Earth Notes - Cross Quarters

Flagstaff, AZ – Earth Notes: Cross Quarters Days

Many different cultures throughout the world mark the solstices and equinoxes with holidays. But the times midway between these well-known celestial events have also been important, not least among the Southwest's Pueblo people.

These cross quarters days, as they're called, occur in early February and in May, August, and November.

Modern-day archaeoastronomers have been watching the sky on these days too. They've identified particular places where the sun's position helps predict the timing of significant agricultural activities and ceremonies.

Bryan Bates, archaeoastronomer and science instructor at Coconino Community College, has observed certain wall openings at a site in Wupatki National Monument near Flagstaff. In early February and early November, the rising sun can be viewed through one opening. In May and August the sunrise appears through another portal.

In addition, says Bates, these solar markers are combined with certain phases of the Moon in an intricate system of sky-watching. He adds that similar cross-quarter observations have been made at Hovenweep National Monument, Chaco Canyon, and other archaeological parks on the Colorado Plateau.

For the Hopi of northern Arizona, early February is the time of earth's renewal and the return of life. It's the occasion for ceremonies in which beans are grown in kivas. May is the time of planting. And in early November the Hopi prepare for winter.

Pueblo farmers, it turns out, rely as much on the heavens as on the earth for success with their crops and the things needed for a good life.

-Rose Houk