Feature

Traditions of the Sun
12.21.05
Strictly speaking, the sun is a star -- the brightest star in the sky. In many ways, though, the sun is really our rock, though not in the literal sense of an earthy stone. It's more like a trusty security blanket you can always count on. The sun rises and sets with perfect reliability. It is our most dependable source of heat and light.

"Traditions of the Sun," an educational Web site for students and adults, explores the desire shared by past civilizations and today's society to observe and study the sun. The site features two interactive modules which include satellite images, aerial photographs, panoramic pictures, time-lapse videos and other multimedia. Each module is focused on a different ancient culture.
  • Maya in the Yucatan

    An ancient observatory in Chichen Itza
    Image to right: This ancient observatory in Chichén Itzá was used to chart the rising and setting positions of the sun, moon and the planet Venus. Credit: Jim Spadaccini, Ideum

    Before its collapse over 1,000 years ago, the Mayan civilization thrived in areas of Central America and Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. The Mayans were careful observers of the sun, able to accurately predict eclipses and celestial cycles. Keeping track of the seasons for agricultural purposes was so important that buildings and settlements were designed to help follow the sun's yearly cycles.

    In this "Traditions of the Sun" module, visitors learn about Mayan astronomy, history and culture by exploring the great Mayan cities of the Yucatan: Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, Dzibilchaltún and Mayapan.

  • Native Americans in Chaco Canyon

    Pueblo Bonito
    Image to right: Pueblo Bonito, the largest of all Chacoan structures, was designed such that on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the sun rises and sets in perfect alignment with the building's east-west-oriented southern wall. Credit: Michelle Williamson, Ideum

    New Mexico's Chaco Canyon was once home to the ancestors of today's Pueblo Indians. The canyon's large open spaces allows easy viewing of the rising and setting sun. Remains of stone buildings and ancient rock paintings from more than 1,000 years ago illustrate that watching the sun was an important part of Chacoan life.

    In this "Traditions of the Sun" module, visitors learn about the storied history, culture and astronomy of the Chacoan people by exploring archaeological sites across Chaco Culture National Historical Park.
"Traditions of the Sun" is a collaboration among NASA; the National Park Service at Chaco Canyon; the Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia and Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico; Space Imaging and Ideum, a media design company.

Traditions of the Sun Web site
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Related Resource
Traditions of the Sun Books
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Dan Stillman, Institute for Global Environmental Strategies