Friday, March 20, 2015

Ancient Equinox Calendric


                                              Keeping time,
                   Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
                   As in their living in the living seasons
                   The time of the seasons and the constellations . . .

                                         - T. S. Eliot, "East Coker," Four Quartets

In the arid Cebolla Wilderness section of the El Malpais National Conservation Area in west central New Mexico there is evidence of human habitation dating back thousands of years.  Most enduring and interesting are the petroglyphs:  designs and symbols carved into Jurassic sandstone (over 100 million years old), which is abundant.

Last Sunday, a few days ahead of today's vernal equinox, Linda and I joined a group of hikers led by a BLM ranger to visit a remote site of petroglyphs that includes a calendric:  a carving that is positioned to indicate cosmic seasonal events . . . in this case, the equinoxes.

With the help of a stepladder serving as a stile, we hopped a barbed wire fence . . .

to a wide grassland -- the bottom of an inland sea millions of years ago -- dotted with pinon and juniper . . .

then hiked about two miles . . .

to the petroglyph site, on a sandstone ridge at about 7,000 feet above today's sea level.

Sandstone ridge in the distance

The sandstone ridge runs east-west, so faces primarily south, with an outcropping that faces west to form a more-or-less right angle.  Both faces are covered with petroglyphs:

South-facing wall

West-facing wall


And over in the corner, hidden in the morning shadows of the outcropping, is the calendric petroglyph:

Calendric in lower right shaded area

The petroglyph is a rectilinear spiral.  Before solar noon it is shaded by the outcropping whose wall faces west.  But as the sun moves west and upward, the diagonal shadow line moves downward, eventually bisecting the petroglyph from the upper right to lower left corners at solar noon.

1:06pm MDT

1:13p MDT (near solar noon)

1:18p MDT (a few minutes after solar noon)

It is a quietly awesome experience to stand and witness this ancient collaboration between the cosmos and humans that continues to operate -- the "clock" that is still and still moving, patiently marking the change of the seasons for hundreds, or perhaps thousands, of years.  

And at the meta-level it is awesome to realize that the ancient ones were attuned to the inflection points of their Universe, and made art, and placed it so carefully to commemorate that awareness.

If "sacred" or "holy" means having and recognizing a connection to something larger and greater than we are, then this is indeed a holy, sacred place.

For larger versions of these images (and more), you can visit my photography website, Todos Juntos Photography, by clicking here


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