Big Horn

Of much more recent vintage, the Big Horn Medicine Wheel is located in Wyoming's Big Horn mountains, at close to the 3000 m level. At present, the site is inaccessible in winter months, and its remoteness has saved it until recently from despoiling vandalism. A branch of a tree found in the central cairn has been dated by the tree ring method to ~1760 a.d. The site has been discussed at length by Eddy (1974, 1977a,b, 1978a, 1979).

From the layout (Figure 6.39c), the number of spokes is 28, suggestive of a sidereal month calendar device and of Indian Sun lodges with their 28 rafters and central pole. There is a flattened ring of small stones distributed at an approximate distance of about 7 m from the central cairn, which is much less prominent than that at Majorville. The central cairn is the oldest part of the site. The circle and spokes were added later. Some archeological evidence suggests use of the site into the 19th century. Five outlying cairns are found just outside the ring, and one is found just inside. The Southwestern cairn is farthest away from the ring and linked to it and to the central cairn by a spoke. John Eddy (1974) recognized the possible astronomical importance of the site and argued that it was designed to emphasize the summer solstice both by solar and stellar alignments. A line across this outlier through the central cairn, along the spoke points to the summer solstice rise part of the horizon. A line drawn through from the southeastern outlier through the central cairn points also to the summer sunset point. The northwestern "outlier," which alone stands inside the ring, suggests stellar alignments. A line to the NNE outlier points, with a modest precessional correction, to the rise point of Aldebaran; through the eastern outlier, a line points to Rigel, b Orionis; finally, a line through the central cairn points to Sirius. The alignment date to give the appropriate precession correction is ~1700 ± ~200y, in agreement with the archeological evidence for the time of use of the site. The only cairn not used in these alignments was found by Jack Robinson to mark the heliacal rise of Fomalhaut about a month before the summer solstice between a.d. 1050 and 1450, earlier than the other evidence would suggest.

The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is a central feature of an area that has been considered sacred by many American Indian tribes. According to Tribal Elders (Price 1994, p. 260), this area has always been a neutral ceremonial area for all tribes, even during times of warfare. The continuing sacred-ness of the site has created conflict with the Forest Service, who have used the area for a multitude of economic purposes and with tourists who wish to see this interesting site (see Price 1994 for a full discussion). The sacred status of the area has recently been recognized, and some provision has been made to protect the site from damage that tourists often cause, whether due to carelessness or vandalism.

Vogt emphasizes that the particular stars in alleged use at Moose Mountain and Big Horn are not found as important markers at other sites and that there is no ethnoastronomi-cal evidence for the importance of the alignments. However, our knowledge of ethnoastronomy is not so great that the absence of references should be considered a strong argument. Vogt (1993) also suggests the possibility that alignment targets are more likely to have been asterisms than individual stars, which would substantially reduce precision.

Figure 6.40. The Minton Turtle effigy in south-central Saskatchewan: The principal alignment from the tail to the head would have coincided with the helical rising of Sirius at summer solstice at ~2300 b.c. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.
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