/pavement running along the western edge of the summit of Skeleton Mountain (Fig. 7). Although 1Ca157 is referred to as a snake effigy, the individuals who constructed the serpentine wall may or may not have intended the structure to mimic a snake/serpent. As with the hundreds of other stone wall and mound sites scattered throughout the eastern United States, two questions are frequently posed: Who built these structures and why?


Many non-archaeologists, as well as professional archaeologists alike, believe stone piles are the result of early farmers clearing land for agricultural pursuits or settlers/farmers stockpiling rocks for use as foundations, support pilings, buildings, fireplaces, or chimneys. Also, walls are typically explained as agricultural terraces since many of these structures run parallel with slopes of ridges and mountains. Another common explanation for the stone walls is that they are property markers.

However, several archaeologists believe that in many cases the stone mounds and walls are the result of prehistoric Native American cultural activities. In particular, stone piles and walls appear to have played some type of role in Native American religion and/or socio-political activities.

In considering who may have built the snake effigy, nineteenth and twentieth-century settlers/farmers seem unlikely candidates. Granted, as they first moved into the fertile valleys of northern Alabama, rock piles and stone walls were created. As fields were cleared, roads and homes were constructed; rocks were moved and piled up. Rock walls were used to demarcate roads, gardens, and property lines. Any former road that had been paralleled by stone walls would leave several distinctive footprints on the land, and if the road was not a dirt road, there would be evidence of the roadbed in the form of gravel, chert, sand, or other crushed stones. Site 1Ca157, however, is definitely not associated with previous roads. No roadbed stones were observed. Surface boulders and cobbles lie on both sides of the pavement and all of the stones are laid directly on the ground surface creating a dense concentration of cobbles and boulders in a serpentine pattern.

The snake effigy is a 59.7 m serpentine lineal wall/pavement stretching along the stone-rubble strewn surface of Skeleton Mountain in an area that would be nearly impossible to cultivate. Most importantly, the shallow rocky soil on which the snake effigy is situated is unsuitable for growing row crops and would be nearly impossible to plow with nineteenth or early twentieth-century farming technology (Harlin and Perry, 1961).

It is frequently suggested that stone walls are constructed along steeper slopes for agricultural terraces, or in some cases erosion control. It is true that in northern Alabama, during the mid-twentieth century, agricultural terracing was a widespread practice. Terraces are simply cut in the natural slopes and graded. By the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, agricultural fields were expanding from the valley floor onto steeper slopes. Accessibility for horse or mule plowing would determine how far up the slopes from the base of Skeleton Mountain fields would extend. The much steeper slopes of 15 percent or greater would not be desirable or even possible to cultivate by traditional methods. In addition, the low population density of the area during the nineteenth century, and the lack of twentieth-century technology, would have severely limited the need or desire to venture onto the steeper, stony ridge slopes and mountain tops when the broad fertile valley below provided plenty of tillable land.

Erosion control, likewise, can be ruled out. The serpentine structure is situated on the level crest of Skeleton Mountain, not on the steep slopes of the mountain where one would expect to find erosion control walls.

Cultural activities that may have occurred in the vicinity of the site during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries would have, in all likelihood, been hunting, recreation, military exercises, and/or timber harvesting. Hunters and recreational users, who have traversed this area since the early nineteenth century and continue to this day, would have no reason to take the time and effort to construct this large serpentine structure.

With the creation of the Fort McClellan Military Reservation in the 1940s, the land in the vicinity of the site received some negative impact., During the 1940s, the slopes of Skeleton Mountain were used for military target practice. As a result, unexploded ordnance are currently scattered along the steep slope directly below the snake effigy (Ellington, personal communication, 2007). At the time UAB archaeologists recorded the site in the 1970s, they noted considerable bulldozer damage in the form of push piles in the northern portion. In addition, the military more than likely bulldozed an access road that parallels the snake effigy and runs across the summit of Skeleton Mountain 20 m east of the stone structure.

It is well documented that the steeper hillsides of the mountains and ridges of Calhoun County were cut for timber for use in the expanding villages and towns below. In the vicinity of the snake effigy, the forest is dominated by secondary growth southern and longleaf pines and hardwoods. Since timber harvesting is still a commercial activity in Calhoun County, large sections of ridges and mountain slopes are presently being clear cut. These twentieth-century loggers do not bother to clear rock from the areas they cut; they are simply interested in harvesting the trees.

Native Americans are the likely candidates for the effigy construction. Many Native Americans consider these types of structures to be part of their animatistic, spiritual/religious beliefs. The site may represent a sacred stone memorial/marker to commemorate the earth's natural wonders, deceased loved ones, or some other event that was considered special to the people who constructed them. The serpent motif is quite prevalent throughout Native American history. Snakes are frequently depicted upon Indian ceramics, shell, and other artifacts. The significance of the serpent design is discussed in detail in a report titled The Moundville Expeditions of Clarence BloomfieldMoore (Knight, 1996). Charles Faulkner discusses prehistoric and early historic serpent cave glyphs recorded in Tennessee. At Mud Glyph Cave in eastern Tennessee, a horned serpent glyph had associated radiocarbon dates that ranged from A.D. 465 to A.D. 1760 (Faulkner, 1997).

Finally, one of the strongest reasons for believing the Skeleton Mountain Snake Effigy Site, 1Ca157, and other stone structures are an integral part of the Native American belief system has recently been expressed in a resolution introduced by the United South and Eastern Tribes (USET) at the Impact Week Meeting held in February of 2007 in Arlington, Virginia. USET is comprised of 24 federally recognized tribes. Resolution No. 2007:37 states in part "whereas, whether these stone structures are massive or small, stacked, stone rows, or effigies, these prayers in stone are often mistaken by archaeologists and State Historic Preservation Officers (SHPO) as efforts of farmers clearing stones for agricultural or wall building purposes; and archaeologist and SHPOs, categorically thereafter, dismiss these structures as non-Indian and insignificant, permitting them to be the subject of sacrilege of archaeological dissection and later destruction during development projects." The resolution goes on to express the importance of "protection of these ceremonial stone landscapes and their structures with in USET ancestral territories."


Numerous similar stone wall structures have been recorded throughout the Southeast. Philip E. Smith, in his classic 1962 study Aboriginal Stone Constructions in the Southern Piedmont, describes numerous stone wall and mound sites. Some of the closest to the Skeleton Mountain snake effigy include two stone walls and a ditch at DeSoto Falls in DeKalb County. First described in 1823 by a missionary in Chattanooga, the walls enclosed a steep promontory overlooking DeSoto Falls. The arched outer wall made of loose sandstone slabs was 183 m long, and the parallel inner wall was 152 m long with a four-foot wide by one- to two-foot deep ditch built in front of it. In 1823 the walls were four feet in height (Smith, 1962).

Approximately 50 miles northeast of DeSoto Falls, on Lookout Mountain, lay several mounds and rambling walls. Smith (1962) describes the loose stone walls and 29 stone circles/rings or Confederate rifle pits at the Chattanooga-Chickamauga National Military Park overlooking Moccasin Bend of the Tennessee River. These stone features were first reported by Confederate Brigadier General E. C. Walthall in 1863. The walls and circles are situated on the steep eastern slope of Lookout Mountain. The largest wall "is constructed of loose rough stone piled to an average of three feet in height, and is a somewhat rambling affair running 126.5 m in length. All three sections of the walls appear to tie into a series of natural stone outcrops" (Smith, 1962).

Another interesting site described in some detail by Smith (1962) is the Fort Mountain State Park site in northwest Georgia. This site is situated on a saddle near the summit of Fort Mountain and consists of loose piled native stone. The wall's width varies from 1.5 to 5 m; the height ranges from 1 to 3 m, and the length is 270 m. There are several gaps in the wall, which meanders and zigzags along the saddle. The wall was first documented in 1849, and is described in great detail in 1893 by Robert Shackleton in the American Antiquarian and Oriental Journal. Shackleton stated that a few arrowheads were found inside the wall (Smith, 1962).

Smith (1962) describes a 191 m serpentine stone wall running just below the eastern crest of Sand Mountain in Catoosa County, Georgia. This wall lies in a similar topographic setting to the Skeleton Mountain structure. The main wall runs horizontally along Sand Mountain's slope, terminating at the steep bluff of the mountain. There are five additional shorter sections that appear to be an extension of the main wall. Also, another short wall runs directly down the steep bluff through a boulder-strewn portion of the mountain. Overlooking these walls on the peak of Sand Mountain are five conical stone mounds (Smith, 1962).

Smith (1962) lists 12 Kentucky stone wall sites, which were all recorded in 1932 by William S. Webb (Webb and Funkhouser, 1932, as cited by Smith, 1962). Two stone wall sites were listed in Indiana, the earliest being recorded in 1891. Smith (1962) listed six stone wall sites in Ohio, with one of them having stone mounds nearby. Most of these Ohio Valley sites were first described as early as 1848 by Squire and Davis (Smith, 1962).

The Fort Mountain State Park wall is similar to another state park site near Manchester, Tennessee, the Old Stone Fort. This site was first recorded and mapped by Squire and Davis in 1848. The stone and earthen rubble walls enclose a 40-acre hillcrest that overlooks the forks and falls of the Little and Big Duck Rivers. The longest continuous stretch of the wall runs for over 2000 feet. The walls have been radiocarbon dated from AD 230 to AD 430, during the Middle Woodland period. Two earthen conical mounds lie just outside one of the gaps or "gateways" to the wall (Faulkner, 1969).

Finally, in 1883, Charles Whittlesay described a loose stone "fortification" encircling the rocky summit atop Ladd Mountain in Bartow County, just west of Cartersville, Georgia. This irregular oval wall had six openings of 10 to 60 feet in width (Wauchope, 1966).

The majority of stone structure sites were described by or before the 1890s in states that had been settled by Americans for only 60 years or less. Native Americans in Georgia, Tennessee, and Alabama still controlled most of the native lands into the 1830s. Most of these stone structure sites are situated in places considered, at best, marginal for farming practices and, at this early date, unlikely to have been timbered or farmed by early settlers.

Archaeologists have conducted extensive research on stone structures in northeast Alabama, Tennessee, and northwest Georgia. In 1985, David Chase recorded 15 stone mound sites in the Talladega National Forest. At site 1Cy32, located near the summit of Flat Top Ridge, three stone mounds received partial excavation. One mound contained animal bone, a Late Woodland Hamilton arrow point, and a sherd of grog-tempered pottery. The second yielded a single Middle to Late Woodland Greenville hafted biface, and the third yielded no artifacts. Chase also observed an 82 m long, 3 to 6 foot wide, and 1 to 2 foot high stone wall at the site (Chase, 1985). Another stone mound complex reported by Chase in 1985 was Penitentiary Mountain in Shelby County. This stone mound complex contains triangular and rectangular stone walls enclosing 13 stone mounds and covers over three acres (Chase, 1985).

In 1985, Holstein and Little recorded several stone mound sites in northeast Alabama. One site, the Brock Mountain site, consisted of a low stone wall that enclosed a single stone mound on a high ridgetop. The stone wall measures approximately 74 m in circumference and varies from 9 cm to 52 cm high (Holstein and Little, 1985).

The JSU-ARL has been surveying portions of the rugged Talladega National Forest since 2004, and they too, have recorded 53 stone mounds and walls sites. Nineteen of these stone mound sites had associated walls (Noel et al., 2004a; Windham et al., 2005; Ridley, 2006, 2007, 2008).

Surveys conducted by the JSU-ARL during 1982, 1995, 1999, 2007, and 2008 reported 29 stone mound sites located on the Pelham Range portion of Fort McClellan, Calhoun County, Alabama. Fourteen of these sites also had stone walls in association with the mounds (Holstein et al., 1995; Ridley, 2007, 2008).

An additional 22 stone mound sites were recorded on portions of Pelham Range in 2005 and 2006. Four of these sites had stone walls in association with the stone mounds (AMEC, 2006).

During 1993 and 1994, JSU-ARL staff conducted excavations at 3 stone mound sites (lCa139, lCa470, and lCa550) previously recorded by the JSU-ARL that were located on Pelham Range. A total of eight stone mounds were partially excavated. Four mounds yielded Native American artifacts from submound context.

Site lCa139 consisted of more than 23 stone mounds and four linear stone walls situated along a westward slope overlooking Cane Creek. Four mounds were excavated yielding a single quartzite flake and a Woodland-like ovate quartz biface recovered from Mound 21 (Holstein et al., 1995).

Site lCa470 consists of a solitary stone mound situated on a ridge crest above a tributary of Cane Creek. The submound excavation yielded 25 specimens of chert debitage, one chert scraper, and one Woodland grit-tempered check-stamped pottery sherd (Holstein et al., 1995).

Site lCa550 consists of 56 stone mounds situated on a ridgetop located north of Cane Creek. Three mounds were selected for excavation. Thirteen pieces of chert debitage were recovered from Mound 7. No artifacts were found in Mound 16, but Mound 51 yielded one fragment of quartzite debitage, one piece of chert debitage, and two rifle shell casings in the upper 20 cm of the submound matrix (Holstein et al., 1995).

JSU-ARL researchers concluded, based on the Pelham Range stone mound investigation and other stone mound studies in the region, that the widespread stoneworks phenomena occurring in upland environments of northeast Alabama may best be explained as manifestations of Woodland ceremonial systems (Holstein et al., 1995).

During 2000, JSU-ARL archaeologists investigated stone mound and wall site lCal42, located along Cane Creek on Fort McClellan. The site consisted of 17 conical sandstone mounds, one "F"-shaped stone wall and two lineal stone walls paralleling portions of Cane Creek. Four of the 17 mounds were partially excavated. Other than rifle shell casings, no artifacts or submound features were observed (Little and Smith, 2000).

Investigations at site 9Un367 on United States Forest Service (USFS) property in northern Georgia has utilized new dating techniques to support prehistoric Native American populations as likely candidates for stone mound and wall construction. New South Associates of Stone Mountain, Georgia mapped and partially excavated a stonewall and stone pile at Track Rock Gap. Nearly 40 lineal stone walls and 50 stone piles straddle the slope. Within the gap lies 9Un361, a Native American petroglyph site and a natural underground steam vent. A portion of one stone pile and one wall were excavated. Upon removing a quarter of the stones from the rock pile, investigators uncovered a semicircle of rocks enclosing a dark soil fill. As the researchers screened the fill dirt, a ceramic pipe fragment, a Woodland fabric-impressed potsherd, two plain sherds, and quartz flakes were recovered. Two groundstone artifacts, a pitted cobble, and a metate were also recovered from the surrounding stone mounds. Since it was strongly believed this represented a Native American mortuary area, excavation was immediately halted (Loubser, 2002).

Only one quartz flake was recovered from the partial wall excavation at site 9Un361. However, six oxidized carbon ratio (OCR) soil samples were obtained. Five samples were recovered from within the stone wall and one sample taken from directly beneath it. The three dates from the soil within the stone matrix immediately above the original ground surface (Layer 2) ranged from AD 3 to AD 1075 while the soil directly underneath the stones was dated to AD 1101, suggesting the mound was constructed during the Late Woodland to early Mississippian time period. The researchers concluded that the mound was constructed during the Woodland time period and that Mississippian populations built the walls shortly thereafter. They also pondered a possible link between the petroglyphs, natural steam vent, and stone mounds and walls at 9Un367 (Loubser, 2002). Based on similar stone mound complex data from other stone wall sites, JSU-ARL researchers agree there is a relationship and also include the Track Rock Gap into the mix. The following descriptions of additional stone structure sites support this assumption.

Two other northeast Alabama stone structure sites are of interest to this study: the Shelton Stone Mound Complex and the Morton Hill Stone Wall Complex. In 2006, the JSU-ARL conducted investigations at the Shelton Stone Mound Complex, 1Ca637, which straddles the eastern slope of Choccolocco Mountain overlooking Whites Gap in eastern Calhoun County. The majority of the stone mound complex is located on personal property, with a portion extending into adjacent USFS property. The site, at present, consists of 79 stone conical mounds, one horseshoe-shaped mound, 31 lineal stone walls, one serpent-like stone wall, one Z-shaped stone wall with natural boulder feature, one V-shaped stone wall, and one oval boulder configuration. The entire stone structure complex straddles a natural amphitheater halfway up Whites Gap on Choccolocco Mountain. Mountain gaps, as well as other natural landscape features, in all likelihood would have been considered sacred areas to Native Americans. Further to the south of Shelton Stone Mound Complex, the Morton Hill Stone Wall Complex overlooks Bains Gap of Choccolocco Mountain (Holstein, 2007).

The Morton Hill Stone Wall Complex, lCa67l is situated on the crest of Choccolocco Mountain, just north of the Skeleton Mountain snake effigy. In 2006, JSU archaeologists were informed of stone walls running along the steep summit of Morton Hill just south of Bains Gap. The walls range between 0.5 m to 1 m in height and width. The length of the walls is the most significant factor about this site. JSU-ARL researchers estimate there are, at a minimum, one to two miles of walls crisscrossing the summit. Along the steep (25%) eastern slope, a series of parallel walls runs along the contour lines of a natural amphitheater-like basin. These walls overlook two springheads near the base of the basin. One springhead is presently dry, and the other is flowing. A small, low (less than 50 cm) stone wall runs perpendicular to the slope connecting the higher dry spring to the lower wet one.

Another wet weather springhead is situated on the summit at the northern end of the site. This springhead is situated on a bench-like formation that comprises the most level portion of the summit. Several walls parallel the western edge of this flat area, and one stone wall curves sharply from the top edge down over the steep western slope. Another wall runs for approximately 61 m straight along the level top then turns 90 degrees eastward down a gentle slope and then terminating 9 m from the springhead pool. Six meters from the pool, a short, low wall runs north/south paralleling the pool and springhead. Several of the walls in the western flat area contain rock mounds or bulges within the stone walls and/ or at the ends of the walls.

Finally, a few other general observations of the Morton Hill Stone Wall Complex include the fact that many walls either terminate at, or incorporate, natural boulder outcrops. On the summit directly above the natural amphitheater parallel wall, three lineal parallel walls run east/west across the top of the summit while another wall of the southern edge of the amphitheater curves sharply from the eastern crest edge and winds its way up a gentle boulder/cobble strewn knoll terminating at the second highest point of the Morton Hill summit. The entire site is estimated to cover over 10 acres of the north and south slope of Morton Hill.

The Stone Serpent Mound, 15Bd6, of Boyd County, Kentucky is in many ways similar to the Skeleton Mountain snake effigy. The Stone Serpent Mound is located along the edge of a ridgetop overlooking a steep side slope, which in turn overlooks the Big Sandy River. Both effigies have meandering low walls that are constructed from locally available sandstone (15Bd6) or limestone (lCal57) cobbles with little soil matrix and are less than a meter in height. The Boyd County snake is longer at 191 m and wider (2 to 11 m) than the Skeleton Mountain snake. In 1988, the Boyd County snake effigy was mapped, photographed, and partially excavated. No cultural materials were recovered, but based on comparative regional stone structure data, the researchers believed the snake had been constructed by prehistoric Woodland populations (Sanders, 1991).

Several other serpentine stone walls have been documented throughout the Eastern United States. In Warren County, Ohio, two serpent effigy mounds were recorded along the floodplain of the Little Miami River: Kern Effigy I (33Wa372) and Kern Effigy II (33Wa373). No artifacts were recovered from either structure. Kern Effigy I was approximately 27 m long by 1.5 m wide, and Kern Effigy II was approximately 47 m long by 1.8 m wide. Two radiocarbon dates were obtained from subsurface testing of Kern Effigy I of AD 1185 and AD 1420, placing them both in the Late Woodland (Fort Ancient) time period.


In 2007, JSU staff and volunteers began the investigation of the Skeleton Mountain Snake Effigy, lCal57. This serpentine stone pavement and several other associated stone features were mapped in detail and photographed. It was apparent that the stone structures required a considerable amount of labor to construct and that the serpentine pathway was well planned in order to maintain its relatively uniform size. It also appears the effigy may not have been totally finished by its builders, since the probable "head" is somewhat detached from the serpentine "body". Based on comparable data from other prehistoric stone wall sites in the Southeast, and ethnographic data documenting the importance of the serpent symbolism in Native American art and mythology, ARL researchers believe prehistoric peoples constructed this stone structure sometime during the Woodland or early Mississippian time periods. Likewise, they believe a small horseshoe-shaped structure, a linear stone wall, and the detached head were constructed by the same prehistoric populations. Also noted was a considerable amount of recent historic disturbance in the site's northern section.

Additional investigative steps should be undertaken to better understand the purpose and the time period of construction for site 1Ca157. A more extensive Phase I survey should be conducted in the vicinity of the site. Adjacent ridgetops should also be surveyed for stone features. It is possible additional stone mound/wall sites might emerge from nearby ridgetops possessing similar terrain. The next step would include limited subsurface testing on, and adjacent to, the serpentine pathway, horseshoe-shaped structure, and linear wall features. These excavations would be designed to recover any archaeological data that would aid in identifying who constructed the structures, why, and when. OCR soil samples would be acquired from the interface at the base of the structures and the underlying surface. This dating method, coupled with any radiocarbon dates acquired, would provide the temporal answer as to when these structures were built.


This research would not have been possible without the financial help from the Joint Powers Authority of McClellan, Alabama and several other individuals. The following Calhoun County residents volunteered their time and effort in initial fieldwork of this project: the Reverend Monty Clendenin, Richard Haynie, Gary Lawson, and Tim Moon. Valerie Glesner assisted in organizing, editing, and typing the initial manuscript, and Sean Williamon assisted with the photographs and maps. Also, the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service Longleaf Pine Preserve manager, Steve Miller, graciously allowed the field crews access to the site and provided aerial photographs of the Snake Effigy. Finally, much thanks to Robert Perry and Matthew Grunewald who provided and operated the total station for mapping the site.


AMEC Earth and Environmental. 2006. Integrated Cultural Resources Management Plan 2001-2006 and Environmental Assessment. In support of The Alabama Army National Guard and Activities at the Fort McClellan Army National Guard Training Center.

Chase, David W. 1985. An Archaeological Investigation of Stone Mound Site lCy32, Talladega National Forest. United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Faulkner, Charles H. 1969. Comments on the Copena Point and Its Distribution. In Bettye J. Broyles [ed.] Proceedings of the Twenty-Fifth Southeastern Archaeological Conference, pp. 53- 55. Bulletin 9. Southeastern Archaeological Conference, Morgantown, West Virginia.

Faulkner, Charles H. 1997. Four Thousand Years of Native American Cave Art in the Southern Appalachians. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December.

Harlin, William V. and E.A. Perry. 1961. Soil Survey of Calhoun County, Alabama. United States Department of Agriculture, Washington D.C.

Holstein, Harry O. 2007. Preliminary Investigations at the Shelton Stone Mound Complex, 1CA637, Calhoun County, Alabama. Archaeological Research Laboratory Series Number 3, Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama.

Holstein, Harry O. and Keith J. Little. 1985. Preliminary Investigations into Stone Mound Complexes in Northeast Alabama. Journal of Alabama Archaeology 31 (2): 101-110.

Holstein, Harry O., Curtis E. Hill, and Keith J. Little. 1995. Archaeological Investigations of Stone Mounds on the Fort McClellan Military Reservation Calhoun County, Alabama. Report submitted to the United States Department of Defense Legacy Resource Management Program, Directorate of Environment, Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Kehoe, Alice B. 1992. North American Indians, A Comprehensive Account. Second Edition. Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Knight, James V. 1996. The Moundville Expeditions of Clarence Bloomfield Moore. The University of Alabama Press, Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

Little, Keith J. and Patrick Smith. 2000. Archaeological Phase II Testing at Twelve Sites on the Fort McClellan Military Reservation Calhoun County, Alabama. Report submitted to the U.S. Army Chemical and Military Police Centers and Fort McClellan, Fort McClellan, Alabama.

Loubser, J. H. 2002. The Archaeological Testing of Stone Features at 9Un367. New South Associates Technical Report 1040.

McEachern, Michael, Nancy Boice, David C. Hurst, and C. Roger Nance. 1980. Statistical Evaluation and Predictive Study of the Cultural Resources at Fort McClellan, Alabama. University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Noel, John M., Hunter B. Johnson, Marcus S. Ridley, Amy Eberhart, and Kevin Harrelson.

2004a. A Phase I Archaeological Investigation of Areas Within the Shoal Creek and Talladega Ranger Districts of the Talladega National Forest. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Noel, John M., Marcus S. Ridley, Chuck Burns, Josh Cordle, Jeff Patterson, and Kevin Harrelson. 2004b. A Phase I Archaeological Investigation of the Proposed Pinhoti Trail Extension within the Talladega Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. and Rebecca Turley Ridley. 2006a. An Archaeological Phase I Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units within the Wiregrass II Timber Sale of the Talladega Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. and Rebecca Turley Ridley. 2006b. An Archaeological Phase 1 Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units, SPB Spots, and Fire Lines for the Wiregrass I Timber Sale within the Talladega Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest Situated in Talladega, Clay, and Cleburne Counties. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. 2007a. An Archaeological Phase I Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units for the Good Hope, Deliverable E-1, Timber Sale within the Talladega Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest, Situated in Clay County, Alabama. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. 2007b. A Phase I Cultural Resource Investigation of Selected Southern Pine Beetle Infestations within the Talladega Division of the Talladega National Forest in Clay and Talladega Counties, Alabama for Fiscal Year 2007. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. 2008a. An Archaeological Phase I Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units for the Gold Mine Timber Sale Situated in Compartments 79 and 80 of the Talladega Ranger District within the Talladega National Forest in Cleburne County, Alabama. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. 2008b. An Archaeological Phase I Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units within the Bee Gum Timber Sale in Compartments 277, 278, 282, 283, and 291 for the Talladega Ranger District within the Talladega National Forest in Clay and Talladega Counties, Alabama. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Marcus S. 2008c. An Archaeological phase I Cultural Resource Survey of Selected EIS Units within the Horn Valley Timber Sale in Compartments 254, 260, 263, 270, and 280 for the Talladega Ranger District within the Talladega National Forest in Clay and Talladega Counties, Alabama. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Ridley, Rebecca Turley. 2007. A Phase I Cultural Resources Survey of 1,495 Acres in Training Areas 2B, 7B, 22B, 22C, and 22D at Pelham Range Located in Calhoun County, Alabama. Volume I, Final Report in Support of the Ft. McClellan Army National Guard Training Centers. Report submitted to Engineering & Environment, Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Ridley, Rebecca Turley. 2008. A Phase I Cultural Resources Survey of 433 Acres in Training Areas 10A, 10B, and 24C at Pelham Range Located in Calhoun County, Alabama. Final Report in Support of the Ft. McClellan Army National Guard Training Center. Report submitted to Engineering & Environment, Inc., Virginia Beach, Virginia.

Sanders, Sara L. 1991. The Stone Serpent Mound of Boyd County, Kentucky: An Investigation of a Stone Effigy Structure. Midcontinental Journal of Archaeology, Vol. 16, No. 2, Kent State University Press.

Smith, Phillip E. 1962. Aboriginal Stone Construction in the Southern Piedmont. In Archaeological Salvage in the Morgan Falls Basin and Aboriginal Stone Construction in the Southern Piedmont. Laboratory of Archaeology Series, Report 4. University of Georgia, Athens.

United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. 2007. USET Resolution No. 2007:037. Electronidocument,, accessed November 2007. Nashville, Tennessee.

Wauchope, Robert. 1966. Archaeological Survey of Northern Georgia with a Test of Some Cultural Hypothesis. Memoir 21. Society for American Archaeology, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Webb, William S., and William D. Funkhouser. 1932. Archaeological Survey of Kentucky. University of Kentucky Reports in Archaeology and Anthropology Vol. 2.

Windham, R. Jeannine, Marcus S. Ridley, Rebecca Turley Ridley, Hunter Johnson, JeffPatterson, Josh Cordle, Chuck Burns, and John Noel. 2005. A Phase I Archaeological Survey of the Taylor's Mill Timber Sale in Compartments 228, 237, 238, 251, 255, 256, 257, and 294 on the Talladega Ranger District of the Talladega National Forest. Report submitted to the United States Forest Service, Montgomery, Alabama.

Harry O. Holstein

Department of Physical and Earth Sciences

Jacksonville State University

Jacksonville, AL 36265

Correspondence: Harry O. Holstein (
Gale Copyright:
Copyright 2009 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.