Monday, January 17, 2011


Tracks on cliff, Fremont Indian State Park, Utah. Photo: Peter Faris, 2001.

Native Americans recognized constellations of stars just like other ancient cultures, they just had different names for them. In Stars of the First People, Dorcas Miller (1997:179) wrote “Pueblo farmers kept turkeys, so it is not surprising that they should recognize a Turkey Feet constellation. John P. Harrington, an ethnologist who worked in the southwest and published information about Tewa constellations in 1916, writes that the group is “”an easily learned constellation of the exact form of a turkey’s foot,”” but to the frustration of later readers he does not identify these stars. The shape of a turkey’s foot is similar to that of the Northern Cross, which has also been suggested as the Pawnee Bird’s Foot constellation.” The Northern Cross is the central grouping of the larger constellation Cygnus, the Swan. Looking at star charts for this area of the sky, I find nearby another classical constellation that looks, if anything, even more like a turkey track and that is Aquila, the Eagle. Taken together Cygnus the Swan and Aquila the Eagle would represent a pair of turkey tracks, Turkey would have been walking across the sky.

Star map showing Eagle and Northern Cross constellations.
Miller, Stars of the First People, p.17.

When we find a row of bird tracks on a rock in the Southwest there are a standard few pat answers as to what they represent. In many instances they would be assumed to represent the turkey itself and its role as a food source, or a source of feathers, or even represent a spirit helper. In traditionally ancestral Puebloan areas they might be called clan symbols. What I do not believe that I have ever seen as an explanation however, is that they might represent an archaeoastronomical reference, the constellation – Turkey Tracks across the sky.

Miller, Dorcas S.
1997     Stars of the First People, Native American Star Myths and Constellations, Pruett Pub. Co.,
             Boulder, Colorado.

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