Here Comes the Sun
Objective: Examine the orientation of rock art sites to complete a simple exercise in archeoastronomy.
Background: During prehistoric times, many Native American communities scheduled ceremonies and other activities to coincide with astronomical events. Various methods were used to "track" changes in the relative position of the sun, the moon, and certain stars; for example, Native American builders positioned earthen mounds at Toltec Mound State Park near Scott, Arkansas to permit calculation of the summer and winter solstice and equinox by measuring changes in sunrise and sunset positions on the horizon. Does the orientation of rock shelter sites containing solar rock art motifs demonstrate a similar pattern?
Activity: Search the database by using the Search screen to select Site Type = Rock Shelter, Rock Art Category = Prehistoric Native American, and General Motif = Geometric. Then tabulate the aspect (direction) values for all of the sunburst images you retrieve. What aspect(s) are most frequently represented? Do these aspects correspond to the sunrise or sunset positions during solstices and equinoxes? (Hint: you'll need to consult a natural science or astronomy textbook to identify these positions).
Additional Exercise: Take a field trip to Toltec Mounds State Park to further explore the archeology and culture of the ancient Native Americans astronomers.
Contributed by: George Sabo III, Arkansas Archeological Survey