Space Talk

The Space Talks address topics which give general information not included within the chapter activities or introductions. They cover a wide range of topics that are related in direct or indirect ways to the chapter content. All of the highlighted words in the Space Talks are defined in the glossary.   From HOA  site!!!

Pawnee Sky Observations

Elk skin star chartThe seemingly simplistic astronomical observational tools that you have used to observe and determine the motions of the Moon, stars, and planets would have appeared extremely sophisticated to the Pawnee Indians living on the Great Plains of Nebraska a century ago. They were skillful sky watchers. Proof of their observational activities resides in the Pawnee collection at the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History. Discovered in one of the Pawnee "Sacred Bundles" groups of ceremonial objects wrapped together was a star chart. The chart is made from a piece of tanned elk skin, oval in shape, and approximately 38 cm by 55 cm in size. Its exact age is uncertain, but it is thought to be between 100 and 300 years old. 

One end of the Pawnee sky map is colored reddish-brown and the other brownish-yellow. The stars are represented by a four-pointed figure and are drawn in five different sizes, representing different brightness, or magnitudes. The map depicts several constellations with the most prominent stars drawn according to magnitude. Polaris is shown at a brighter magnitude and all the remaining stars in Ursa Minor are depicted as having a similar, fainter magnitude. Through the center of the map is a stream of fainter magnitudes, representing the stars of the Milky Way as they appear to the unaided eye. The Milky Way appears in the center of the chart, and it seems to be representing a division between the two major seasons. The star groups to the right of the Milky Way resemble the summer night sky and end with the band of brownish-yellow; the star groups to the left resemble the winter night sky and end with the reddish-brown band of color. A solid line around the oval represents the horizon. The Pawnee constructed this portable planisphere to keep a record of the night-time sky. 

Some of the asterisms for the constellations that seem to be represented on the sky map are in the image below. The constellations are Taurus (including the open cluster, the Pleiades), Orion, Auriga, Lyra, Corona Borealis, Ursa Minor, and Ursa Major. There has been more than one interpretation of these constellations. Some of the positions of the constellations do not coincide with their real-sky counterparts, although perhaps we simply do not know how to interpret the chart. There may be other aspects of the sky being represented, such as important constellations moving from the horizon and overhead past the meridian and/or zenith. The stars and constellations the Pawnee considered more significant in tracking the seasons may be exaggerated, and the remaining stars made less prominent in the background, producing distortions in scale.

Elk skin star chartThe importance of the sky chart to their culture was considerable, important enough to be included in a sacred bundle. Every Pawnee household had a sacred bundle, which they believed were gifts from the stars, whom they considered to be supernatural beings who often descended to Earth to maintain relationships with mortal people. One major Pawnee legend deals with the origin of the sacred tribal bundle, which was guarded and protected by the tribal shaman for its magical charms. The bundle could be used to invoke the aid of the Great Spirit in bringing buffalo to the tribe in times of hunger. 

The Pawnee Indian sky map gives no indication of the importance of the Sun's apparent yearly path through the sky, called the ecliptic, or the day of the year when the Sun reaches its highest point in the sky, the summer solstice. They did not develop an accurate lunar calendar, either. Most ancient cultures, as well as other North American Indian tribes, had calendars calculated with either the Moon or the summer solstice, but the Pawnee were the star people of the Plains. The Pawnee marked their year, not with the Sun's motions or the phases of the Moon, but with the appearance in the southeast sky of two small stars known as the "swimming ducks," and the Pleiades. The stars served not only as a calendar for the Pawnee, they developed more elaborate star ceremonies and rituals than any other tribe. The stars and constellations were a great influence on almost every aspect of their lives, and even their houses were laid out in patterns which duplicated the patterns of the constellations, indicating the positions of their most important star gods. 

not mine !!!! tjt