Saturday, February 16, 2013


On January 18, 2013, I posed the question “can we identify meteorites or meteorite falls in rock art?” Although I have been looking for some time I have not, as yet, been able to identify any image that I can realistically state might represent a meteorite. However, there are examples of images of meteors and meteorites in Native American art that we might use as models in our search.

Lone Dog winter count, painted on buffalo hide.

In their wonderful 2007 book The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian, Candace S. Greene and Russell Thornton illustrate the imagery used by Lakota artist/historians to record each year in Winter Counts, kept as a historic record of the tribe or clan.  For the year 1821-22, many winter counts use the symbol of a star with a tail or line behind it. This records a large meteor that passed over Lakota territory from the southeast to the northwest, and reportedly exploded with great noise over Dakota Territory.

They provide illustrations of this drawn in the Lone Dog winter count, The Flame winter count, The Swan winter count, Long Soldier winter count, Cloud Shield winter count, Rosebud winter count, and Battiste Good winter count, and each example is a variation of the star with a line extending from it.

1821-22, Lone Dog Winter Count.
Greene and Thornton, 2007.

1821-22, Long Soldier Winter Count.
Greene and Thornton, 2007.

1821-22, Battiste Good's Winter Count.
Greene and Thornton, 2007.

In viewing these remember that the direction of the line may indicate where it passed overhead in relation to the observer. To understand this, think of an airplane contrail above you in the clear sky.  Thus, in the examples by The Flame, Rosebud, Cloud Shield, Lone Dog, and the one procured from Major Bush, the line is beneath the star suggesting that it was observed somewhere toward the horizon for the viewer and appeared to rise upwards as it approached the zenith. Long Soldier’s image shows it passing from right to left suggesting that he was to the south of its apparent track and he saw it going from right to left in the northern sky. Battiste Good’s drawing shows the meteorite on a generally downward path suggesting that from his viewing point the meteorite appeared generally above him, and he saw it as if descending toward the  horizon.

As I stated above, I personally know of no rock art imagery that fits these descriptions, however, that certainly does not mean that they are not out there. Indeed, given that so many illustrations of this event were created on hide and muslin in Winter Counts, the surprise would be if there were no rock art examples created also. If you know of any please send me a photo and let's get it posted.

And if you find this of interest check my PowerPoint WHEN THE STARS FELL - the 1833 meteor storm  listed in the right sidebar of this page.


Greene, Candace S. and Russell Thornton
2007    The Year the Stars Fell: Lakota Winter Counts at the Smithsonian, Smithsonian National Museum.

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