Sacred Geography: Astronomy, part 1

Ancient Native American sacred places were not chosen but are revealed through an encounter with the divine.  Different groups responded to the same astronomical phenomena differently developing a variety of astronomical viewpoints.  Medicine wheels, such as Big Horn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming, align with sunrise and sunset at the summer solstice.  The Hopi and Hopewell developed systems for charting lunar and solar cycles with associated festivals integrated with concepts of fertility, birth and growth.

Many prehistoric groups transformed their landscape based on a cosmic model and ritual myths.  The layout of Native American villages included the use of poles and arrangements of buildings to depict the heavens, sunrise/set and solstice alignments.  Such cosmological beliefs are not confined to North America, as similar cosmological beliefs can be found worldwide in such cultural landscapes as the Dogon of Burkina Faso, Teotihuacán of Mexico and ancient Near Eastern temples, tombs and altars.


woodhendge, CahokiaA common feature of both Fort Ancient and Mississippian Cultures, and a unique feature in central North America is a circle of vertical poles referred to as Woodhenge. This feature was used to predict eclipses and other celestial events.  This pattern of arranging poles also exists in late Hopewell Culture groups.  The Fort Ancient people did not build ceremonial centers of earthworks, as did the Hopewell or Mississippian.  The arrangement of villages was used as their ceremonial center by placing buildings and other structures in alignment with celestial events.

SunWatch Village, Dayton, Ohio

sunwatch villageSunWatch is a middle Fort Ancient Culture settlement site located in Dayton, Ohio.  It was rebuilt between 1971 and 1989.  The village was nearly circular and surrounded by a stockade.  Inside the stockade were dwellings and special buildings arranged in concentric rings subdivided in districts of distinct socio-political units.  Villages were arranged as a solar calendar to identify significant dates in an annual cycle.  The center post is two feet in diameter and has two clusters of smaller stakes.  This served an important function in the identification of annual dates.  The reconstructed site contains a portion of the village including a stockade, council lodge, ceremonial men’s house, museum and interpretive center.


Reference: Geopiety and Landscape Perceptions at Mounds State Park, Anderson, Indiana by Barbara A Perry


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