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Main: Total eclipse of the sun taken on 9 March 1997 (CC by SA 3.0). Inset: The petroglyph in Chaco Canyon, which may represent a solar eclipse. Credit: University of Colorado

Peculiar Petroglyph in Chaco Canyon Could Depict a Total Solar Eclipse

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Experts say an ancient petroglyph on a free-standing rock in Chaco Canyon could possibly portray the solar eclipse that occurred over New Mexico on July 11, 1097. The rare petroglyph shows a circle with curved, intricate swirling emissions extending outwards – possibly depicting a coronal mass ejection, which are most visible during a total eclipse.

Millennia Rock Art Probably Depicts a Solar Eclipse

While people are getting excited about the upcoming solar eclipse (August 21), Emeritus J. McKim “Kim” Malville, a CU Boulder Professor, claims that an ancient petroglyph in New Mexico's Chaco Canyon may depicts a total eclipse that took place almost a thousand years ago, CU Boulder Today reports . Apparently, our ancestors were just as curious and quick to share news about a solar eclipse, but in the absence of computers and social media they used more primitive ways to “catch” the breathtaking solar eclipse…rock art.

The swirls of the corona are most visible during a total eclipse. Credit: University of Colorado

The swirls of the corona are most visible during a total eclipse. Credit: University of Colorado

Peculiar Petroglyph in Chaco Canyon Could Depict a Total Solar Eclipse

The strange rock engraving was discovered twenty-five years ago (1992) during a Chaco Canyon field study for CU Boulder and Fort Lewis College students led by Malville and then-Fort Lewis Professor James Judge. Chaco Canyon, the epitome of Pueblo civilization in the Southwest a millennium back, is thought to have been inhabited by many thousands of people and held political sway over an area twice the size of Ohio.

The rare petroglyph shows a circle with curved, intricate swirling emissions extending outwards, possibly the swirls of the corona, while human figures can be seen engaged in different activities. “To me it looks like a circular feature with curved tangles and structures. If one looks at a drawing by a German astronomer of the 1860 total solar eclipse during high solar activity, rays and loops similar to those depicted in the Chaco petroglyph are visible,” Malville of CU Boulder’s astrophysical and planetary sciences department told CU Boulder Today , who suggests that the unique object depicts the total solar eclipse that occurred in the region on July 11, 1097.

A drawing of a total solar eclipse on July 18, 1860, by German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel, shows solar activity during the occultation. Photo: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry

A drawing of a total solar eclipse on July 18, 1860, by German astronomer Wilhelm Tempel, shows solar activity during the occultation. Photo: Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry

Examination of the Petroglyph Reveals Valuable Information

Malville and José Vaquero of the University of Extremadura in Cáceres, Spain, managed to date the carving on the basis of the loops that they considered to be a coronal mass ejections (CME). These CMEs are eruptions that can blow billions of tons of plasma from the sun at several million miles per hour during active solar periods. “This was a testable hypothesis…It turns out the sun was in a period of very high solar activity at that time, consistent with an active corona and CMEs,” Malville stated as CU Boulder Today reports . Next, they published a paper on the petroglyph in the Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry in 2014.

Various Methods Used to “Read” the Petroglyph’s Solar Eclipse

The two used many different methods to evaluate the activity of the sun around the time of the 1097 solar eclipse. As CU Boulder reports , the scientists gathered data from ancient tree rings, formed each year and which have been cross-dated to produce time series going back thousands of years and which also contain traces of the isotope carbon-14. “Created by cosmic rays hitting Earth’s atmosphere, carbon-14 amounts in the tree rings can be correlated with sunspots—the less carbon-14, the more sunspots, which indicates higher solar activity,” Malville told CU Boulder.

Additionally, they used records of naked-eye observations of sunspots, which go back several thousand years in China. Arguably, the most fascinating method involved looking at historical data compiled by northern Europeans on the annual number of so-called "auroral nights," when the northern lights were visible, an indication of intense solar activity.

The petroglyph was found in Chaco Canyon. Pictured: Pueblo Bonito is the largest great house in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

The petroglyph was found in Chaco Canyon. Pictured: Pueblo Bonito is the largest great house in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico. ( CC by SA 3.0 )

Piedra del Sol

The free-standing rock hosting the probable eclipse petroglyph, also known as “Piedra del Sol,” includes a massive spiral petroglyph on its east side that marks sunrise fifteen to seventeen days before the June solstice. “A triangular shadow cast by a large rock on the horizon crosses the center of the spiral at that time. Such a phenomenon may have been used to start a countdown to the summer solstice and related festivities. In addition to the spiral petroglyph, the east side of Piedra del Sol contains a bowl-shaped depression where Chacoans likely left offerings like cornmeal. The southwest side of the rock faces a small butte on the horizon that marks the December solstice event, and the rock also has carved steps, indicating it likely had some kind of a ceremonial importance,” Malville told CU Boulder . And adds, “This possible eclipse petroglyph on Piedra del Sol is the only one we know of in Chaco Canyon,” even though he doesn’t rule out the possibility that two other Chaco Canyon rock art pieces may be connected to astronomical events as well – those of 1054’s supernova and Halley’s Comet from 1066.

Top image: Main: Total eclipse of the sun taken on 9 March 1997 ( CC by SA 3.0 ). Inset: The petroglyph in Chaco Canyon, which may represent a solar eclipse. Credit: University of Colorado

By Theodoros Karasavvas

Comments

You can see the solar corona with the naked eye if you are in the path of totality when the sun is completely covered by the moon .. Maybe you shouldn't be commenting on such things yourself.

Rays of the sun as tongues of fire is an artistic form of expression, not a reality to the naked eye of a solar eclipse. This is what you get when someone with a law and english degree start commenting on archaeological explanations of an unusual petroglyph when alongside stick figures....! Sheesh

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