Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sky Messages - Part II: The Anasazi Sky

When the very earliest human stood up and looked up, astronomy was born.  

The Sun and Moon dominated that earliest science because of their obvious regular presence. In fact those celestial  rhythms actually were critical life events not just for humans but for all life on the planet. So, we should consider that astronomy is actually, an outgrowth from an innate dependence upon and awareness of solar and lunar cycles and events.

As we know from archaeological records and cultural histories it did not take long for humankind to look beyond the Sun and Moon. Regardless, the Sun and Moon remained the dominant celestial objects upon which both spiritual and cultural practices were derived.

It is not, therefore, a surprise that those ancient ones already had a well developed concept of astronomy.  This concept includes both culturally infused and derived practices and beliefs regarding the Earth and its relationship with celestial bodies.   Debra Davis points out from her website, the Woman Astronomer that:
"Native American Indians, from many tribes, have a legacy deeply rooted in the Sun. There were the Anasazi Sun watchers, the Priest of the Sun in the Zuni , and in Hopi villages, solar observations were made by the head of the society responsible for upcoming ceremonies to determine the date for rituals."

Ray Williamson, a professional astronomer and professor, expresses a similar observation in his book, "Living the Sky: The Cosmos of the American Indian" in which he states:
"Native Americans...connections to the rhythms of the cosmos were both strong and visibly evident."

In all of this, I try to place myself in the context of those times. Frustratingly, I really can't. My mind is too cluttered by ages of passed on interpretations by those before me.  I suspect that the same thing confronted early man as individuals were torn between their own reactions and the explanations of their spiritual leaders.  Regardless, science prospered, albeit slowly, but still prosperously.  In this regard, a significant example is the alignment processes practiced not just by early Southwestern cultures, but throughout the ages across the world's early cultures.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic expositions about the alignment practices used by all the ancient cultures that settled the Southwest is archaeologist James Jacobs web site report on what he has labeled the Chaco Meridian.  I cite this as the first example because Chaco Canyon includes the most extensive and in many respects the most advanced area settled by the Anasazi. It is also at this site where there is an abundance of evidence of the ancient one's construction and use of astronomical observation sites.

Professional astronomer J. McKim Malville in his book: "Prehistoric Astronomy In The Southwest" talks about the "dome in the sky" and the use by the Anasazi and many other ancient cultures of the "gnomon" which is a straight stick placed upright in the ground so that its shadow serves as a marker for determining true North, South, East and West points of the compass.  As the link above defines, the gnomon is now a scientific instrument. Well, it was that too when early human cultures used it to help create their calendars and other seasonal and spiritual markers. What is astounding is the amazing exchange of these techniques across global areas, time lines, and cultures.  Discovery in this sense more closely resembles operative intuition and that is truly exciting.

I will stop at this point with the promise that in Part III of Sky Messages we will look further into early examples of archaeoastronomy.  Following that, there will be ongoing articles on this subject along with other topics in the overall blog.  Part III will also include an extensive reading list and links on archaeoastronomy.  Please continue to follow along.

Image from:  "Traditions of the Sun" a joint project of NASA, University of CA, NPS and several others.

ANASAZI DREAMS (c)2009 Waddell Robey  All individual copyrights apply.

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