Solstice and Rock Art

Spirals may indicate paths to the underworld. They also remind me of spiral galaxy images from Hubble.

According to scholars the Hohokam peoples walked into the South Mountains to commune with the spirits and the rock art they left behind features human shapes standing with legs spread and arms raised to the heavens. This gesture signifies celebration or supplication. (Try it and see what you feel.) The rock drawings were presumably made by shamans and include many mystic symbols such as spirals, spirit beings and transforming animals. The shamans were also entrusted by the community to chart the seasons according to the movements of the sun and the wheeling constellations. In the same way we use calendars, the ancients measured time and planned planting seasons and ceremonies around the celestial bodies. Without city lights, the night sky was an inky dome above South Mountain, with stars and galaxies sparkling in the clear air. It is not surprising that many petroglyphs seem to record planetary events. Some rock drawings resemble simplistic images of comets and prominent planets such as Venus. Petroglyph panels have been discovered that interact with shafts of sunlight playing on the rock art exactly at the moment of the solstice. Many petroglyph locations offer vantage points from which to observe the progress of the sunrise marching steadily north along the eastern horizon until June 21 when the sun pauses and begins to move south. In fact, twenty three panels in South Mountain offer solstice viewpoints. These petroglyph sites with a celestial body/landscape relationship would have been locations of particular significance. Nowadays the ambient light from the city blots out all but the brightest stars, and most of us are inside watching technology anyhow. Star Walk is an iPad application that allows the user to point the iPad at the sky and pick up the constellations, planets and satellites that lie in that direction. My birth constellation Taurus is currently in the western sky aligned with Venus, Mercury and Mars. The app paints a mythic shape around the pattern of stars and the shaded, stylistic images help me connect with the familiar constellations, giving context to the myriad of dazzling stars. Perhaps the South Mountain rock art served a similar purpose, as many a Hohokam must have kicked back on starry nights contemplating the skies.
These ponderings have been largely influenced by Landscape of the Spirits by Todd Bostwick and by photographer Frank Zullo. Zullo’s website contains images of South Mountain rock art superimposed on images of the constellations and comets they may represent. He also has fantastic shots of the sun rising in a notch of the Four Peaks as seen from petroglyph marked viewpoints at South Mountain on the summer solstice.


2 responses to “Solstice and Rock Art

  1. Very cool blog….would that I could make myself get up to view the solstice event!

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