A Laboratory for Experiential Cultural Astronomy
Keywords:archaeoastronomy, astronomy, culture, light and shadow, methodology, prehistoric, rock art
“Sun Marker” is a contemporary work of art and science located at an archaeological site in the Southwestern United States. Its origins come from the study of Ancestral Puebloan culture and life-ways and its creation was influenced by the architecture, traditions and observational methods of these prehistoric people, relating celestial movements of Sun, Moon and stars to calendar-keeping. The artist, Joe Pachak, designed “Sun Marker” so that it demonstrated natural light-and-shadow interactions with symbolic rock art images at the times of equinoxes and summer and winter solstices. In doing so, it became apparent that this modern-day piece of art could be used as a tangible laboratory to study light-shadow-icon events of the types being reported as having possibly been created hundreds of years ago. Having noticed interesting events of the types “discovered” by researchers, but not planned by Pachak, the authors joined the artist in a 15-year exploration of his “split boulder-representational” device. Our most important discovery is that completely unintended features, similar to ones passionately reported by researchers, were just as interesting as those carefully engineered into the sculpture. This work resulted in the formulation of vital research questions along with eight criteria offered here for more rigorous field research, with the hope that they might help guide cultural astronomy along the pathway toward becoming a scientifically mature discipline.
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