Dick’s Ridge serpentine stone wall

Submitted by Tommy Hudson (myrockart@yahoo.com)

About twenty years ago I heard of a “serpent” that had been constructed out of stone on Dick’s Ridge in northwest Georgia. Last year a local informant, Wade Gilbert, led me to not one but three such stone constructions in the same area. The third and largest that was shown to me is the subject of this report.

Dick’s Ridge crosses northwest Georgia in a south to north direction for approximately 30 miles and parallels Taylors Ridge. The few gaps in the ridges are how people have traditionally crossed these ridges in historic times and by inference prehistoric times. Indian trails and pioneer roads have been transformed into modern highways in the last few decades. All three of these stone walls are located near the most prominent gaps in the ridges.

serpentine_wall_sketch

Figure 1. Sketch of Dick’s Ridge Serpentine Wall.

The Dick’s Ridge stone wall runs parallel to the top of the ridge for approximately 300 feet (Figure 1). It is constructed of local stone ranging in size from 3 inches (fist size) to over 36 inches (washing machine size) in diameter. The stone is a limey sandstone, the same as is found in the surface exposures of bedrock on the ridge. There is very little tumbled down loose stone on the slopes indicating that the core wall is largely intact. At the southern end of the wall it makes a sharp turn and the end of the wall points to the east. The last 15-foot section of the wall is carefully stacked so that the wall maintains a close to level plane as it drops off the slope. This gives the end a thicker and taller appearance or possibly the intention is for this end of the wall to be the “head” of the serpent. Interesting stuff.

Moving northward along the wall there are sections that are only one or two layers of stone in height that connect and incorporate the existing exposed bedrock into the wall construction (Figure 2). Walls that incorporate bedrock and boulders are a recurring theme in the Southeast. In my opinion this also demonstrates that the wall was not used as a defensive barrier in conventional warfare. I have to say it would be hard to load a rifle or notch an arrow while lying on one’s side next to a 12 inch high wall. An embrasure or inset located near the center of the length of the wall could make the argument that this is a defensive structure except for the fact that it is inset on the wrong side of the wall (Figure 3). Similarly, much of the wall is not located at the optimum crest of the ridge so that defenders would be exposed to multidirectional fire. Some of the large stones used in the construction of the wall have been shimmed to bring them into a level plane (Figure 4). Why shim a rock that would have to be moved by several people to its final location in the wall and then picked up again to add a 2-inch shim? Other stones in the wall are obviously out of plane and that did not stop the stacking of more stones onto them. Why bother with this technique only in certain locations?

The north end of the wall terminates near an obviously looted circular stone mound (Figure 5). (I say “circular” but one must keep in mind that many of these type constructions appear circular at first glance but may have other shapes.) The mound proper is approximately 8 feet in diameter after deducting the loose stones around the mound that may have been removed from the center of the pile. The height of the soil in and around the edge of the mound gives the indication that the mound may have originally been composed of soil and rock. It is not unusual for stone mounds in northwest Georgia to be constructed in this way. There are stones located in the center of the mound that are standing edge up and form what may be a rectangular box grave about 2 √ó 3 feet in size. This rectangle is on an eastwest axis. Stones at the center of the box have been displaced but not removed. The subsoil at the stone-soil interface may be intact. A proper quarter excavation of the mound beginning at the center and extending beyond the edge of the pile into undisturbed residual soils would yield a comparative profile. I hope that sometime in the future qualified persons may do this.

Dick’s Ridge is one of the best examples of serpentine walls in north Georgia and as usual, the examination of the wall raises more questions than answers. It would come as no surprise to those who know me that I would view the wall in the context of the tri-level cosmos that was the basis of all Native American belief systems. With that in mind I would ask the following:

  • 1 – Are these types of walls defensive in terms of a serpent guarding the gap and/or the summit?
  • 2 – Is the serpent emerging from the stone mound? A lower world creature entering the middle world to access the upper world?
  • 3 – Is this an underworld serpent located on a middle world ridge guarding the access to a transition point on the sacred landscape such as the gap or an upper world staging area such as the nearby summit? Is it both?
  • 4 – Are the various stone pile and wall complexes in the Southeast illustrations of serpents emerging from the underworld through stone mounds?
  • 5 – Is the serpent emerging from the boulders and bedrock that are incorporated into its construction or do the boulders and bedrock demonstrate that the serpent’s origins are from the underworld. Or both?
  • 6 – Did Woodland and early Mississippian societies move their belief system staging locations from mountains to mounds? Mounds, after all, are meant to be mountains.
  • 7 – Were mountain locations a diminished property at some point in favor of more controlled and publicly visible mound-plaza sacred areas? Mississippian mound-plaza configurations are also typically located in high yield agricultural areas.

Questions 6 and 7 may not appear to be germane at this time, but I believe that future research will prove otherwise. Dick’s Ridge is one of a dozen similar sites in north Georgia, and all of them have a purpose, which makes for interesting research.