The Southwest

General works on the archaeoastronomy of the southwest are Malville and Putnam (1989) and Carlson and Judge (1987). In the southwestern United States, rituals, plantings and many daily activities are set, even today, in an astronomical framework, marked by the movements of the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. Myths incorporating the movements of the heavenly bodies are still told in varying forms among the Pueblo groups, the Navahos, and other southwestern tribes. Sand paintings depict constellations as well as the Sun and Moon. Rock art in most of the area seems to incorporate astronomical information.

Boma Johnson (1996 private communication to DHK) has established three major points about many rock art areas:

(1) They were sacred areas to which pilgrimages were made and where people from different groups could meet safely even if they were normally enemies;

(2) They acted as junction points for trails, some of which Johnson has mapped, which often extended for great distances; and

(3) The symbol system used at such sites was comparable to and interpreted in similar ways among people who were widely separated, often with different languages and substantially different cultures.

For these reasons, symbols cross-cut tribal boundaries and conventional culture areas defined by archeologists and ethnographers. Moreover, there is continuity through time. These sites are still sacred to many today, and much can be learned about their interpretation by scholars who have some degree of acceptance by local Amerind groups.

From the Owens Valley in California to the Oklahoma panhandle to the east and Baja California to the south, the play of light and shadow was used to delimit the seasons and to determine the timing of festivals and rituals. Moreover, kinship groups were associated with asterisms and with calendrical divisions among the Yumans, the Papagos, and at least some of the plains Siouans. Preston and Preston (1987) in an examination of petroglyph sites from selected areas in Arizona found 18 Anasazi sites and one Hohokam site that showed obvious examples of "light daggers" striking designs at solstices and equinoxes (and occasionally at other times of year, particularly about 45 days before and after December solstice). In the 19 sites, there were 58 examples of solar markers. At three sites, there were markers for both solstices, equinoxes, and the 45 days before or after winter solstice all on a single rock face. Preston and Preston point out (ff. McCluskey 1977) that the Hopi Wuwuchim ceremony was marked by horizon observations 45 days before the winter solstice. They also found a number of sites at which the observer was apparently supposed to look from the petroglyph to a horizon marker. In many of these sites, this petroglyph was an eye within a circle or spiral. Hoskin-son (1996, personal communication to DHK) has seen more than 30 sites where shaped shadows are cast on carved rock panels. These shadows hit significant designs, sometimes features designed as asterisms at solstices, equinoxes, and cross-quarter days. Over 10 sites are known where light enters a cave or shines on a particular design when the surroundings are darkened. Shadow casters varied from massive cliff edges or overhangs to tiny slivers of otherwise unnoticeable rock perched precariously amid many others. Although the objective of rock art has been specified by some of the most knowledgable individuals as making visible the inherent spirit of the rock, there are occasional sites where large pillars were moved into position to serve as gnomons or as shaped shadow casters at a particular date.

Architectural alignments, spiral markers for positions of Sun and Moon, representations of the supernova of 1054, constellation drawings and depictions of heavenly supernaturals have all been claimed for this area with varying degrees of certainty. Astronomically interesting is the play of light and darkness relative to two spirals at Fajada Butte in Chaco Canyon, studied by Anna Sofaer and her colleagues (Sofaer et al. 1979a,b, 1982, 1986a; Sofaer and Sinclair 1987). Here at midday of the summer solstice, a dagger of light bisects the larger of two spirals. At the winter solstice, this spiral is framed by a line of light on each side. Finally, at the equinoxes, the smaller spiral is bisected by a light dagger. Such a combination of the play of light and shadow with symbols is far more convincing than are simple alignments without symbolic associations. It is also striking to find that a shadow cast by the Moon bisects the larger spiral at the northernmost position of the Moon in its 19-year cycle (see §2.3.5). However, as Carlson (1987) points out, the equinox and solstice alignments (which he accepts) fully determine the placement and size of the spirals; hence, the lunar alignment is unlikely to be intended. However, lunar interests are not unlikely.

Malville, Eddy, and Ambruster (1991) have shown that the Chacoan pueblo at Chimney Rock, Arizona, was associated with a full Moon at winter solstice (within the limits with which that could have been determined), which was also a northern standstill of the moon. They cite ethnographic evidence from Hopi and Zuni for the importance of lunar observations at winter solstice; at Zuni, the calendar was regulated by the relationship of full Moon and winter solstice. They also cite a Pueblo account of White Shell Woman (Moon) persuading the Sun to return north at winter solstice.

The tree-ring date for the initial construction of the site was 1076 a.d., and there was important renovation in 1093 a.d. There had been a solar eclipse (partial at Chimney Rock, total elsewhere in the southwest) on 7 March 1076. The full Moon rose between the Chimneys on 13 December 1076 (winter solstice occurred on 14 December 1076) and on 14 December 1095 (with winter solstice on 15/16 December 1095), both times at a northern standstill.

It has been suggested by Sofaer that the complexity of the patterns at Fajada Butte is such that the slabs may have been moved to their present positions. Although it is possible that there may have been some minimal adjusting of the slabs, the geology suggests that the slabs are very close to the position in which they broke away from their parent formation. The slabs have recently undergone slight shifting. The discovery of the Fajada Butte petroglyphs has led to widespread recognition of similar phenomena elsewhere in the Southwest.

Near Holly House, in Hovenweep National Monument, a petroglyph panel shows spirals, Sun symbols, and a depiction of a large serpent with a horn or feather on its head (Williamson, p. 94). A "streak" of light cuts across the left-hand spiral about 45 minutes after local sunrise on midsummer's day. Shortly thereafter, a second streak bisects the right-hand spiral and the two move toward each other, eventually creating a band of light across the entire panel. The use of the Anasazi triple concentric circle as a symbol for the Sun with the spirals helps to demonstrate that these spirals are, indeed, from the Anasazi group. Because nearby Anasazi structures at both Chaco Canyon and Hovenweep show astronomical alignments, it is reasonable to associate both petroglyph panels with the Anasazi.

The presence of the Feathered (?) Serpent at Hovenweep in association with summer solstice light markers suggests that some sort of planetary period of Mercury or Venus would be associated with the summer solstice at the contemporary date of the petroglyph panel. It seems to be widely accepted that the cult of the Feathered Serpent in the southwest is derived from Mesoamerica. In the Mayan area, at Chichen Itza, we see several representations of the Sun god, apparently personifying the Mayan people, standing opposite the Feathered Serpent (Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl) accompanied by the Cloud Serpent (Mixcoatl), representing the invaders from the central Mexican highlands. In the great plaza of the city stands the Castillo or Temple of Kukulcan—a four-sided "pyramid" with stairways on each side of probably 91 steps each.1 The solar connotation of these 364 or 365 steps is emphasized by the orientation to the cardinal points (different from the orientation of most other buildings at the site) and the remarkable light phenomena produced at the equinoxes by the giant serpents who align the stairways. The sinuous bodies of the serpents seem to writhe down the steps, as awe-inspiring a spectacle today as when the temple was first constructed.2 Kelley (1980) has argued that the original Feathered Serpent of Mesoamerica (see §12.6) was identified with Mercury, but possibly already by Toltec times, this deity seems to have been identified with Venus. At the great Ballcourt to the northwest, scenes show the decapitated leader of one of the ball-teams, blood pouring out of his neck in the shape of snakes. The mural of the lower Temple of the Jaguars on the back of the ball court shows the Toltec ruler, Quetzalcoatl, wearing the full regalia of a ball player, with a ball in front of him, and a figure of a ruler in a Sun disk above—a scene of real rulers playing a game to replicate that of celestial bodies. The opposition of the Sun and Feathered Serpent, dramatized at Chichen Itza in so many different ways, continued to be enacted far to the north at Zuni, to at least the end of the last century, when it was recorded. The cult of the Feathered Serpent presumably appeared in the southwest with an astronomical identity either as Mercury or as Venus, which does not seem to have survived in any very clear form. The opposition to the Sun god may also be associated with the identification of the Sun, particularly at summer solstice, with the flaming red macaw. The cult associated with the latter seems to have been of considerable importance. At Casas Grandes, in Chihuahua, Di Peso (1974) discovered macaw breeding pens, and from this region, macaws were distributed widely in the Southwest. Hargrave (1970) found records of the discovery of the mummified bodies of macaws in southwestern sites, and the study of the age of macaws at death indicated a normal age of 111/2 months, which strongly suggests that they were sacrificed in connection with ceremonies at the spring equinox. When these complex ideas reached the Southwest and how well the accompanying astronomy was understood are problems that need much more study.

At a number of sites in western North America, pic-tographs or petroglyphs show a crescent with a large star-

1 The restoration of the structure is incomplete, and there is a possibility of error in the restoration so that it is by no means impossible that one of the stairways had 92 steps.

2 See §12.23 for further description and discussion of this site.

Figure 13.1. A rock cut overhang in Chaco Canyon, in the Four Corners area of the U.S. southwest, shows pictographs that may signify the outburst of the 1054 supernova: The artist would have needed a ladder to access and work on the overhang. Alternatively, a rope ladder suspended from above could have been used. Photo courtesy of Professor T.A. Clark.

Figure 13.1. A rock cut overhang in Chaco Canyon, in the Four Corners area of the U.S. southwest, shows pictographs that may signify the outburst of the 1054 supernova: The artist would have needed a ladder to access and work on the overhang. Alternatively, a rope ladder suspended from above could have been used. Photo courtesy of Professor T.A. Clark.

like depiction. In some cases, the three concentric circles of the Anasazi Sun sign are nearby, It has been suggested that these may represent the crescent Moon within a couple of degrees of the Crab supernova (see §5.8.2) at the time of its greatest brilliance on the morning of July 5,1054 a.d. Figure 13.1 shows the high roof of the overhang at Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, where a set of reddish-brown depictions is seen. Brandt et al. (1975) note that in absolute terms, the star lies to the south of the crescent and the lunar cusps point westward, but if the hand represents the Sun, there is approximate agreement in the relative placement of the Moon, Sun, and star elements (see Figure 5.20a for the Red Shift simulation of the scene in the sky at 4:40 a.m.). In addition, both the depiction nature of the Chaco Canyon pic-tographs and, more recently, the date of the event have been questioned.

At the Chaco Canyon site, a hand is shown with the other elements. On the basis of later Pueblo beliefs, it is held that the hand marks the site as sacred, but that is little help in this context, and possibly irrelevant. Among the Yuman tribes, Hand is a constellation used as a month marker. Florence Hawley Ellis (1975) summarizes the ethnographic data and concludes that the hand symbols as well as crescents and star symbols are all characteristic of Sun- and Moon-watching stations in the southwest. This carefully argued discussion throws some doubt on the supernova depiction interpretation of the Chaco Canyon and other area pictographs.

On the other hand, a Mimbres pot, from a culture that was flourishing at the time of the 1054 supernova, shows a lunar crescent in the shape of a rabbit (less realistically lunar than other examples). Next to it is a much smaller "sunlike" symbol with 23 rays. Chinese records of the supernova indicate that it was visible for 23 days. This numerical correspondence supports the view that the pot recorded the 1054 supernova.

Table 13.1. Apparent site-to-site alignments in the Chaco area.a

Site 1

Site 2

Azimuth lineb

Astronomical alignments?'

New Alto

Pueblo Alto

0 0

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