North America’s First Astronomers

Episode 20: Archeoastronomy in the Ancient Southwest

Ancient Civilizations of North America

Dr Edwin Barnhart (2018)

Film Review

The people of the ancient Southwest were very skilled astronomers.

This is evidenced by numerous astronomical alignments dating from 800-900 AD:

  • Sun daggers* found in the petroglyph spirals (created via slits in overlying platform rocks at Fajada Butte near Chaco Canyon. The rock sculptures are designed to project sun-daggers through the center of the spiral at the summer solstice and two daggers on either side of the spiral at the spring equinox.

Sun dagger at fajada Butte. | Ancient mysteries, Ancient art, Summer solstice

  • Astronomical alignments in twelve of the fourteen great houses of Chaco Canyon, with major lunar standstill* alignments more common than solar alignments.
  • Lunar standstill alignments along the diagonal of two Chaco Canyon great houses have lunar standstill orientations along their diagonal which align with the diagonals of two other great houses.
  • The Chimney Rock towers, where the full moon rises between the towers at lunar maximum, which appear to be a lunar observatory.

68 best images about Archeo astronomy on Pinterest | Circles, Sierra nevada and Calendar

Barnhart believes the numerous kiva in Chaco Canyon were used to celebrate lunar maximum events. He also believes the religious pilgrims who gathered in the region used lunar events to help coordinate their travel and that the 14 great houses may have been used in religious ceremonies.

*The term “sun-dagger” refers to phenomena in which sunlight and stone edges interact in such a way as to cast a sharply defined pattern of light.

**A major lunar standstill occurs when the moon’s declination (where it rises and sets in the sky) reaches a maximum monthly limit, stopping at 28.725° north or south.

2 thoughts on “North America’s First Astronomers

  1. Trace, it’s looking more and more to me that the term “savage” was a Roman construct passed on to Western civilization. The Romans used it to refer to any peoples they wished to colonize and enslave. Thanks for your comment.


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