26842The Role of Astronomy and Mythology in Native American Culture !
- Sep 30, 2013
Before the age of global positioning systems or compasses, people looked to the stars to find their way. And before civilizations knew what stars were, people formed their own beliefs about their significance. In North America, indigenous tribes had differing ideas about what the stars meant, some believing that the night sky had spiritual meaning, and some attributing human-like qualities to the twinkling objects.
Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people of the past understood the stars and the sky, however this broadly applies to all ancient cultures. The Mayans, Celts, and Egyptians alike all had their own methods for tracking the movement of the stars and heavenly bodies, but all of these cultures have the common belief that the phenomenon above their heads was somehow larger and greater than they were. As such, the vast majority of ancient cultures associated the origins of everything, including the sky, moon, sun and earth with some form of mythology related to the stars. Astronomy played in an important role in early Native American cultures, serving as the basis for governance, agricultural practices and more. And studying the stars also caused tribes to theorize about the beginning of life in the universe.
Appeal to the Great Spirit by the John Drescher Co, 1921.
This image available for photographic prints HERE!
The Pawnee’s guiding principles
The Skidi band of the Pawnee Indians referred to a ring of stars in the sky as “The Council of Chiefs.” The Pawnee believed the circle represented their governance style of elders holding council to resolve important matters. This constellation was paramount to the way the Pawnee interacted daily as well as their religious beliefs. They used the stars to set agricultural patterns and embody their own societal values. The Council of Chiefs was connected to their “Chief Star,” what is now referred to as Polaris, which represented their primary god Tirawahat. They built their lodges with openings at the top – not only to allow smoke to escape from warming fires inside, but to allow a clear view of the “Council” stars. Today, those stars are known as the Corona Borealis.
In New Mexico, researchers found a cave painting that appears to depict a supernova explosion; the orientation of a crescent moon and stars indicate that the art may represent the Crab Nebula, formed in 1054 A.D. by supernova. The Anasazi way of life remains somewhat of a mystery, but researchers found that the tribe built a solar observatory, suggesting that the sky was extremely important to the Anasazi way of life.
Navajo Creation of the Sky
A Navajo legend describes the Four Worlds that had no sun and the Fifth World, which represents Earth. According to the legend, the first people of the Fifth World were given four lights but were dissatisfied with the amount of light they had on Earth. After many attempts to satisfy the people, the First Woman created the sun to bring warmth and light to the land, and the moon to provide coolness and moisture. These were crafted from quartz, and, when there were bits of quartz that were left behind by the carving, they were tossed into the sky to make stars.
Hopi Blue Star
Like the Navajo, the Hopi believe there were worlds before this one. The modern era is believed to be the Fourth World, and each world that came before this one ended with the appearance of “the blue star.” In carvings created by the Hopi in the American Southwest, it seems what they saw may have led them to a belief in aliens, a belief that certainly retains a place in the culture of the U.S. to this day.
The divisions between Native American cultures were not unlike the divisions between the societies of today, so few myths extend beyond a single tribe. With the same sky overhead, ancient myths from around the world do share much in common. The History & Culture channel of the Chickasaw TV website features the tribe’s myths about Creation and the Great Flood, two stories repeated again and again throughout most cultures of the world, proving that, even when the world seemed impossibly large, many people were not far from each other, in terms of what they believed under the night sky.============
A Brief Introduction to Archaeoastronomyhttp://terpconnect.umd.edu/~tlaloc/archastro/cfaar_as.html
The study of the astronomical practices, celestial lore, mythologies, religions and world-views of all ancient cultures we call archaeoastronomy. We like to describe archaeoastronomy, in essence, as the "anthropology of astronomy", to distinguish it from the "history of astronomy".
You may already know that many of the great monuments and ceremonial constructions of early civilizations were astronomically aligned. The accurate cardinal orientation of the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt or the Venus alignment of the magnificent Maya Palace of the Governor at Uxmal in Yucatan are outstanding examples. We learn much about the development of science and cosmological thought from the study of both the ancient astronomies and surviving indigenous traditions around the world.
With its roots in the Stonehenge discoveries of the 1960s, archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy (the study of contemporary native astronomies) have blossomed into active interdisciplinary fields that are providing new perspectives for the history of our species' interaction with the cosmos.
One hallmark of the new research is active cooperation between professionals and amateurs from many backgrounds and cultures. The benefit of this cooperation has been that archaeoastronomy has expanded to include the interrelated interests in ancient and native calendar systems, concepts of time and space, mathematics, counting systems and geometry, surveying and navigational techniques as well as geomancy and the origins of urban planning. We feel the excitement of the synergy that results when the new syntheses are more than the sum of their parts.
Our subject is essentially a study of the Anthropology of Astronomy and world-views and the role of astronomy and astronomers in their cultures.
More Resources on Archaeoastronomy from our Editors
- Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News is a large, online archive of our essays and editorials on archaeoastronomy, ethnoastronomy, and the history of science.
- Publications of the Center for Archaeoastronomy is a starting point for exploring print materials available from the Center, including our journal, ARCHAEOASTRONOMY: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture, and special books.
- Clive Ruggles' Archaeology Resource is a great site for lessons, links, and hundreds of images relating to archaeoastronomy.
- Stephen McCluskey's web site contains sample syllabi of his courses in archaeoastronomy and history.
- An interview with former Journal Editor Dr. David Dearborn.
Lists of Archaeoastronomy Links from outside sources
- Archaeoastronomy, Ancient Astronomy and Ethnoastronomy Links A huge list of related links from Wolfgang Dick.
- The Archaeology Network has lists of archaeology websites around the web.
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