Star Cities I have heard the Four Corner archeoastronomy sites called. I suppose that's a good way to look at these prehistoric locales where the Ancestral Puebloans, like all other star-gazing people on the planet, first looked to the sky for direction about their respective temporal home: Earth.
So begins, yet ends, the special series on archeoastronomy, and what some of you might even say is everything you always wanted to know about the subject. . .or not.
Still, the foundation of this broad and engaging subject, as presented in the original Chaco Canyon diary series, merely touched upon a very complicated narrative that also left many questions unanswered. But not the kind of unanswered question the composer Charles Ives presented in his 20th Century composition some of you might want to play while reading what follows: http://youtu.be/...
Given what follows, let us remain in the present, and this time think about the stupendous achievements of a so-called primitive society––primitive, yes, but only in a relative sense. In my view, anyone who could gaze at the stars, observe the cycles of Nature, follow sun beams tracking across precisely engraved or painted images on rocks, indeed, build dwellings that were perfectly aligned to the sun or moon. . .these are truly advanced people.
That being said we are about to learn other interests and aspects of these prehistoric star gazers and infer what such events meant relative to their cosmology and temporal beliefs. For instance, these kind of observations. . .
(Continues after the fold.)
An Honored And Exclusive Tradition: Concerning what we know about the cosmology of the Ancestral Puebloans, much can be learned from their practices and the eternal to temporal calendar they diligently contrived and followed. Our own Gregorian calendar has benefited from the foundation it built that also was based upon previous foundations of similar thought. Sadly, the chronometer in its various forms rules our technological society today, just as the gulf between our awareness of the lunar and solar cycles is leading Western man to lose the notion of natural cyclical time and its important relationship with space. While the solar year has a strong influence on plants and animals, this peculiar and guiding force does not fully explain the scope of their behavior. Nor does it aid our own self-discovery. Understanding how the physics of space and time intertwine with biology, specifically the aforementioned biological time factor, which also includes our own lives. All this natural guidance has been lost over the eons.
In more recent years, both professionals and laymen, as well as native tribal people have turned to archeoastronomy for answers. Specifically, the knowledge that entails solstices and equinoxes. This science is one means we may look back in time at ancient cultures that had increased their knowledge and advanced their societies in many ways. Being in touch with the cosmos is what gave them the power of prognosis to some degree. At Chaco, the alignment of its many dwellings, both solar and lunar, had something to do with their well-ordered minds, indeed, the reason they built this great complex where they did.
This landmark might as well be considered the most significant in Chaco Canyon:
And so the question so many people ask about Fajada Butte and its connection, indeed, a special correlation, with Chaco Canyon's building and layout, states the obvious: Would Chaco Canyon's settlement be the special place it is if Fajada Butte was not its most notable landmark? Moreover, those three large slabs of stone leaning against the southeastern-facing cliff near its summit, and the world famous Sun Dagger twin spiral petroglyphs, would also be sorely missing in the picture. Why else build the many structures in Chaco Canyon's periphery without the guiding light and shadow markings that elevate the twin spirals to the penultimate of all prehistoric markings? There are also two other sites on the butte that are located not too far below the Sun Dagger glyphs. These five distinctive glyphs are also marked by visually engaging patterns of shadow and light movement across their pecked surfaces. These people came here with a vision, perhaps a plan that was fostered by a priest or shaman that may also have been guided here by a dream or some other means. One must therefore infer Chaco, the setting, was task-specific in its planned purpose and studies of the arrival of both solstices and equinoxes. Not only was the sun followed and scrutinized, but also the moon's18- to 19-year cycle, the so-called lunar minor standstill (see below for more details) just as the moon rises, and at its other extreme marking precisely 9.5 years later comes the lunar major standstill (see below for more details).
Here's yet another question that begs the first: What if those slabs and spirals were never found? Would cultural scientists know the reason why people came to this naked and distant desert landscape in present-day northwest New Mexico? The discoverer, Anna Sofaer, made such a fantastic discovery in 1977. It was also she who first recorded the passing light and shadows across the celebrated twin spirals. That was on her second visit and the dagger of light that bisecting one of the spiral she observed marked the summer solstice.
Everything that these people did revolved around this butte and the science of prediction, including the specific solar or lunar alignment of most dwellings entailed in Chaco Canyon's ceremonial purpose for this particular cultural group of Ancestral Puebloans.
Having Faith In The Reading Of The Stars: For us today the question can be asked how much importance is placed on the stars other than those who believe in the strangeness of astrology? Singling out one of those bright lights in the dark sky, one might also ask how important is the sun––chiefly, our sun? We know that it makes life on earth possible. Its relative size, distance from the earth, intensity, stability, gravity and our own orbit and rotational axis about it equally combines to create ideal conditions for life on this blue planet. It’s likely that in our universe only an infinitesimally small fraction among the billions or trillions of solar systems have planets that aren’t hostile environments. We simply need to put the importance of the sun into proper perspective.
Starting at the bottom of the food chain for the sake of an illustration, plants grow by way of the process of photosynthesis. Tiny insects and other invertebrates feed on these plants as well as decaying matter. Simply put: everything eats everything. I mean, ultimately. Birds, amphibians and fish feed on these small animals, and so it goes further up the food chain. Animals tend to give birth during seasons when food is most plentiful (both for survival of their offspring and/or their own recovery). Understanding the timing of specific temperatures (seasons) over the course of a solar calendar helps us determine the correct time to plant crops, predict the rising of rivers and more.
Exacting Predictions: Depending on the shift of the calendar, the winter solstice occurs on December 21 or 22 each year in the northern hemisphere (and June 20 or 21 in the southern hemisphere). The summer solstice occurs on June 21 or 21 in the northern hemisphere (and December 21 or 22 in the southern hemisphere). At these dates, the sun changes little in declination from one day to the next. Indeed, it appears to remain in one place north or south of the celestial equator. To predict a solstice the way the Ancestors did required astute observations over time. However, considering the more technical aspects of such prediction, it’s amazing these people were able to do what they did using primitive means.
The Fundamental Importance Of The Solstice: Why was there such interest in knowing when the longest day of the year arrived, which defines the summer solstice, and the converse, shortest day, the winter solstice? Apart from the obvious, meaning the days are longer during the advent of the summer solstice, the temperature is warmer, and continues to get hotter over the next few months, the sun is also higher in the sky. Hence, the sun's rays are more vertical which provides more direct sunlight and less atmospheric cooling. The opposite is true around the winter solstice. We can only assume the science of such prediction was manifest in the two extremes of each solstice. We can also assume the solstice, like the equinoxes, or even lunar predictions, held special importance for practical society benefits (i.e., when to hunt or plant or find game or gather edible plants, and so on). For those other cultural and global societies that depended on fish for part (or all) of their sustenance, knowing when the fish are on the move or else laying still in the water is apparently noteworthy. For the Ancestral Puebloans, however, this was not the case. Obviously! Nevertheless, other factors relating to hunting, lighting, and when game were on the move was equally important. Everything else relating to the change of seasons was important in the sense of social praxis. We also learn from their successors how there was religious relevance to these changing seasons, thereby entwining the practical with the religious.
Predicting the equinoxes also entail two other important factors for the Ancestral Puebloans (and naturally the same goes for all people invested in such predictive and natural means). At both times, the sun’s position during the day and night are equal in length in all parts of the planet. For instance, the vernal equinox marks the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere. The days succeeding this seasonal change therefore lengthen (in amount of daylight time) a little more each day until the longest day at the summer solstice. From that point the days begin to shorten. Yet the days are longer than the nights until the autumnal equinox, after which nights become longer than the days. These passing days also continue losing daylight until the shortest day of the year at the winter solstice.
Other Predictive Capabilities: Without having the technical ability to gauge either the solar equinoxes or solstices these ancient sky watchers, may also have charted the positions of the stars to keep their place in time (practiced by Mesopotamians, Babylonians and Greeks among other civilizations). Thus stars expressed a utility beyond their scintillating effect upon the senses. These heavenly bodies also appear to move in regular routines at predictable times of the year, and we assume the Ancestors took note of this. (The same goes for planets.) Like the brightest star in the night sky, Sirius, was to the ancient Egyptians (see below for more detail), Polaris, the North Star, likely held sway over the minds of the Ancestral Puebloans:
Although the naming of star constellations doesn't come until many centuries later, it is nonetheless likely these people knew the changing geography of stars above their heads, at least the more prominent outlines, and the same with the routine of visiting planetary objects in the relative closer view of the cosmos.
In any given quadrant there are more than one thousand bright to brighter stars plainly visible to the naked eye, although some are obviously brighter than others (which account for the five thousand or so stars that are somewhere in the stellar neighborhood of our solar system). Stars that are clustered and grouped in formations also tend to be more noticeable. Again, we can only assume these ancient and adroit sky watchers with their math oriented minds must have noticed these aspects relating to the routine of the heavens that they observed. This knowledge also relates to the broader subject of archaeoastronomy, which, again, correlates with a prediction of the solstice and equinox events. Many fables handed down to the Ancestral Puebloan successors entail such elaborate stories, some cosmological, others terrestrial, which is, perhaps, the most tangible way of our discerning the prehistoric and historic mindsets.
Expressing The Order Of The Universe: Today, we have empirical evidence that supports the hypothesis that religious motifs undergo changes, which are still preserved in Puebloan traditions. Thus also preserving their past. For example, the role of the Kachinas in Hopi society. The Kachina cult is noted from at least 1325 and some scholars still question whether this cult was part of the indigenous religion of the Hopis, or imported from the Aztecs during the time of the prolonged drought of the late Thirteenth Century. However, many see the cult as coming from Mexico.
Always remember: Hopi kachina dolls are not toys! They are religious emissaries to the Hopis and must always be considered sacred icons.
The import of kachinas serve as moral models to the Hopis, generating a motif of living in the correct way. There are hundreds of these icons relegated as supernatural spirits and who have a positive natural and spiritual influence on the Hopis. For instance, one tribal way of knowing this is whether the people are blessed with rain and a good crop yield. Moreover, the elders of the tribe are given access to greater powers by the Kachinas to help bless the entire world and keep it in balance. Non-Hopis however, should they have access to the same powers, would lead to, what the Hopis call, Koyaanisqatsi, meaning a life out of balance. Ultimately, such a misguided way of life ends in the destruction of this, the "Fourth World" (according to Hopi belief).
Nature’s Tracking Time And The Role Of Archaeoastronomy: To the Puebloans, as well as the Ancestral Puebloans, Nature plays an integral role in their traditions, as does cosmology. From the Hopi’s “Prayer from the Summer Solstice Celebration” we glean something about how they think and pray which represents, in part, a similar insight held by all Puebloans. This significant prayer, in part, is as follows:
Nature’s means of tracking ‘time’ is in cycles. Consider noting the full moon, the new moon, the solstices, and the equinoxes on your calendar and feel these as ‘clocks’ as well––each one containing energies to serve the earth’s transition points in the year.
Spring Equinox is New Year’s Day! With other’s, bring your ‘resolutions’ and what you wish to ‘seed’ beside the seeding already occurring in the earth.
Summer Solstice is LIGHT! Renew, release, enhance. Celebration! Counting visible blessings. What is ready to release into the light? What in the physical world of yourself and earth do you wish to enhance.
Autumn Equinox––Harvesting; beginning of an inward pull; readying for new cycles (like seeds); opportunity to feel imbalances and rebalance with self, other and earth.
Winter Solstice––Stillness. Darkness. Purification. Time to surrender to the shadow and invite purification in warmth of fire, friends and faith. It represents the death aspect of rebirth––without it rebirth cannot happen. What can you see more clearly in the dark of night?
Transition points in the month (from this same prayer):
New Moon––it’s like a mini-spring equinox and winter solstice. Energies are more inward and offer opportunity to both reflect and seed? What do you want to grow into its fullness.
Full Moon––it’s like summer solstice and fall equinox. Energies are external. Gratitude. Fertility, harvest, celebration as well as readying to reseed as in fall.
Notice that in all the equinoxes, solstices, and the full and new moons there is both death-ing and birthing energies present––death-ing means the origin of creation. One without the other means growth cannot occur. How are these energies in balance and at one in you at each phase of the cycle?
On this note, here is one of my favorite Hopi prayers that has always meant something special to me, as it is to the Hopis. I trust the import of this prayer will be equally meaningful for the DKos community:
Miscellaneous: Archeological evidence illustrates how humans viewed the cosmos (their differences and similarities), seeking answers to some of their questions or else address specific concerns. These skywatchers followed noted cycles of lighted points in the sky: the sun, moon, stars and some of the more visible planets. Such celestial bodies signified power, perhaps even afforded some comfort, in helping people prognosticate events. For example, after a seventy-day absence from the night sky during the summer solstice, the appearance of the aforementioned Sirius is associated with annual spring flooding. Known as the Dog Star (reflecting its prominence in the constellation, Canis Major), Egyptians based their calendar on its heliacal rising the day it becomes visible. This anticipated event is just before sunrise after moving far enough away from the glare of the sun.
Yet this notable celestial observation for the Egyptians is not viewed in the same way by other cultures. For instance, ancient Greeks held that Sirius’ appearance heralded a hot and dry summer change of weather. Thus, and instead of forecasting flooding, its bright beacon of light signaled debilitating effects on plants and humans (wilting of plants and men weaken while women become aroused). Here in America we traditionally consider Sirius as a stellar icon representing the famed dog days of summer which is neither favorable nor unfavorable. It’s merely a customary attitude. Meanwhile, from the heavens one might discern the woof-woof barking from this notable iconic star:
From this example it’s evident how select planets or stars have governed the seasons for different civilizations throughout recorded history. Indeed, celestial bodies have always affected social attitudes, sometimes good and sometimes bad. Closer to our planetary home earth’s companion moon affects the oceans and creates the ebb and flow of tides. Those ancient civilizations that observed the night sky on a year-round basis learned what to look for, each civilization finding something pertinent to their culture and religious mindset. But it wasn’t just the four acclaimed annual events (the solstices and equinoxes) throughout the year that got their attention. The sun and moon held sway over these people for other reasons, for these were the primary and localized governing bodies that made their cosmology work. In short, the life process for prehistoric people was directly tied to the cosmos. Remarkably, lunar calendars were as predictive as solar light. For some cultures, the dark and light periods of the moon had everything to do with the wellbeing of these ancient societies, or else the exact opposite. It was a complex and localized cosmology that first had to be worked out over time. The changing lunar light was thus carefully noted as though the people read a yes or a no regarding hunting and fishing, even plotting their next migrations to time their arrival with other life forms these people depended on for game.
This testimony brings to mind one of the world’s most famous archeological ruins and its relationship to astronomy, particularly archaeoastronomy, Chaco Canyon. Not only are its major ruins precisely aligned to solar observations, but also the outlier dwellings were based on precise lunar calculations. This makes this special locale the only major archeological site in the Southwest that observes both solar and lunar calculations, and possibly the only site of its kind on the planet.
Well, it's time for me to get to my own time and prepare something else for the Dkos community. . .another diary. . .another theme that I hope will be interesting and informative. Meanwhile, here's a few parting photographs about this intriguing subject that I thought was worth a trinity of diaries to explain.
See this weekend for another virtual tour. . .this time we're heading west off the Colorado Plateau and will explore THE greatest big valley of them all. Can you guess where this destination is?
As always, your thoughtful commentaries are welcomed.
Okay, Scotty. . .beam me up!
Postscript: Although I seldom do any direct quoting in these makeshift missives that I'm posting (extrapolated from larger works of my own compositions), I feel it is only right to list some of the sources that have influenced my research and rethinking about relevant subject matter. Indeed, in most of these sources I have found a wealth of added sources in their respective bibliographies, which, by the way, as a former academician (degreed in Western and Eastern Philosophy) the path to the Ph.D level always follows recommendations from learned others. This is why I particularly pay close attention to this part of any writer's works, for in same is found added verification to the author's authenticity. I just thought I'd mention this news just because. . .
Penprase, Bryan E: The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilizations
Kelley, David: Exploring Ancient Skies: A Survey of Ancient and Cultural Astronomy
Malville, McKim: A Guide to Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest
Aveni, Anthony: Archaeoastronomy in the New World
Krupp, E.C.: In Search of Ancient Astronomies
Childs, Craig: House of Rain
Fiona, Vincent: Lunar Standstills (What's in the Sky?)
Recommended lunar standstill sites:
Recommended archeoastronomy sites: