Looking Up: Medicine Map To The Stars

Jan 22, 2018

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel is a medicine wheel located in the Big Horn Mountains of the U.S. state of Wyoming.
Credit National Park Service / Wikimedia Commons

This week on Looking Up guest host Bruce Bookout gets around to talking about Medicine Wheels and how they relate to ancient astronomy.

Nearly every ancient civilization has studied the night sky, whether it was for navigation, measuring time, or spiritual purposes.  The Plains Indians of the West were no exception.  Dotting the high hills of the northern plains are hundreds of Native American stone constructions, called medicine wheels that are aligned to the stars.  

The most famous medicine wheel can be found at an altitude of 10,000 feet near the summit of Medicine Mountain in northern Wyoming.  No indigenous tribes have publicly claimed to have built the Bighorn Medicine Wheel, however it sits within the Crow homeland.  It is considered as scared site to many people of many nations.  It is accessible only during the summer months.

The Bighorn Medicine Wheel has astronomical alignments for the summer solstice and multiple stars to include Sirius, Rigel and Aldebaran.  These are relevant due their precise helical rising or setting dates. Because of the precession of the equinoxes these alignments are not present today, but show that the wheel was useful between 1200 CE and 1700 CE.

Medicine Wheels serve as a place of sacred ceremony and celestial understanding.  If you get the chance, roll on up to the Bighorn Mountains for your own vision quest.

If you’d like to take a closer look at Medicine Wheels, or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.