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Navajo State Park hosts astrophysicist’s program on Chimney Rock and Chaco Canyon

Watch the nearly full moon rise at Navajo State Park on Saturday, Sept. 1, at 8 p.m., and learn from Dr. Roger Kopp about what the sun and the moon meant to native peoples of the Four Corners region.

Kopp will talk about Chaco Canyon’s and Chimney Rock’s connection with archaeoastronomy, which is the study of how ancient cultures used astronomy in art and building.

Navajo Lake lies midway between Chaco Canyon and Chimney Rock. Three renowned Navajo astronomical rock art panels or planetariums were located along the San Juan River, but disappeared below the reservoir waters in 1962.

Now retired, Kopp was an astrophysicist and researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. A telescope and binoculars will be available to the public for viewing. This is a good opportunity to learn about the relatively new subject of archaeoastronomy.

The prehistoric inhabitants of Chaco Canyon, the ancestral Puebloans, were remarkably advanced in their knowledge and use of naked-eye astronomy.? They understood the daily, monthly and yearly motions of the sun, moon and stars — as far as could be discerned without the aid of telescopes and other modern day technology.? Astronomy was an important part of their everyday lives, as evidenced by the orientation and alignments of their major constructions – pueblos or villages, houses, kivas and prehistoric roads or pathways.? Many of these had rather precise astronomical alignments with significant events in the heavens.

The most remote and isolated of the known Chacoan great houses is located high atop a narrow mesa at nearby Chimney Rock Archaeological Area, which is under consideration for designation as a new national monument. In 1988, Dr. J. McKim “Kim” Malville, professor of astrophysics at the University of Colorado, proposed that Chimney Rock was a site of great astronomical and ceremonial importance to the prehistoric peoples of the Four Corners area.? He theorized that the ancestral Puebloans probably used Chimney Rock’s twin natural rock spires for the observation of astronomical events called “major lunar standstills,” which were known to occur at intervals of 18.6 years.? In addition, other alignments in and around the Chimney Rock pueblo mark important solar events, such as the summer solstice,? and thus were likely used for calendrical purposes.?

Visitors to the Navajo Lake area are welcome to attend this talk.? All events in the park are free with a Colorado State Parks pass — either a $7 day pass or a seasonal pass. Call 970-883-2208 for more information or log on to the park’s website at www.parks.state.co.us/Parks/Navajo.

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