Archaeotrek—Alternate Perceptions Magazine, April 2016
Star Portal Alignments at the Moundville, Alabama Native American Indian Mound Complex
by: Dr. Greg Little
Star Alignments in the Path of Souls
The Path of Souls http://www.amazon.com/Path-Souls-American-Skeletons-Smithsonian/dp/0965539253 ritual involves four key alignments of mounds and earthworks to the horizon, all of which are designed to allow observers to view the stellar event from the top of one major mound across another mound or earthwork placed in precise position. It is thought that tall, large wooden posts were erected on the mounds to show the spot on the distant horizon where the stellar event took place. It is also believed that the high mounds allowed those viewing the celestial events to view the rising and setting of stars on the distant horizon, sometimes seen at the tops of large temple structures placed on the flattops of mounds in a precise fashion.
The four key stellar alignments in the Path of Souls journey took place on the Winter Solstice, generally December 21. They are: 1) The place on the horizon where the sun sets on the Winter Solstice; 2) The horizon location where the Cygnus Constellation (or the star Deneb) sets shortly after sunset; 3) The place on the horizon where the Orion Constellation is first seen at sunset; and, 4) The location on the horizon where Orion sets just before dawn. One additional stellar element is needed. That is that the Scorpius Constellation needed to be below the horizon and not visible when the ceremony took place.
The core ideas in the Path of Souls’ death journey are well established and accepted by mainstream archaeology (Little, 2014). It was believed by many Mound Builder tribes that the soul, termed the “free-soul,” made a journey to the stars after death. The journey could only be taken at a time when Scorpius was not visible. This was because Scorpius was believed to be the ruler of the underworld and would snatch the soul. Thus, the journey was typically made at a time in the winter when the Scorpius Constellation was below the horizon. At many mound complex sites, the best time was at the Winter Solstice, when all of the key elements aligned. (This is partly why many mound cultures stored the bundled bones of the deceased.)
In brief, at dusk on the evening of the Winter Solstice, the soul journeyed to the west where it came to a body of water. It then waited till early morning when Orion’s Nebula (Messier-42) was about to descend below the horizon. Orion’s Nebula is the fuzzy spot below the three belt stars of Orion. The ancient mound builders saw the Constellation of Orion as a “hand.” Just before Messier-42 descended below the horizon, the soul made a leap toward the nebula. The nebula was thought to be a slit in the sky, a portal (called an “ogee”) that allowed the soul to pass safely through the underworld during the next day. The next night, the soul started a journey along the Milky Way toward the north. The Milky Way was the Path of Souls. The Milky Way was seen as a river of other souls making the same journey and was the pathway all souls took. On the path there were various tasks, but the soul eventually made it to a fork in the path. The fork was the Dark Rift of the Milky Way, where it splits into two sides. At this split, the soul encountered a judge or mediator represented by a large raptor bird. The Constellation of Cygnus was the bird. If the soul passed the tests, the soul was allowed to make a final journey out of the sky dome through a portal believed to be the star Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus.
Moundville, Alabama Mounds
The Moundville site is a Mississippian Era mound complex that reached its zenith in A.D. 1200. It is considered to be one of the most important archaeological sites in America and dates to the period of A.D. 1000-1450. It was a 300-acre complex consisting of over 30 large platform mounds arranged in a wide rectangle. A large plaza area was in the central area with a single large truncated pyramid in the center. A huge palisade wall encircled the complex on three sides with the Black Warrior River on the other side. The largest mound was 58-feet in height and 29 mounds remain at the well-maintained site today. At its peak, archaeologists believe that 1000 people lived inside the walled complex and another 10,000 lived in the immediate surrounding area. Virtually all of the Path of Souls symbols and iconography have been found at Moundville, thus alignments to the key stars involved in the ritual should be present at the site.
In 1987, Sherrod and Rolingson of the Arkansas Archaeological Survey published alignment evaluations on 33 mound sites, almost all of which were Mississippian sites. They noted that alignments to the solstice sunrises and sunsets were present at most sites and also found that Orion and other stars appeared to be focal points. They also noted that Cygnus was one of the key constellations. The archaeologists also noted that “naked eye astronomy” at such sites, where constellations, stars, and the sun were observed from one mound across another mound, required a margin of error because of the vast amount of space that some events encompassed. For example, when viewing Cygnus, one small point in the distance was insufficient to view the entire constellation. In addition, viewing a sunset on the horizon usually encompassed the entire mound over which the sunset was being observed. In brief, some alignments would take place over entire mounds. The archaeologists also noted that the solstice alignments were identified at Moundville in 1971. At Moundville, the key viewing area for celestial events was clearly defined as the large central mound, a truncated pyramid presently about 21 feet in height with a base of roughly 200 by 300 feet.
Utilizing the computer program Starry Night Pro, the key stellar alignments in the Path of Souls concept were checked for the Moundville site on the Winter Solstice in A.D. 1200. It was assumed that all key alignments to stars would be from the central mound. (Note: The photo of Moundville is a U.S. Air Force photo and the key alignments are noted. All the horizon alignments took place from the central mound across the tops of other mounds arranged around the plaza.)
The first item checked was the visibility of the Scorpius Constellation on the Winter Solstice night at Moundville. Results showed that Scorpius was below the horizon the entire night rising only after dawn when it could not be seen.
The second alignment was the sunset on the Winter Solstice. From the central mound the sunset would have appeared directly over a square, truncated mound (C. B. Moore labeled this mound “N”). The next alignment tested the visibility and actions of Cygnus. At dusk Cygnus was visible on the northwest horizon and it fell below the horizon at 11:03 PM. As viewed from the central mound, the setting of Cygnus was directly over a large truncated mound to the northwest (Moore’s Mound R.) The final alignments checked were the rising and setting of Orion. At 7:15 PM Orion was seen to rise on the southeast horizon directly over a mound situated close to the central mound (Moore’s Mound S.) It traversed the sky to the west until 5:43 AM when it set nearly due west directly over another truncated mound. (Moore’s Mound O.) The illustration with this article shows the alignments. Finally, the Black Warrior River bends sharply to the west of Moundville, serving as the body of water where the soul had to wait.
A wide variety of other Mississippian sites have also been checked for these same stellar alignments. Virtually all mound complexes arranged around central plazas appear to show the same features. For hundreds of years it has been recognized that the placement of mounds and earthworks was not random but involved topographical/geographical factors and other, then unknown, purposes. The Path of Souls alignments clearly show that many features at such ancient sites were purposely arranged to create alignments with the stars involved in the death ritual.
What Is Next?
Prior articles have raised a few key questions regarding these stellar alignments. Where did the idea originate and when did it first emerge? British author Andrew Collins raised the question about the importance of Cygnus around 2008. He found that Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus, was the North Star some 18,000 years ago and believes that it may have gained its significance at that time. Collins continues to work on this issue.
More work checking alignments at various mound sites will continue. In addition, efforts will be made to identify the oldest American site showing these key features.