Forsyth Petroglyph Reveals Comet Impact?

Forsyth Petroglyph from Georgia
Is this petroglyph from Forsyth County, Georgia a star map and does it record a comet impact event in 536 AD?

The “sculptured rock from Forsyth County, Georgia” is a petroglyph that currently sits in front of Baldwin Hall at the University of Georgia in Athens, Georgia.  It was moved there in the late 1990s from its location next to the President’s Building.[i] It was originally located in north Georgia and was “found near Mt. Tabor Baptist Church in the Northwestern part of Forsyth County.”[ii] It was first described in White’s Statistics of Georgia in 1849:

 “On the road from Canton to Dahlonega, 10 miles northwest from Cumming, is a very remarkable rock. It is an unhewn mass of granite, eight and a half feet long, and two and a half feet wide. It is three-sided, with irregular converging points, upon which are characters, seventeen of them varying in shape. The largest circles are eight inches in diameter. From its appearance, it must have been wrought at a very remote period. The designs are very irregular, and it is probable that they were executed by the same race of people who constructed the mounds in this and other sections of the State. What the characters on this rock mean, the oldest inhabitants cannot tell. The oldest Indians could give no account of it.”[iii]

It was next mentioned twenty-four years later in the book Antiquities of the Southern Indians, Particularly of the Georgia Tribes by Charles C. Jones, Jr. originally published in 1873. Jones referred to the petroglyph as the “Sculptured Rock from Forsyth County, Georgia.” I will refer to this petroglyph as the Forsyth Petroglyph throughout this paper for brevity’s sake. In his book Jones states:

“In Forsyth County, Georgia, is a carved or incised bowlder of fine-grained granite, about nine feet long, four feet six inches high, and three feet broad at its widest point. The figures are cut in the bowlder from one-half to three-quarters of an inch deep….As yet no interpretation of these figures has been offered, nor is it known by whom or for what purpose they were made. It is generally believed, however, that they are the work of the Cherokees. On the eastern end of the bowlder, running vertically, is a line of dots, like drill-holes, eighteen in number, connected by an incised line.”[iv]

It was next mentioned in an 1888 Smithsonian Bureau of Ethnology Report entitled “Picture-writing of the American Indians.” This report noted that “the characters in it are chiefly circles, including plain, nucleated, and concentric, sometimes two or more being joined by straight lines, forming what is now known as the ‘spectacle shaped’ figure.”[v]

View of the Forsyth petroglyph at the University of Georgia
View of the Forsyth petroglyph at the University of Georgia. (Courtesy Flickr)

The report goes on to compare the petroglyph to so-called cup-and-ring sculptures around the world, especially in the Middle East, British Isles and India, which have supposed astronomical interpretations.  Sir James Simpson who developed a classification system for these types of petroglyphs notes that “occasionally four or five or more of [these symbols] are placed in more or less regular groups, exhibiting a constellation-like arrangement.”[vi] In Palestine and Jordan similar designs are said to be “reasonably suggestive of the sun, moon, and stars.”[vii] In India these designs are “correlated with the worship of Mahadeo, one of the many names given to Siva, the third god of the Hindu triad, whose emblem is the serpent.”[viii]

The Forsyth petroglyph was next mentioned in 1950 in an article by Margarett Perryman entitled “Hunting Petroglyphs in North Georgia” in the second issue of Early Georgia, the journal of The Society for Georgia Archaeology. [ix] In this article she notes:

Photo from Perryman’s 1950 article about the Forsyth Petroglyph.

“My general reading on North American Indians naturally included, Antiquites of the Southern Indians, by Charles C. Jones, Jr., and it was there I found the first reference to rock writings in Georgia. One of the stones he described and pictured was said to be in Forsyth County. So at long last it became possible for me to actually examine a genuine Georgia petroglyph.

But finding even that well documented stone was not so easy. It took a good bit of detective work and much pussy-footing around the Public Library to find out in what section of Forsyth County the stone was located.

The first hunt was ready to start but we had to make some rather careful plans, for these were the days of gasoline rationing. We had to do a lot of round about town walking and weaning of the car to save up enough gas coupons to make the first expedition up into Forsyth County.

The favorable day finally arrived and after losing our way innumerable times on the backwoods roads, some miles west of Silver City, we were able to locate the stone. There on the wayside of a little dusty country road was my first Georgia petroglyph. Totally neglected and forgotten and practically obscured from sight by brambles and looking somewhat like a fat grey granite whale, was the most beautiful carved stone I ever saw. The elements had been kind to the stone, for most of the symbols were still discernible, although grey-green lichens had grown into most of the markings.

On that Sunday afternoon this petroglyph was given a most thorough examination. Our fingers traced every concentric circle until they were roughened and grimy. We admired the perfect symmetry which the ancient stonecarver had achieved in his well proportioned designs. We marveled how every symbol had been carved with such precision and how deeply cut. We counted the little nut size holes that were spaced so neatly and carefully down the entire backbone of the rock.

Luck was with us that day for the owner of the land on which the stone lay was our guide and companion. He valued his ‘old Indian rock’ very much and he was quite elated to have us admire his prize possession. His name was Mr. Corn and I shall never forget his genuine friendliness and his twinkling eyes as he told us exciting tales about the old stone.

He told us how folks had come in the dead of night and dug under and about the stone in quest of the forty pony loads of pure Indian gold; how many a brawny copper colored lad had skulked about the stone at dusk to study the inscriptions; how old and bearded tramps with tattered treasure maps had appeared in the evening mists and disappeared after much pacing around the stone; of the quaint old men that appeared often with weird treasure finding gadgets to prod and poke the ground about the stone; of the vandals that attempted to dynamite the stone, believing it to be hollow and hoping to find the treasure inside; of the law suits and land fights that had taken place in years gone by.

Mr. Corn gave us the information that there were other rock writings on his farm and was interested in showing them to us that day. But night was falling fast, so we promised that we would be back soon and bring our camera and take photographs of all his stones.

Alas and alack! Well laid plans often go astray and it was many months before we could get back to Forsyth County with our camera equipment and then Mr. Corn was gone.

The new owner of the land was considerate enough to let us take photographs of the petroglyph and he grudgingly consented to let us search for the stonecarvers ancient cutting tool. The only thing he was interested in was seeing that we did not get the treasure for our own.

He knew absolutely nothing about there being other carved stones in the vicinity. But he did show us a large purposely shaped, obviously imported piece of rock with a rather recent and crudely carved letter N on its top side. He claimed that this rock was the key that would unlock the whereabouts of the, ‘hundred pony loads of Indian gold,’ and he knew exactly where it was buried almost…

After getting home and developing our pictures we compared them with the drawing of the stone as shown in Jones book. The shape of the stone was identical, measurements agreed, but the symbols as shown in our photographs would not match those of Jones. Some of the symbols were alike but placement of them was entirely different and we found many symbols that Jones had not shown.

Then the question arose had Jones actually seen this stone? Or had he seen it and waited until a much later date before he drew the picture from memory? Or had he acquired the drawing from some other person who had been careless? Or had symbols been cut at a later dater after Jones had examined the stone? Apparently here was just another one of the baffling mysteries that always seem to pester and torment a petroglyph hunter.”

Later in this article Perryman compared the Forsyth petroglyph to the Track Rock petroglyphs and noted:

“The Forsyth County stone and the stones in Union County have symbols totally dissimilar, the rocks are of a different geological nature, the topographical placement of the petroglyphs varies, and it appears to me that the two stones were carved for somewhat different purposes. But there is one important feature that is almost identical; the fact that both have nut size holes carved upon them of a similar diameter and depth.”

Perryman standing behind the Forsyth petroglyph in situ. Apparently some of the carvings have been chalked to show up more clearly in the photograph.

When I first discovered the illustration of this petroglyph in Jones’ Antiquities, I immediately assigned it an astronomical interpretion based purely on its appearance, not yet having read the Smithsonian report. I stated in 2004 on my website that at first glance it appeared to be a star map.[x] This is the first known attempt at interpreting the Forsyth Petroglyph.

The Hypothesis

To the above potential interpretation, I add the proposal that designs on the Forsyth Petroglyph include astronomical representations of stars, the constellation Draco, the Pleiades asterism or constellation Scorpius, a comet, and meteors or comet fragments.

Two Georgia pottery traditions, Weeden Island and Swift Creek, have designs similar to those that appear on the Forsyth Petroglyph and have been interpreted as astronomical symbols. David Allison has argued that astronomical phenomena are portrayed on “sacred” Weeden Island pottery including “constellations, the Milky Way, the annual movements of the sun and moon, solar equinoxes and solstices, and the paths of the planets Venus and Mercury as ‘morning stars.’”[xi]

Frankie Snow has argued that some of the motifs found on Swift Creek pottery are astronomical in nature. He suggests that concentric circles and circles with a central dot (nucleated circles) are motifs that represent the sun.[xii]

Both the Weeden Island and Swift Creek pottery traditions coexisted in Georgia between 20 BC and 805 AD.[xiii] Since similar motifs are found on the Forsyth Petroglyph, it likely dates from the same time period although no tests have been done to prove this. Other researchers have suggested it is “roughly contemporary to… dated ceramics [from] AD 700 to 1400 (i.e., Late Woodland Swift Creek and Middle Mississippian Savannah.)”[xiv]

Analysis and Interpretation of the Forsyth Petroglyph

Possible interpretations of the symbols on the Forsyth Petroglyph
Fig. 1: Possible interpretations of the symbols on the Forsyth Petroglyph

The most numerous features on the Forsyth Petroglyph are a series of concentric circles and nucleated circles (circles with central circles/dots) known in petroglyph studies as cup-and-ring[xv] designs and elsewhere as circumpuncts or circled dots[xvi]. Most of the circles on the Forsyth Petroglyph are nucleated although a few of the smaller circles are not.

Detail of Forsyth Petroglyph
Figure 2: Side by side comparison of a detail from the line drawing with photo of same section on the actual rock Note: The circles on the actual petroglyph are closer together than the drawing conveys. Also, line drawing doesn’t accurately reflect thickness of circles.

David Allison found two sets of concentric circles on C.B. Moore’s Vessel No. 17  from the “Mound Near The Warrior River, Taylor County. Mound B.” and proposed they were solar symbols. On the same vessel Allison also found circles with central dots and proposed a solar interpretation for them as well.

Frankie Snow found concentric circles with central dots on several Swift Creek pots. He interpreted these as solar symbols based on known historic accounts of Native Americans using similar symbols to represent the sun.

Another view of the Forsyth Petroglyph.
Another view of the Forsyth petroglyph located at the University of Georgia library. (Courtesy Flickr)

So far we have established that concentric circles and nucleated circles (circumpuncts) may have astronomical associations as symbols for our day star, the sun. Is it possible that Native Americans also used concentric circles to represent night stars? Due to the multiple instances of concentric circles and their scattered arrangement on the Forsyth Petroglyph it is doubtful that each and every one of them represents the sun. I propose that in this particular case, based on their quantity, arrangement and context (i.e., the other design elements that surround them), they represent stars in the night sky. Evidence below will further support this contention. (For further proof that ancients used concentric circles with central dot as a symbol for stars, see the ancient Sumerian image “Kudurru of King Melishipak.”)[xvii] [Continues…]

Fort Mountain Stone Wall (400 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
Above: Watch an excerpt about Fort Mountain from the Lost Worlds: Georgia DVD.   Buy today or make a donation and help support All sales help fund future videos and exhibits. For more videos visit our YouTube channel, LostWorldsTV.

Rock Eagle and Rock Hawk were not the only stone structures built during the Woodland period. Other stone structures can be found in north Georgia but this time they are not in the form of bird effigy mounds. Instead they are mysterious stone walls built atop several mountain peaks. Several of these walls, sometimes circular in design, existed throughout north Georgia including atop Stone Mountain, Alec Mountain, Ladd’s Mountain and others but many were demolished for road fill. A few of these walls still remain including at the top of Fort Mountain. The mountain derives its name from the stone structure which was originally believed to be a Native American fortification.

The structure varies in height from 3 to 10 feet though averages around four feet. It measures from 4.5 feet wide at its narrowest point to 16 feet at its widest point. It has an east-west orientation and extends for about 928 feet near the summit of Fort Mountain. There are four breaks in the wall as it zigzags between the 2750-2760 foot elevation level. It is thought that these breaks in the wall’s structure are recent additions added by European colonists and explorers. There are also between 19 – 29 pits in the wall which are also believed to have been added by looters searching for artifacts within the wall.

ancient stone wall atop Fort MountainThe wall is constructed of stones from the surrounding summit area of the mountain. [View Gallery] Though most of the stones are small or medium sized requiring no more than one or two individuals to lift them into place, a few large boulders weighing several tons are also part of the wall particularly on the eastern end. These boulders appear to have already been in place from natural rock falls and the Native American builders simply located the wall in such a way as to incorporate them into its structure. In some instances the wall seems to detour specifically to take advantage of these natural features.

Zoom in to view the Fort Mountain stone wall.

The wall is believed to have been built around 400 A.D. and to have had a ceremonial function since it lacks certain characteristics necessary for defensive purposes. First, the wall is so low in spots that people inside the wall would be completely exposed to danger from without. Second, there is no source of water within the wall to sustain its inhabitants during an extensive siege. Third, the wall fails to take advantage of strategic contours of the mountain slope and in some instances actually changes course and makes persons behind the wall more susceptible to hostile actions from persons outside the wall. For these reasons it is doubtful the wall was ever a true fort.


The New World’s Oldest Calendar

They were excavating at Buena Vista, an ancient settlement in the foothills of the Andes an hour’s drive north of Lima, Peru. A dozen archaeology students hauled rocks out of a sunken temple and lobbed them to each other in a human chain. Suddenly, Bernardino Ojeda, a Peruvian archaeologist, called for the students to stop. He had spotted bits of tan rope poking out of the rubble in the temple’s central room. Ojeda handed his protégés small paintbrushes and showed them how to whisk away centuries of dirt. From the sickeningly sweet odor, he suspected that the rope wasn’t the only thing buried beneath the rocks: most likely, it was wrapped around a corpse.

“Burials here have a distinctive smell,” says Neil Duncan, an anthropologist at the University of Missouri, “even after 4,000 years.”

The crew spent the rest of the day uncovering the remains, those of a woman in her late 40s, her body mummified by the dry desert climate. Two intertwined ropes, one of braided llama wool and the other of twisted cotton, bound her straw shroud, bundling the skeleton in the fetal position typical of ancient Peruvian burials. Nearby, the researchers found a metal pendant that they believe she wore.

The mummy—the only complete set of human remains yet recovered from Buena Vista—may play a role in a crucial debate about the origin of civilization in Peru. The excavation’s leader, Robert Benfer, also of the University of Missouri, is analyzing bones from the site for signs of what people ate or the sort of work they did. He hopes the analyses will shed light on a controversial theory: that these ancient Peruvians established a complex, sedentary society relying not just on agriculture—long viewed as the catalyst for the first permanent settlements worldwide—but also on fishing. If so, Benfer says, “Peru is the only exception to how civilizations developed 4,000 to 5,000 years ago.”

As it happens, one of his liveliest foils in this debate is Neil Duncan, his collaborator and Missouri colleague. Both agree that some farming and some fishing took place here. But the two disagree about how important each was to the ancient Peruvians’ diet and way of life. Duncan says these people must have grown many plants for food, given evidence that they also grew cotton (for fishing nets) and gourds (for floats). Benfer counters that a few useful plants do not an agriculturalist make: “Only when plants become a prominent part of your diet do you become a farmer.”

Benfer and his team began excavating at Buena Vista in 2002. Two years later they uncovered the site’s most notable feature, a ceremonial temple complex about 55 feet long. At the heart of the temple was an offering chamber about six feet deep and six feet wide. It was brimming with layers of partially burned grass; pieces of squash, guava and another native fruit called lucuma; guinea pig; a few mussel shells; and scraps of cotton fabric—all capped by river rocks. Carbon-dated burned twigs from the pit suggest the temple was completed more than 4,200 years ago. It was used until about 3,500 years ago, when these occupants apparently abandoned the settlement.

A few weeks before the end of the excavation season, the archaeologists cleared away rocks from an entrance to the temple and found themselves staring at a mural. It was staring back. A catlike eye was the first thing they saw, and when they exposed the rest of the mural they found that the eye belonged to a fox nestled inside the womb of a llama.

Within days, Duncan spied a prominent rock on a ridge to the east. It lined up with the center of the offering chamber, midway between its front and back openings. The rock appeared to have been shaped into the profile of a face and placed on the ridge. It occurred to Benfer that the temple may have been built to track the movements of the sun and stars.

Read the whole story here:

In Peru, scientists discover the oldest solar observatory in the Americas

As archaeologists evaluate whether an ancient temple in Buena Vista, Peru, functioned as a calendar, a different research team is preserving the remains of an unusually elaborate astronomical complex just north, in Chankillo. This solar observatory is considered the oldest in the Americas, dating back to the 4th century B.C., and it offers unique physical evidence that a sun cult inhabited Peru at least 1,500 years before the Incas.

“We have references that Incas practiced solar observation, but none of those sites have been preserved,” says the site’s lead archaeologist Ivan Ghezzi of Yale University and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. “We don’t have a single one of this complexity.”

Though Spanish chroniclers described “sun pillars” used by the Incas to mark specific solar events, the physical remains of these pillars—likely destroyed during 16th-century anti-idolatry campaigns—have not been found. Archaeologists have uncovered the base of two pillars on an island in nearby Lake Titicaca, but the observatories in Chankillo appear more sophisticated than any of these Incan structures, says Ghezzi, who published his findings along with coauthor Clive Ruggles of the University of Leicester, in Science last month.

The Chankillo observatory consists of a row of 13 towers that precisely tracked solar movement throughout the year. When viewed from two main observation points, the sun would have reached one end of the tower line at the winter solstice and the other end at the summer solstice. The regularly spaced gaps between each tower could have been used to divide the year into even shorter intervals of 10 to 12 days.

Read the full story here:

Ancient Rock Art Depicts Exploding Star

By Ker Than
Staff Writer,

A rock carving discovered in Arizona might depict an ancient star explosion
seen by Native Americans a thousand years ago, scientists announced today.

If confirmed, the rock carving, or “petroglyph” would be the only known
record in the Americas of the well-known supernova of the year 1006.

The carving was discovered in White Tanks Regional Park just outside
Phoenix, in an area believed to have been occupied by a group of Native
Americans called the Hohokam from about 500 to 1100 A.D.

The finding is being announced today at the 208th meeting of the American
Astronomical Society in Calgary, Canada.

Full story here:

Celestial Find at Ancient Andes Site

The discovery in Peru of a 4,200-year-old temple and observatory
pushes back estimates of the rise of an advanced culture in the

By Thomas H. Maugh II
Times Staff Writer

May 14, 2006

Archeologists working high in the Peruvian Andes have discovered the
oldest known celestial observatory in the Americas — a 4,200-year-old
structure marking the summer and winter solstices that is as old as
the stone pillars of Stonehenge.

The observatory was built on the top of a 33-foot-tall pyramid with
precise alignments and sightlines that provide an astronomical
calendar for agriculture, archeologist Robert Benfer of the
University of Missouri said.

The people who built the observatory — three millenniums before the
emergence of the Incas — are a mystery, but they achieved a level of
art and science that archeologists say they did not know existed in
the region until at least 800 years later.

Among the most impressive finds was a massive clay sculpture — an
ancient version of the modern frowning “sad face” icon flanked by two
animals. The disk, protected from looters beneath thousands of years
of dirt and debris, marked the position of the winter solstice.

“It’s really quite a shock to everyone … to see sculptures of that
sophistication coming out of a building of that time period,” said
archeologist Richard L. Burger of Yale University’s Peabody Museum of
Natural History, who was not involved in the discovery.

The find adds strong evidence to support the recent idea that a
sophisticated civilization developed in South America in the pre-
ceramic era, before the development of fired pottery sometime after
1500 BC.

Benfer’s discovery “pushes the envelope of civilization farther south
and inland from the coast, and adds the important dimension of
astronomy to these ancient folks’ way of life,” said archeologist
Michael Moseley of the University of Florida, a noted Peru expert.

The 20-acre site, called Buena Vista, is about 25 miles inland in the
Rio Chillon Valley, just north of Lima. “It is on a totally barren,
rock-covered hill looking down on a beautiful fertile valley,” said
Benfer, who presented the find last month in Puerto Rico at a meeting
of the Society for American Archeology.

The site is remarkably well preserved, Benfer said, because it rains
in the area only about once a year.

The name of the people who inhabited the region is unknown because
writing did not emerge in the Americas for 2,000 more years. Some
archeologists call them followers of the Kotosh religious tradition.
Others call them late pre-ceramic cultures of the central coast. For
brevity, most simply call them Andeans.

Benfer and archeologist Bernardino Ojeda of Peru’s National Agrarian
University have been working at Buena Vista for four years. The site
contains ruins dating from 10,000 years ago to well into the ceramic
era in the first millennium BC.

The large pyramid and a temple occupy about 2 acres near the center
of the site. Radiocarbon dating of cotton and burned twigs found in
the temple’s offering pit place its use at about 2200 BC.

That is about 400 years after the first pyramid was built in Egypt
and about the same time that the peoples who would become the Greeks
were settling into the Mediterranean region.

The temple is built of rock that was covered with plaster and
painted, although most of the white and red paint has long since
flaked off.

Benfer calls it the Temple of the Fox because a drawing of a fox is
carved inside a painted picture of another animal, probably a llama,
beside each doorway. According to Andean myth, the fox taught people
how to cultivate and irrigate plants.

As the team mapped out the site, Benfer observed that a person
standing in the doorway of the temple and gazing through a small,
flap-covered window behind the altar is aligned with a small head
carved onto a notch of a distant hill. The line had an orientation of
114 degrees from true north, pointing southeast.

Benfer does not normally deal with archeoastronomy — the science of
ancient astronomy — so he contacted a childhood friend, Larry Adkins
of Tustin, and asked him what that angle signified.

Adkins, a physicist who is retired from Rockwell International and
who now teaches astronomy at Cerritos College, told him 114 degrees
pointed the way to sunrise on the Southern Hemisphere’s summer
solstice, Dec. 21, the longest day of the year.

“That really got the ball rolling,” Adkins said.

The summer solstice marks planting time, as the Rio Chillon begins
its annual flooding, fed by melting ice higher up in the Andes. The
flooding deposits fresh soil on the land, fertilizing the crops and
eliminating the need for manure from domestic animals.

“This was the beginning of flood-plain agriculture,” Benfer said. He
thinks fishermen from the coast originally moved to the site to grow
cotton for use in making fishing nets.

The large frowning disk sits near the door to the temple. It is made
of mud plaster and grass and covered with a fine surface of clay.

Benfer speculates that the sculpture represents Pacha Mamma, the most
important god of the Andes. He acknowledges the difficulty of proving
that, however, because the next known sculpture of the mother goddess
does not appear until 800 BC.

“The disk would frown over the sunset on the winter solstice, the
last day of harvest,” Benfer said.

Alignments in the temple also pointed to the position at the summer
solstice of a constellation known in Andean culture as the fox,
Benfer said.

Unlike Western constellations, which are outlined by groupings of
stars, some Andean constellations were made from dark areas in the
sky that are gaps in the bright Milky Way.

Scientists once thought that the gaps represented a lack of stars,
but astronomers now know that they are caused by large clouds of dust
that block light from distant stars.

The so-called dark cloud constellation of the fox is well-known today
in the region, but archeoastronomer Anthony Aveni of Colgate
University doubted that it has maintained its shape for four

“He has an alignment. That’s neat,” Aveni said. But the idea that the
ancients were looking at the same constellation “is a bit of a leap
for me.”

Last summer, Benfer’s team also partially excavated a second
sculpture, that of a life-sized human figure playing a pipe. The
figure is sitting with its legs sculpted in high relief and hanging
over the edge of one of a series of short platforms that lead down to
what appears to be another temple.

The remaining 18 acres of the site have a variety of buildings, most
of them from later cultures, that include a ceremonial center,
stepped pyramids and what apparently was a residence center for
elites. Most of those have been looted.

Oval houses that probably served as homes for families of commoners
sit across a ravine from the main pyramid.

There were probably other buildings farther down the slopes, Benfer
said, “but the Chillon River removes everything from time to time.”

Evidence of pottery indicates that the site was inhabited for
centuries, but it is not yet clear whether or how it was eventually

“There were people in the valley at the time of the Spanish Conquest,
but they were of several ethnic groups,” Benfer said.

That suggests that the sophisticated civilization was eventually
replaced by small bands of farmers who immigrated from various areas.

Copyright 2006 Los Angeles Times

Heavens offer unique clues to the seasons

Special to the Star-Tribune

Before the advent of calendars, the only way to mark the changing of the seasons was through direct observation. Ancient peoples observed the passage of the sun north from the Winter Solstice, and then south from the Summer Solstice. In Mesoamerica the people observed the sun passing directly overhead twice a year by using special tubes in the temples that pointed at the zenith.

For people north of the Tropic of Cancer (23.5 degrees N) this method was not an option because the sun never passes directly overhead at those latitudes. Therefore, people in Europe and North America had to rely on other observations to mark the change of seasons. One method of observing the sun’s changing seasonal position is with a structure such as Stonehenge in England or the famed Serpent of the Sun in Ohio. Ancient monuments such as these were aligned with the sunrise on certain days of the year, typically the Summer Solstice. Some archaeologists suggest that the Big Horn Medicine Wheel in northern Wyoming is such an observatory.

However, in some situations such a structure is not practical. Fortunately there are seasonal markers in the night sky that are just as easy to use. For example, if we step outside on a clear night and look north, we find the Big Dipper. In May the Big Dipper is turned upside down, as if to dump its contents to earth in the form of life giving spring rain. To ancient agricultural peoples this would have been a good sign for the beginning of the growing season.

Another constellation associated with agriculture is the constellation Virgo, the Maiden. We can find Virgo by using the Big Dipper as a guide. Using the dipper’s curved handle we “follow the arc to Arcturus,” and then “speed on to Spica.” Spica is the brightest star in Virgo and is almost due south throughout May.

Virgo has been associated with agriculture for thousands of years, and is often depicted as a young woman holding a sheaf of wheat or grain in her hand. In ancient Egypt she represented Isis; in Greece she was Persephone, daughter of Ceres goddess of the harvest. In Babylon she was Ishtar, queen of the stars and to ancient Christians she was the Madonna or Ruth of the Fields.

Although Spica is the only bright star in Virgo, the area of this constellation is far from empty. Where Virgo borders Coma Berenices (due north of Virgo) is an area known as the Coma-Virgo galaxy field. Photographs taken from large Earth-based telescopes reveal more than 3,000 galaxies. More than 100 of these are visible with medium to large backyard telescopes. In most small telescopes the galaxies will appear only as faint smudges of light.

Yet knowing that each smudge is a vast stellar city thousands of light years across makes the view staggering. As Thomas Carlyle once wrote:
“Sis (sic) it not reckoned still a merit, proof of what we call a ‘poetic nature,’ that we recognize how every object has a divine beauty in it; how every object still is ‘window through which we may look into Infinitude itself?'”

Observers looking 15 degrees east of Spica will notice another bright object in the night sky. This is the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the only planet visible throughout the night in May. Mars and Saturn vanish not long after sunset and Venus does not appear until just before dawn, so Jupiter glides silently along between Virgo and Libra the Scales, a lonely light in the southern sky.

Rod Kennedy is an employee at the Casper Planetarium.

Brazilian Stonehenge Discovered

The Academic establishment has long argued there were no civilizations much less advanced civilizations in Brazil or the Amazon. Apparently they were wrong. Read this story from the BBC about the discovery of a Brazilian Stonehenge:


Brazilian archaeologists have found an ancient stone structure in a remote corner of the Amazon that may cast new light on the region’s past.

The site, thought to be an observatory or place of worship, pre-dates European colonisation and is said to suggest a sophisticated knowledge of astronomy. Its appearance is being compared to the English site of Stonehenge.

It was traditionally thought that before European colonisation, the Amazon had no advanced societies. The archaeologists made the discovery in the state of Amapa, in the far north of Brazil. A total of 127 large blocks of stone were found driven into the ground on top of a hill.

Well preserved and each weighing several tons, the stones were arranged upright and evenly spaced. It is not yet known when the structure was built, but fragments of indigenous pottery found at the site are thought to be 2,000 years old.

What impressed researchers was the sophistication of the construction. The stones appear to have been laid out to help pinpoint the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest in the sky.

It is thought the ancient people of the Amazon used the stars and phases of the moon to determine crop cycles.

Although the discovery at Amapa is being compared to Stonehenge, the ancient stone circle in southern England, the English site is considerably older.

It is thought to have been erected some time between 3000 and 1600 BC.

Story from BBC NEWS:


Ocmulgee Mounds (1000 AD)

Sapelo Shell Ring Complex1.SapeloShellRings Rock Eagle2.RockEagle ancient stone wall atop Fort Mountain3.FortMountain Kolomoki Mounds4.Kolomoki Ocmulgee Mounds5.Ocmulgee Etowah Mounds6.Etowah
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As impressive as the previously discussed Kolomoki Mounds complex is, the NativeAmerican Mound Builders of Georgia would outdo themselves at the next site in our story: Ocmulgee Mounds. Located in Macon, this ancient civilization consists of seven Indian mounds and associated plazas.

The Great Temple Mound at Ocmulgee was built atop the Macon Plateau and rises 56 feet high from the surface of the plateau. Yet because the mound was ingeniously constructed on the edge of the plateau and the plateau itself was terraced and clay fill added to match the angle of the Temple Mound, the mound rises an impressive 90 feet from the river bank below. It was this imposing view that most visitors to Ocmulgee Indian Mounds saw in prehistoric times since most trade and travel was conducted by dugout canoes along the Ocmulgee river.

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Map of Ocmulgee Mounds. Zoom in to see individual mounds and other features. Click on the blue tabs  to learn more about each feature. Explore the site in 3D with the Google Earth plugin.

Due to its ingenious construction, the top of the Great Temple Mound is significantly higher than the surrounding tree line thus enabling anyone standing here to have a commanding view of the countryside for miles and miles around as well as an unobstructed view of the entire sky dome for astronomical observations. From here one could easily see signal fires or smoke signals from outlying villages warning of invaders or other trouble. Likewise traders could light signal fires atop the Great Temple Mound to announce the arrival of new trade goods. As its name suggests the Great Temple Mound was also home to a large temple which likely doubled as the Chief Priest’s home. Here he kept a perpetual fire burning which was an important element of their religion and myths.

This giant ground sloth on display at the University of Georgia was unearthed in Brunswick, GA during construction of I-95.

Giant ground sloth found in southeast Georgia on view at UGA.

The Ocmulgee Mounds site has been occupied for 12,000 years as evidenced by the Clovis spear point found during excavations. The Clovis people lived during the last Ice Age and used these spear points to hunt mastadons, wooly mammoths, giant ground sloths and other giant animals that once roamed Georgia. Around 2000 B.C., the same time period as the Sapelo Shell Rings, the first small shell mounds were constructed at the site but it wasn’t until 900 A.D. that the monumental constructions began. [View Gallery]

Who Built Ocmulgee Mounds?

At this time newcomers arrived in the region and brought with them corn agriculture, a new style of pottery, new types of arrowheads and a more complex economic, religious and political system. It is thought that these were Muskogean speakers who later were called Creek Indians by Europeans. According to Creek Indian tradition, Ocmulgee Mounds was the site where they “first sat down” after their long migration from the west. Other traditions hold that they originated near “the backbone of the earth” which was their name for the Rocky Mountains. In fact, as we’ll see below, they could have originated as far away as west Mexico and later migrated into the desert southwest before finally arriving at Ocmulgee.

Popocateptl Volcano erupting at nightOne tribe of Creek Indians, the Cussitaw (Cusseta/Kasihta), have a migration legend which might relate to the settlement of Ocmulgee Mounds. It tells how they originated in a place much farther west, a place where the earth would occasionally open up and swallow their children (a possible reference to earthquakes). Part of their tribe decided to leave this place and began an eastward migration in order to find where the sun rose. On their journey they came to a mountain that thundered and had red smoke coming from its summit which they later discovered was actually fire (a possible reference to a volcano.) Here they decided to settle down after meeting people from three nations (Chickasaws, Atilamas, & Obikaws) who taught them about herbs and “many other things.”

From these references one can speculate that these people migrated from Mexico which is west of Georgia and has both earthquakes and active volcanoes. (For a more in-depth analysis of the Creek migration legend, read “Were Georgia’s Muskogee Creek Indians from West Mexico?“) Mexico is also the birthplace of corn agriculture, a defining characteristic of these newcomers. It is also in Mexico where we find cities consisting of flat-topped pyramid mounds arranged around open plazas which is the most noticeable feature of town planning at Ocmulgee. (Continues…)