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 LostWorlds.org 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)

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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. 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.

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.

Star Patterns in Stone?

diagram of wall on Fort Mountain

Diagram of the Fort Mountain stone wall. The pattern of the stone wall is similar to that on the pottery vessel below.

While at first the zigzagging shape of the wall seems random, it may give clues to the actual purpose of the wall. During the same time period that this wall was being constructed, Native Americans in southwest Georgia were producing a type of pottery with strange designs that have perplexed archaeologists for over a century. The pottery, called Weeden Island sacred pottery, contains zigzagging linear patterns very similar to the pattern made by the Fort Mountain stone wall. It has recently been argued that these zigzagging patterns were actually derived from astronomical observations of specific planets and represent their movement around the night sky over the course of months and years. Could Fort Mountain represent something similar and could it have been the place where such astronomical observations were made?

Vessel No. 1 from Hare Hammock

“Vessel No. 1 from the Larger Mound Near Hare Hammock” features a similar zigzagging pattern that has been interpreted as representing the paths of Venus & Mercury as morning stars. (Image courtesy David Allison)

Even today we build our astronomical observatories at the tops of mountains. It’s a logical place to do so. It puts you closer to the thing you are observing. More importantly, for Native Americans living in a heavily wooded and forested environment, it puts you above the treetops and gives you a full 360 degree view of the night sky as well as the full sky dome from horizon to horizon.

The pattern of the Fort Mountain stone wall is very similar to the pattern on a pottery vessel found by archaeologist C. B. Moore. This vessel, referred to as “Vessel No. 1 from the Larger Mound Near Hare Hammock,” is decorated with two bird-head handles. Incised on both sides of the vessel is a zigzagging pattern. This pattern has been interpreted as representing the movement of the planets Venus and Mercury in the morning sky. (Venus is the brightest object in the eastern sky before sunrise and thus would have naturally drawn the attention of Native American sky gazers.) Could the zigzagging pattern of Fort Mountain’s stone wall be an attempt by early Native Americans to map upon the landscape the movements of these same bright objects in the early morning sky?

It is interesting to note that this same pottery vessel contains two ideas that were also being represented in stone around the same time period: bird effigies (Rock Eagle/Rock Hawk) and this zigzag design (Fort Mountain). Rock Eagle faces east and the Fort Mountain stone wall is oriented along an east-west axis. The pottery vessel was located in a grave on the eastern side of a burial mound and all the skulls within this mound were also facing east. The symbolism seems consistent.

Finally, astronomer John Burgess found that the wall was aligned with the summer solstice. As he noted in 1987:

The north end of the Fort Mountain Stone Wall points toward the position on the horizon where the sun rises on the summer solstice. If a clear view of the horizon were possible, an observer  standing on this nearly straight section of wall would find that, using it as a sightline, the time of the summer solstice could be determined when the sun rises at that point on the horizon pointed to by the wall.

Legend of the Moon-Eyed People

The Cherokee Indians who later inhabited these mountains have a legend that says the stone wall was constructed by a race of “moon-eyed” people. They also said that these people were nocturnal and lived underground, only coming out at night. These people were supposedly tall, light-skinned and had beards. Could there be any truth to such legends?

Archaeologists have noted that the Hitchiti language was once widespread throughout Georgia due to the number of place names in the state that are of Hitchiti origin. When the first Spanish explorers entered this region in the early 1500s they encountered many Hitchiti-speaking tribes. These tribes were described as being tall and wearing mustaches and turbans. The chiefs wore full beards. (One such chief from a town called Ocute had a beard that, according to Spanish accounts, reached his belly button.) Thus the idea that tall, bearded people constructed the Fort Mountain wall isn’t completely out of the question.

But what of the ‘nocturnal, subterranean-dwelling’ aspects of the legend? Once again, Spanish records indicate they encountered Hitchiti-speaking tribes living in “hollow’d mounds…fully covered in mud.” These mounds are likely identical to the earth lodge discovered at Ocmulgee Mounds in Macon, Georgia– a site also constructed by Hitchiti-speaking Native Americans. From the outside an earth lodge appears to be a mound of earth yet it is, in reality, a sophisticated structure covered in earth usually reserved for ritual or ceremonial purposes and likely the residence of a chief or priest (who would have been bearded.) Thus this seemingly bizarre part of the legend, subterranean dwellers, now has a plausible explanation as people who lived in earth lodges.

Fort Mountain stone wall

Video still from the DVD “Lost Worlds: Georgia” showing a section of the stone wall.

The Spanish gave these natives the derogatory name “micos sucios” which translates as “dirty monkeys.” This has been conjectured to be the origins of the tribal name Miccosukee, one of the few Hitchiti-speaking tribes remaining in America (currently residing in south Florida.). The Miccosukee were, in reality, part of a tribe known as the Chiaha, who were located in the mountains of Tennessee and Georgia. Thus it is likely that they are the tribe responsible for the construction of Fort Mountain.

Since we’ve established that the Cherokee legend is likely an accurate description of the people who built Fort Mountain, we can deduce one final important piece of the puzzle. The legend states they were nocturnal which suggests they spent their nights on Fort Mountain observing the stars and performing ceremonies. Thus the astronomical interpretation of this site is likely an accurate one.

From all of the preceding evidence, we can now piece together a plausible picture of Fort Mountain and its creators. They would have been astronomer-priests of a

Fort Mountain stone wall

Another video still from the DVD “Lost Worlds: Georgia” showing a section of the stone wall.

Hitchiti-speaking tribe, likely the Chiaha. As priests they would have worn long beards. They would have spent their nights observing the stars and moon, and eventually noticed the strange motions of certain stars that we know today as planets. The brightest and most beautiful of these stars/planets were Venus and Mercury and so they built a monument in stone that reflected the path these bright objects took across the pre-dawn sky. These astronomer-priests then returned to their earth lodges during the day to sleep. Since they would not have gotten much sun they would naturally be a lighter complexion than Native Americans who spent their days in the sun. Outsiders who witnessed these priests would tell stories of how tall, fair-skinned, bearded people who lived underground and only came out at night constructed the rock wall at the top of Fort Mountain.

But what of the name “moon-eyed”? It is possible this simply refers to the fact that the people were part of a lunar cult that worshipped (or studied) the moon. Yet there is another intriguing possibility. Today, there are three main groups of Cherokee still living in the Great Smoky Mountains: the Qualla, Tomotla and Snowbird. The Qualla (who live on the main reservation) refer to the Snowbird as “moon faces” because of their Mexican and/or Central American facial features. Could the builders of Fort Mountain, likely the Chiaha, have had a Mesoamerican origin?

Did the Maya Build Fort Mountain Wall?

"Mirror Bearer" Maya / Olmec wood sculpture

This rare Maya wooden sculpture dates from 500 AD and possibly represents an Olmec or Poton Maya priest or trader. (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)

In fact, the name “Chiaha” is actually a Mayan word which means “edge water” or “water’s edge.” The Chiaha built their villages beside the water thus this is a fitting description. The capital of Chiaha was actually built on an island in the middle of a river. Also, the word for “house” in Hitchiti is chikee. The Totonacs of Mexico also use the word chiki for “house.” They borrowed the word from their Maya neighbors where the word means “woven basket.” This is a fitting description for a Miccosukee chikee since they use mats woven from split cane as walls, partitions and privacy screens. Also, the winter house or “hot house” of the Miccosukee is called a chokofu. In Mayan, choko means “hot.” Additionally, chi means “mouth” in both Hitchiti and Mayan. These are just a few of the linguistic connections between the Miccosukee/Chiaha and the Maya.

The Hitchiti migration legend also suggests a Mesoamerican origin. This legend states that the Hitchiti emerged from “reeds” along the shore. They then walked towards the rising sun until they encountered a large body of water that they first thought was the ocean but quickly discovered was a large lake. They settled here for a while before journeying north where they settled permanently.

If we start in Georgia where the Hitchiti were living at the time this migration legend was recorded and follow the legend in reverse this suggests Florida as the place they migrated north from into Georgia. The only lake in Florida big enough to be confused with the ocean is Lake Okeechobee thus it is probable this is where they first settled down after emerging from “reeds.”  And since we know humans don’t simply sprout from the ground, it’s safe to assume they arrived in Florida by boat.

Coincidentally, it is in the Lake Okeechobee area at a site called Fort Center where we find the earliest evidence of corn agriculture in the southeast. Corn is a native crop of Mexico and researchers have yet to come up with a solid explanation for why corn shows up in south central Florida before it shows up elsewhere in the southeast. The most logical explanation, of course, is that it arrived with people who traveled from Mexico to Florida by boat.

Curiously, the Maya referred to any large city as “reeds” or “place of reeds” comparing the vast numbers of people in a city to the vast number of reeds in a marsh. The fact that the Hitchiti migration legend included the seemingly insignificant detail that they emerged from “reeds” suggests the Hitchiti migrated from a large Mayan city.

"Mirror Bearer" 500 AD Maya / Olmec wooden statue

Notice the mustache and unique hair style and elaborate ear ornaments. Could this represent a Mayan or Olmec trader known to the Cherokee as the “Moon Eyes”? (“Mirror-Bearer,” Michael C. Rockefeller Memorial Collection)

The only people capable of such long distance ocean travel at this time in Mexican history were the Olmecs or their descendants, the Chontal Maya. Both of these groups controlled the coastal trade routes along the Gulf coast of Mexico as far south as Central America. The Chontal Maya, who called themselves the Poton,  worshipped a moon goddess named Ix Chel and this lunar cult appears to date back to Olmec times. The Aztecs referred to one location where the Chontal Maya lived as Nacajuca, “place of pale faces,” due to the light skin of the inhabitants. Could the Chontal Maya be the light skinned people who built Fort Mountain according to Cherokee legends? A wooden statue of a Poton Maya lord shows what appears to be a trader with a handlebar mustache, a unique depiction in the Maya world yet consistent with early Spanish accounts of Creek Indians in Georgia with mustaches.

Interestingly, when the Spanish visited the Chiaha capital in the early 1500s both the leader and the town were known as Olameco. Coincidentally, the Aztecs in Mexico referred to the Olmecs as olmeca. Although at this time it doesn’t appear that these words are related it is an intriguing coincidence nonetheless.

The First Georgia Gold Rush?

What would motivate a group of traders to leave the civilized world of a Mayan city to explore and settle among the tribal villages in Georgia? An article from the New York Times dated September 19, 1884 may provide a clue:

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn., Winkley, an experienced gold prospector from New-Mexico and Idaho, brought to this city today specimens of gold and silver ore taken from gold mines recently discovered in Murray County, Ga., inside of Fort Mountains, about 50 miles from this city. Assays made of this ore show it to be worth on average $27 per ton. One specimen of silver exhibited assayed $100 to the ton, and a specimen of gold quartz assayed $1,200. Great excitement prevails, and people are rushing to the mines from all directions. They are pronounced by experts to be among the richest yet discovered in America.

A Geological Survey of Georgia Bulletin from 1909 noted:

A small isolated auriferous [gold-bearing] area occurs on the summit of Cohutta Mountain in Murray county. The locality is about four miles east of Chatsworth.

Cohutta is the Native American name for Fort Mountain. The location of this deposit on the summit appears to be within the same general location as the stone wall which runs very near the summit. Could this wall have been built to protect this vital resource or at least shield those inside the wall from curious onlookers from outside the wall?

Yet this gold deposit on the summit was not the largest such deposit on Fort Mountain. This same Bulletin noted an operating gold mine on Cohutta Mountain called the Cohutta Mine. The Bulletin noted several large gold-bearing veins in which “free-gold was noticeable in some of the ore examined.”

The 1884 and 1909 discoveries of large gold deposits at Fort Mountain were not the first such discoveries. In the early 1800s there were legends of secret Cherokee gold mines on Cohutta/Fort Mountain. Stories about the local Cherokee wearing gold jewelry, and settlers trying to find the source of the gold have been handed down through generations. One Cherokee chief from this time, Chief Vann, who lived at the base of Fort Mountain left $200,000 in gold to his son Joseph Vann when he was murdered in 1809. Joseph deposited this gold in a bank in Tennessee when the Cherokees were forced out of Georgia in 1834. This is a large sum today but in 1809 this was an astounding sum of money. Did Chief Vann acquire this gold from Fort Mountain?

“How the Indians collect gold from the streams” by Jacques Le Moyne, an artist at the first French colony in the New World at Fort Caroline in Florida.

The Cherokees were forced out of Georgia due, in large part, to the discovery of gold on Cherokee lands in 1829. This was the beginning of America’s second gold rush, the first occurring in neighboring North Carolina in 1799. But clearly, Native Americans knew about this gold in the Georgia mountains long before the Americans. In fact, when the Spanish passed through this area in the 1530s they heard rumors of gold mining and smelting at the previously mentioned site of Chiaha. The French also visited Native American gold mines in north Georgia in the 1560s. They recorded that a tribe called the Potano were responsible for this mining. Could the Potano be one-in-the-same as the Poton Maya?

Whatever the truth may be, the fact is gold can still be successfully panned in Gold Mine Creek on Fort Mountain to this very day.

Star Maps and Petroglyphs

Sculptured Rock from Forsyth County, Georgia aka Forsyth Petroglyph

“Sculptured Rock From Forsyth County, Georgia” appears to be decorated with astronomical symbols which could represent a star map of the night sky. (Jones, Antiquities of the Southern Indians)

Another interesting phenomenon also occurred in the same mountainous region of Georgia around the same time period: petroglyphs. Located in Track Rock Gap at the base of Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest peak, is a field of boulders which have been carved with curious designs.

Other petroglyph rocks have been found nearby in Forsyth County. Some of these designs, primarily the concentric circles and the “dumbbell” figures, strongly resemble designs that would later show up on Weeden Island pottery vessels interpreted as being calendars. Could the Forsyth petroglyphs be star maps carved in stone? In fact, the Forsyth Petroglyph contains Mayan glyphs and religious symbols which further supports the presence of Maya in north Georgia.

It is interesting to note that during the time period between 550AD and 750AD, which is when these petroglyphs were possibly carved, the Chinese Royal Court recorded over ninety comets visible to the naked eye, more than any other prior period. Thus there was plenty going on in the night sky to interest Georgia’s ancient astronomers.

Although the true intent of these Native American architects and artisans may never be fully understood what is known is that these stone creations were only the beginning of their accomplishments. They would next begin the construction of pyramids at the Kolomoki Mounds complex.

References Cited

Ocmulgee Mounds (1000 AD)

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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.


View larger map
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.(View QTVR) 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. (View Image Gallery) 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.

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.

Archaeologists use the term “Mississippian” to refer to these cultural traits. Mississippian does not refer to a single tribe or people and, in fact, many different tribes across the Southeast and Midwest eventually adopted various aspects of Mississippian culture. “Mississippian” culture is similar to the term “Western” culture in that it describes traits which were shared by many different peoples and cultures speaking many different languages. Just as cultures from Asia to South America have become “westernized,” so did cultures all over the eastern U.S. become “Mississippianized.”

Other evidence also suggests a Mexican origin for the Creek Indians. For instance, the type of tobacco grown in the southeast by the Creek Indians has been shown to have its origins in Central America.

Creek Indian Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co by George Catlin
“Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co” by George Catlin, 1834.
Chontal sculpture from Guerrero, Mexico
Chontal sculpture from Guerrero, Mexico.

Also, an artifact from the Chontal culture discovered in the state of Guerrero in west Mexico reveals a similar dress styles as a Creek Indian chief painted by artist George Catlin in 1834 named Steeh-tcha-ko-me-co. The Chontal are also noted for portable stone human effigy statues that were part of a complex funerary practice. Similar stone human effigy statues were used by Mississippian era Creek Indians such as at the next site in our story: Etowah Mounds. Also, a stela from Guerrero featured a bird-man design similar to a design on a copper breastplate found at Etowah.

Additionally, the Muskogean language spoken by the Creek Indians is believed by some linguists to be distantly related to the Hokan family. This language family has its origin in western Mexico and the western U.S. where the Yuman group is still spoken in western Arizona, southern California, and northwestern Mexico.

Interestingly, the Yumans also constructed earth lodges which is another feature of the Ocmulgee site (discussed below). More specifically, the Yumans were known for constructing square earth lodges. Not far from Ocmulgee at a site known as Brown’s Mount, archaeologists unearthed the remains of a square earth lodge that dates to the same time period as the round earth lodges at Ocmulgee. Thus an idea present in the West was also present in the East and believed to have been built by the same people as those who constructed Ocmulgee Mounds.

It is also appears that Brown’s Mount played a part in the Creek migration legend. The legend states:

They always have, on their journeys, two scouts who go before the main body. These scouts ascended a high mountain and saw a town…Then the Cussitaws became angry, and determined to attack the town, and each one have a house when it was captured. They threw stones into the river until they could cross it, and took the town (the people had flattened heads), and killed all but two persons.

Thus it seems from the legend that the scouts climbed Brown’s Mount (which is down river from Ocmulgee Mounds) and planned the assault on the town. This also reveals that the Ocmulgee Mounds site was already inhabited when the Cussitaws showed up and these inhabitants practiced cranial deformation which resulted in “flattened heads.”

Ocmulgee Mounds Bibb Plain Mississippian pottery
The newcomers arrived at Ocmulgee Mounds with a different style of pottery featuring shouldered bowls with smooth, undecorated surfaces similar to that found among the tribes of the desert Southwest.

The archaeological evidence actually supports this part of the migration legend. The original pottery unearthed by archaeologists at the site is known as Swift Creek pottery and is noticeably different than the style (called Bibb plain) brought by the newcomers. Also, early explorer C. C. Jones, Jr. from Savannah visited the Ocmulgee site in the late 1800s when the Central of Georgia Railroad was cutting a trail through the site. They cut through the burial mound and Mr. Jones noted in his book Antiquities of the Southern Indians Especially the Georgia Tribes that a skull from the lowest part of the mound, thus the oldest part, exhibited cranial deformation giving it a flattened appearance while the later burials in the upper part of the mound did not. All of this evidence suggests two completely different people inhabited the Ocmulgee Mounds site, one replaced (or massacred) by the other.

As noted in the previous article on Kolomoki Mounds, Swift Creek pottery appears to be associated with the Hitchiti-speaking tribes. At least one Hitchiti migration legend suggests they migrated north into Georgia after having first arrived by boat in the Lake Okeechobee area of Florida. It is in this area where archaeologists have found the earliest evidence of corn agriculture, a native crop of Mexico, although this was a much smaller variety of corn than that brought later by the newcomers at Ocmulgee Mounds.

Mayan Cranial Deformation
A Maya skull and statue both showing cranial deformation.

Curiously the Hitchiti language has several Mayan words in it and Mesoamerican symbols have been found on Swift Creek pottery. The Maya were also known for head flattening. Thus all of this evidence suggests the Hitchiti (or at least some portion of them) were possibly descended from the Maya.

It is likely that the Hitchiti/Swift Creek built the first stage of the funeral mound since the skeletons with cranial deformation were found there. Did they also build the first stages of the Greater and Lesser temple mounds? According to another version of the Creek Migration Legend, the first structure the newcomers built upon arrival was “a mound [with a] great chamber in the center” where the warriors could gather– a clear reference to an earth lodge. Yet the legend mentions nothing about constructing the temple mounds and, in fact, their descendants would later tell European settlers they did not know who constructed the mounds.

Ocmulgee Mounds

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The main features of the Ocmulgee Mounds’ site plan are two truncated pyramidal earthen mounds, one larger than the other, flanking and defining an open plaza area. This site plan does not match previous known Swift Creek site plans such as at Kolomoki Mounds. The site plan does match other Mississippian site plans west of Ocmulgee Mounds such as that at Cahokia near St. Louis. Thus this evidence favors the newcomers as the builders of the Greater and Lesser Temple Mounds and central plaza as well as the Earth Lodge, as previously mentioned.

Also as previously mentioned, the migration legend tells how the Cussitaws would always have scouts ahead of the main group.  Ocmulgee is located on the Ocmulgee River which flows into the Altamaha River which flows into the Atlantic Ocean just south of Sapelo Island for a distance of 300 miles. It is about a three week journey from Ocmulgee to the coast by dugout canoe. Thus as the main group rested at Ocmulgee the scouts would have reached the Atlantic Ocean and realized that their journey had ended. They could go no further east and had discovered that the sun rose from a great ocean each morning. They would return and tell the others about their discovery. Ocmulgee thus became the logical place for a permanent settlement. It truly is where they finally “sat down.” Continues….

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: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/10024281.html

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: http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/10024296.html

Ancient Rock Art Depicts Exploding Star

By Ker Than
Staff Writer, Space.com

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:

http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/060605_rock_art.html

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
Americas.

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
millenniums.

“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
abandoned.

“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

By ROD KENNEDY
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:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/go/pr/fr/-/1/hi/world/americas/4767717.stm

© BBC MMVI