Monday, May 31, 2010


One common theme in the rock art of the American southwest is the symbol of one or more concentric circles, often around a central dot. This symbol of concentric circles has been recognized as a representation of the sun throughout Ancestral Puebloan rock art of the American Southwest.

The pueblo culture is, and has been, constructed around an agricultural tradition based on maize, beans, and squash. The people depended upon their faith and knowledge of the natural cycles of their environment to provide for their families. Many of the petroglyphs and pictographs created by the Anasazi understandably illustrate a concern with the weather, portraying symbols such as clouds and rain. One of the most common weather symbols is the sun, portrayed as one of the variations of the concentric circles theme. As a symbol for the sun, these concentric circles model a specific atmospheric condition, the haloed sun.

Concentric circle sun symbol,
Sego Canyon, Utah.
Photo: Peter Faris, 1980.

Concentric circle sun symbols,
Signal Hill, Tucson, AZ.
Photo: Jack & Esther Faris, 1990.

As the sun moves north of the equator in the Northern Hemisphere summer, the land mass is rapidly warmed. This leads to the development of a low-pressure cell over the arid North American Southwest. Winds follow a pressure gradient from high to low and flow counterclockwise about a low in the Northern Hemisphere, bringing a monsoon flow of moist air from the Gulf of California over Arizona and New Mexico by mid-July, accompanied by afternoon showers and thunderstorms. As the moist air heats up over the desert, it rises and begins to cool with increased altitude. This rising air can reach an altitude of as high as 15 km, forming the thin, sheet like high altitude cloud cover called cirrostratus that often covers the entire sky so thinly that the sun and moon can be clearly seen through them. Ice crystals in the cirrostratus can refract the light passing through them producing a circle around the sun or moon known as a halo. The most common halo is the 22º halo, a ring of light around the sun or moon at a radius of 22º, about the distance from the end of the thumb to the little finger on the outstretched arm. These conditions are also often a precursor to oncoming precipitation within a few hours to a day.

Sun with halo, May 19, 2010. Photo: Peter Faris, 2010.

Sun with halo, May 19, 2010. Photo: Peter Faris, 2010.

The solar halo illustrated was photographed at my home on the morning of May 19, 2010, and rain began to fall approximately four hours later.

Tawa, Sun kachina.

As a precursor of precipitation a circle around the sun would be of great import to a people dependent upon rain for a successful harvest. Such a case might be expected to apply in the American Southwest where agricultural societies were aware of their almost total dependence upon precipitation for the success of their crops. This possibility is reinforced by the design of the case mask worn by the Sun Kachina (Hopi Tawa Kachina) which is quite clearly circular and is surrounded by a border of black-tipped feathers. In this mask the white body of the feather and the ring of their black tips represent the concentric circles around the face of the sun. Thus the haloed sun, which may have originally inspired the concentric circle symbols in Ancestral Puebloan rock art, can still be seen in the Sun kachina mask worn by Puebloan kachina dancers and remains a living factor in their beliefs.


  1. Excellent Post....very inspiring!

    Please see my blog on
    Rock Art and Tribal Art of India. The link is as follows:

    This is a unique exposition on Prehistoric Rock Art made by early Man in Bhimbetka, India - a world heritage site declared by UNESCO. Dr.Somnath Chakraverty, an Anthropologist and an eminent rock art expert narrates early cognitive development of Mankind during Palaeolithic, Mesolithic, Chalcolithic and early Historic periods.
    Key words: Anthropology of Art-Prehistoric Rock Art-Earliest Art in Asia & India-Primitive Art-Primeval Art-Tribal Art-Ethnographic Analogy - Cave Art Tradition
    Awaiting your reply and further collaboration for Documentation and display of Rock Art of India and other parts of the world.
    My email address is :
    Thanking You with Regards,

  2. Beautiful explanation and rationale for the concentric circle as a pervasive image in Desert Southwest petroglyph art. LOVE IT! Thank you!