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Galleries & Exhibitions

Indigenous Cosmology and Astronomy

Throughout history and across cultures, the sky has been a place of wonder and awe. Anthropological research has confirmed that the regularity of the motions of celestial objects has helped humans to orient themselves in time and space, a critical survival tool. Instances of this knowledge have been documented in the Verde Valley. This exhibit provides a glimpse into some of these discoveries that leads to a greater appreciation of the skills of Hopi ancestors. You can download the Cosmology Exhibit Guidebook (2.5 MB PDF)  HERE.

The way the sun impacts the rhythm of our daily lives and the changing seasons has been recognized since time immemorial. We are not so distant from our forebears who first gazed into the cosmos, studied its celestial geometry and applied astronomical wisdom to their lives. Astronomy gave Native American and Indigenous People a new perspective on time –understanding the cycles of the sun and the moon allowed these People to look into the future with confidence, while providing a stable framework. We are fortunate in the Verde Valley to have present-day descendants among the Hopi, Yavapai and Apache, who continue to practice the ancient sky lore through stories or rituals.
Archaeoastronomy (the study of ancient astronomy) is a multi-disciplinary subject that includes archaeology and astronomy, as well as subjects as diverse as geology, climatology and engineering, art and religion. Archaeoastronomy opens a window to the past, offering insight into the hopes and aspirations of our predecessors, as well as revealing many of their struggles to survive. The ancient development of complex systems of knowledge, combining astronomy with spiritual values, occurred throughout the world, independently, but all were based on the same key building blocks of the sun, moon, stars and their predictable paths across the sky.

This exhibit on ancient Indigenous cosmology and astronomical practices in the Verde Valley is a picture into the beginnings of the observation of the cosmos using the science of archaeoastronomy. For example, the first farmers noticed the sun’s regular cycle of movement and found that they could use it to create a calendar to aid in the planting of various crops. Religious leaders could use the sun or moon to determine the time for specific rituals. This exhibit begins by exploring two basic methods of marking time. The observation of sunrise and/or sunset along a horizon was one of the first methods developed and documented in the Verde Valley. This method was enhanced with the use of specific images, carved or painted onto the landscape, that would interact with sunlight and shadows.

The night sky could also be used to determine time with the phases and passing of the moon, as well as observing various constellations that appear at different times and locations during the year. But mysteries remained for the Ancient ones such as the appearance of a shooting star and the resulting stones falling from the cosmos.

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