ArcheoAstronomy in the American SouthWest

A Travel Course to New Mexico

Prof. Ron Olowin
(Office: G-103b Galileo Hall; Voice: 925.631.4428; e-mail:

Prof. Edward Boyda
(Office: G-104 Galileo Hall; Voice: 925.631.4426; e-mail:

Text Book: Selected Readings

Course Description

In both the classroom and in the field, this course will explore the cosmographic expression of the Chaco Culture of the American Southwest. The Chaco society, a prehistoric Pueblo culture, flourished between AD 950 and 1150 throughout the 80,000 km2 of the San Juan Basin of northern New Mexico. Chaco Canyon was the center of this culture. Here the Chaco people constructed multi-storied buildings containing 100 to 700 rooms. These structures are noted for their planned, symmetric organization, massive core-veneer masonry construction and numerous great kivas, the large ceremonial chambers of the prehistoric pueblo culture.

Astronomy played an important role in the Chaco culture. This is expressed in the cardinal alignments of the major axes of several large ceremonial structures at or near the center of the canyon, and in a complex set of solar and lunar markings on
Fajada Butte, at the south entrance of the canyon. In addition, many sites in the surrounding area, in particular, Tsankawi, exhibit petroglyphs, stone circles and other alignments, astronomical cave paintings, planetaria as well as a myriad of other astronomically related artifacts such as solstice and equinox markings and shadowgraphs.

The intent of this course is to explore the ArchaeoAstronomy of these peoples by providing an historical overview of the Pueblo culture, basic astronomical observations made by the indigenous peoples, and visits to the important and relevant sites. Several days will be spent at the Tsankawi site calculating and observing solar-lunar alignments both in the traditional fashion and with modern instruments.

The planned field trip will spend 14 days in New Mexico after a preliminary introduction on campus. The field trip portion will set up a base camp at Ghost Ranch , an Educational Retreat and Conference Center in the high desert, North of Santa Fe , New Mexico and proceed to visit selected sites on a daily basis.

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