[meteorite-list] Re: Meteors and the Native Americans
From: E.P. Grondine <epgrondine_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Thu Apr 22 09:44:36 2004
Can anybody read Kronk's e-mail address - my browser
balks when I click the "contact me" link -
--- "E.L.Jones" <jonee_at_epix.net> wrote:
> or Text:
> Meteors and the Native Americans
> By Gary W. Kronk
> For decades astronomers have reaped
> the values of written
> records kept for over 2500 years in China and
> Europe. Eclipses, planets, and comets are mentioned
> and have brought
> about refinements to our current
> understanding of the long-term motion of these
> bodies?especially for
> comets such as Halley and Swift-Tuttle.
> Several meteor showers have also been identified
> which brought about a
> better understanding of their evolution as
> No other culture can provide
> comparable information as
> that gathered from the Chinese and European
> records, but this need not be a deterrent from
> learning about how other
> cultures felt about these moving bodies in
> the sky and one of the richest regions of meteor and
> comet lore in the
> world is North America.
> During the last 15 to 20 years,
> archeoastronomy has
> uncovered much concerning the astronomical beliefs
> of native Americans. Unfortunately, the methods of
> keeping records of
> astronomical events were not as straight
> forward as those of the Chinese and Europeans, as
> there are no books
> lying around. Instead, the methods of
> record keeping included rock and cave drawings,
> stick notching,
> beadwork, pictures on animal skins and jars, and
> story telling?most of which are not dateable.
> One of the few dateable events among the various
> records of native
> Americans was the 1833 appearance of the
> Leonid meteor shower. Historically recognized as one
> of the greatest
> meteor storms on record, it made a lasting
> impression among the peoples of North America.
> The most obvious accounts of the
> Leonid storm appear among
> the various bands of the Sioux of the
> North American plains. The Sioux kept records called
> "winter counts,"
> which were a chronological, pictographic
> account of each year painted on animal skin. In
> 1984, Von Del
> Chamberlain (Smithsonian Institution) listed the
> astronomical references for 50 Sioux winter counts,
> of which 45 plainly
> referred to an intense meteor shower
> during 1833/1834. In addition, he listed 19 winter
> counts kept by other
> plains Indian tribes, of which 14
> obviously referred to the Leonid storm.
> The Leonids also appear among the
> Maricopa, who used
> calendar sticks with notches to represent the
> passage of a year, with the owner remembering the
> events. The owner of
> one stick claimed records had been kept
> that way "since the stars fell." The first notch on
> his stick
> represented 1833.
> Story telling was a very important
> method of record
> keeping among most native Americans and several
> seem to have been influenced by the Leonids of 1833.
> A member of the
> Papago, named Kutox, was born around
> 1847 or 1848. He claimed that 14 years prior to his
> birth "the stars
> rained all over the sky."
> A less obvious Leonid reference may
> exist in the journal
> kept by Alexander M. Stephen, which detailed
> his visit with the Hopi Indians and mentions a talk
> he had with Old
> Djasjini on December 11, 1892. That Hopi
> Indian said "How old am I? Fifty, maybe a hundred
> years, I can not tell.
> When I was a boy of so big (eight or ten
> years) there was a great comet in the sky and at
> night all the above was
> full of shooting stars?ah! that was a very
> long time ago, maybe a hundred years, maybe more."
> During the probable
> lifetime of Old Djasjini there was never
> a "great comet" and a sky full of meteors in the
> same year, but he might
> be referring to two separate events such as
> the sungrazing comet 1843 I and the great Leonid
> storm of 1833, both of
> which occurred early in his life.
> The Pawnee have a story about a person
> known as
> Pahokatawa, who was supposedly killed by an enemy
> and eaten by animals, but then brought back to life
> by the gods. He was
> said to have come to Earth as a meteor
> and told the people that when meteors were seen
> falling in great numbers
> it was not a sign that the world would
> end. When the Pawnee tribe witnessed the time "the
> stars fell upon the
> earth," which was in 1833, there was a
> panic, but the leader of the tribe spoke up and
> said, "Remember the
> words of Pahokatawa" and the people were no
> longer afraid.
> Although the Pawnee learned not to be
> afraid, there were
> native Americans who feared meteors. Why
> such beliefs came about is almost impossible to
> guess, but some of the
> best examples are as follows:
> The Blackfeet of Montana believed a
> meteor was a sign that
> sickness would come to the tribe in the
> coming winter, or that a great chief
> had just died.
> The Kawaiisu (California) thought a
> meteor that started
> high and fell to the horizon was an omen of
> sickness and death.
> The Cahuilla thought a meteor was the
> spirit of their
> first shaman, Takwich, who was disliked by his
> people. Takwich was said to wander the
> skies at night
> looking for people far from their tribe. When
> someone was found, he stole their
> spirit, and sometimes
> even the person, took them back to his home and
> ate them.
> The Shawnee believed meteors were
> beings "fleeing from the
> wrath of some adversary, or from some
> anticipated danger."
> There were other beliefs which
> generally did not strike
> fear into the hearts of native Americans. Some of
> these are as follows:
> The Wintu (northern California)
> explained meteors as the
> spirits of shamans traveling to the afterlife.
> The Chumash (California) referred to
> meteors as
> Alakiwohoch, which simply meant "shooting star."
> They believed a meteor was a person's
> soul on its way to
> the afterlife.
> The Luiseņo (California) believed they
> were merely stars
> which suddenly moved.
> The Eastern Pomo (North Central
> California) thought
> meteors were fire dropping from heaven.
> Interestingly, one of the most widely
> accepted beliefs was
> that meteors were the feces of stars. Such lore
> existed in the stories of the Nunamiut Eskimos, the
> Koasati of Louisiana
> (formerly located in Tennessee), and
> numerous southern California tribes. A slight
> variation of this came
> from the Kiliwa (Baja California) who believe
> meteors were the fiery urine of the constellation
> Xsmii [Xsmii has not
> been defined?GWK].
> Many of the beliefs mentioned above
> are also attributed to
> comets, and most story telling seems to rarely
> provide conclusive evidence that the object being
> discussed is indeed a
> meteor. Because of this a very interesting
> story is being included which originates from the
> Great Lakes region.
> The Ojibwa of the upper Great Lakes
> region had a story
> about Genondahwayanung, which meant "Long
> Tailed Heavenly Climbing Star." During the 1980's,
> Thor Conway visited
> the Ojibwa and talked to Fred Pine, an
> Ojibwa shaman. Pine's story about the creation notes
> Genondahwayanung was a star with a long, wide tail
> which would return and destroy the world someday. He
> said, "It came down
> here once, thousands of years ago.
> Just like a sun. It had radiation and burning heat
> in its tail." The
> comet was said to have scorched the earth so that
> nothing was left, except the native americans, who
> were warned ahead of
> time by Chimanitou, a Holy Spirit, and
> had gone to a bog and rolled themselves up in the
> mud to protect
> themselves from the heat. Pine continued, "It
> was just so hot that everything, even the stones,
> were cooked. The giant
> animals were killed off. You can find
> their bones today in the earth. It is said that the
> comet came down and
> spread his tail for miles and miles."
> Thereafter, all comet and meteors were treated as
> serious omens which
> required the interpretation of the Ojibwa
> There are other stories of a great
> fire coming from the
> sky and destroying everything except for certain
> native american tribes. In some cases the tribes
> claimed they were
> warned, while others claimed they just ran for
> the nearest bodies of water.
> Another form of record keeping were
> rock petroglyphs, or
> pictures carved into rock. The western United
> States abounds with these pictures, but any dating
> is virtually
> impossible. Once again it is frequently difficult to
> determine whether the object carefully carved into
> rock is a meteor or a
> One rock drawing frequently debated as
> to its exact
> depiction was produced by the Ventureņo tribelet of
> the Chumash at Burro Flats. A pair of disks with
> long tails are located
> on the wall of a cave and have been
> interpreted by Travis Hudson and Ernest Underhay
> (1978) as portraits of
> a comet "seen over an interval of a few
> days or weeks." On the other hand, E. C. Krupp
> (1983) has pointed out
> that "the images have a dynamic
> appearance that suggests rapid movement and change.
> If they are
> celestial at all, I would associate them with
> meteors, and, in particular, with the especially
> bright and dramatic
> type known as fireballs."
> The most common petroglyphs depict a
> circle with a wiggly
> line emanating from it. Various archealogists
> have interpreted these as meteors, comets, and even
> Another form of record keeping appears
> in the form of
> pottery art. Although there are not many examples
> of this, the Field Museum in Chicago contains Hopi
> jar (designated
> number 66760) with a very striking scene
> depicted. Brought to the museum during the 1890s,
> the jar depicts
> mountains, above which are stars and three
> objects falling towards the ground. Although the
> scene seems to imply
> meteors, it is not certain whether it is a
> shower or a spectacular meteor that broke up as it
> fell. According to
> William Grewe-Mullins at the Field Museum,
> the notes on this jar indicate it was found near
> Oraibi, Arizona, and
> was of recent origin. He ventured to guess that
> the jar might have been made sometime during the
> 1850s to 1890s. It
> might be possible that this jar depicts the
> Leonid storm of 1833, although it seems difficult to
> imagine the Hopi
> would have still been impressed so much by
> the storm 2 to 5 decades after the event. On the
> other hand, it could be
> a painting of one of two other storms which
> were observed in various parts of the world in 1872
> and 1884, although
> none of the winter counts mentioned
> earlier seem to have noted these.
> Some native Americans seem to have
> realized that some
> meteors can reach the ground. Among the
> Menomini of the Great Lakes region is the following
> When a star falls from
> the sky
> It leaves a fiery trail.
> It does not die.
> Its shade goes back to
> its own place to shine
> The Indians sometimes
> find the small stars
> where they have fallen in
> the grass.
> The Nunamiut Eskimos also found meteorites, but
> believed they came from
> Dorsey, George A., The Pawnee
> Mythology. Washington, D.C.:
> Carnegie Institute (1906), pp. 61-62;
> Hooper, Lucile, The Cahuilla Indians.
> Berkeley: University
> of California Press (1920), pp. 364-365;
> McClintock, Walter, Old Indian Trails.
> Boston: Houghton
> Mifflin Company (1923), p. 239;
> Loeb, Edwin M., Pomo Folkways.
> Berkeley: University of
> California Press (1926), p. 229;
> Spier, Leslie, Yuman Tribes of the
> Gila River. Chicago:
> University of Chicago Press (1933), pp.
> Gayton, A. H., Yokuts and Western Mono
> Berkeley: University of California Press
> (1948), pp. 162 &
> 229; Gubser, Nicholas J., The Nunamiut
> Eskimos: Hunters of
> Caribou. New Haven: Yale University
> Press (1965), p. 196;
> Stephen, Alexander M., Hopi Journal.
> New York: AMS Press,
> Inc. (1969), pp. 1016-1017;
> Hudson, Travis, and Underhay, Ernest,
> Crystals in the Sky:
> An Intellectual Odyssey Involving Chumash
> Astronomy, Cosmology, and Rock Art.
> New Mexico: Ballena
> Press (1978), pp. 96-97;
> Krupp, E. C., In Search of Ancient
> Astronomies. New York:
> Doubleday & Company, Inc. (1978), p.
> Howard, James H., Shawnee!. Ohio: Ohio
> University Press
> (1981), pp. 178-179;
> Krupp, E. C., "Emblems in the Sky,"
> Ancient Images on
> Stone. Compiled and Edited by Jo Anne Van
> Tilburg, Los Angeles: University of
> California (1983), pp.
> Chamberlain, Von Del, "Astronomical
> Context of North
> American Plains Indian Calendars," Journal for
> the History of Astronomy, 15 (1984),
> pp. S1-S54;
> Hudson, Travis, "California's First
> Archaeoastronomy and the Roots of Science. Edited
> by E. C. Krupp, Colorado: Westview
> Press, Inc. (1984), pp.
> Trenary, Carlos, "Universal Meteor
> Metaphors and Their
> Occurrence in Mesoamerican Astronomy,"
> Archaeoastronomy, 10 (1987-1988), pp.
> Conway, Thor, "The Conjurer's Lodge:
> Celestial Narratives
> from Algonkian Shamans," edited by Ray
> A. Williamson and Claire R. Farrer,
> Earth & Sky.
> Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press
> (1992), pp. 240-248;
> Grewe-Mullins, William, Personal
> Communication (August 31,
> Meteorite-list mailing list
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Received on Mon 05 Mar 2001 01:17:52 AM PST