Saturday, November 20, 2010


Archaeoastronomy panel, Peñasco Blanco Trail,
Chaco Canyon, NM. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

Archaeoastronomy is the study of the astronomical knowledge of ancient peoples. Students of archaeoastonomy have long been fascinated with the evidence for ancient astronomy found in Chaco Canyon consisting of the Fajada Butte sun calendar and the supposed supernova panel on Peñasco Blanco trail. High above Chaco Canyon’s Peñasco Blanco trail can be found a panel that has often been identified as the Supernova of AD 1054 that produced the Crab Nebula. This well known panel includes a crescent moon, a 10-pointed star which is believed to represent the supernova explosion, and a hand print.

Archaeoastronomy panel, Peñasco Blanco trail, Chaco
Canyon, NM. Red color enhanced to bring out the tail of
the comet pictograph below. Photo: Peter Faris, 1997.

What is not usually mentioned is that there is more rock art at that location. Right below the supposed supernova panel on the rock overhang, and painted in white on the face of the cliff is a large concentric circle symbol, often identified as an Ancestral Pueblo sun symbol. In this case, however, what appears to be a faded flame-like extension can be seen projecting to the right from the sun symbol. This extension, which also appears to be considerably obscured by dust, seems to combine with the sun symbol to represent a comet. Using the large sun symbol as the head of the comet certainly implies that it was large and bright.

Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 900 and AD 1150. During that period Halley’s Comet appeared in AD 912, AD 989, AD 1066, and AD 1145. Elsewhere in the world the AD 1066 appearance figured as an omen in the Norman conquest of England and, as such was also portrayed in the Bayeux Tapestry record of Duke William’s conquest. One old written reference in England mentions it as appearing four times as bright as Venus, and another likened its size and brightness to that of the moon.

Field sketch of Halley's comet pictograph,
Peñasco Blanco trail, Chaco Canyon, NM.
Peter Faris, 1997.

I submit that the brightest and most impressive of these appearances would be the obvious candidate for reproduction above the Peñasco Blanco trail. From the information available that was probably the AD 1066 appearance of Halley’s. The proximity of that date to that of the supernova of AD 1054 also is suggestive of the AD 1066 appearance as we know that someone in that location had painted an astronomical event probably twelve years earlier. Certainly the people there at that time showed interest in the events seen in the heavens as is proved by the Fajada Butte Sun Calendar and the supernova panel. These clues suggest to me that the faded pictograph below the supernova panel is a record of the AD 1066 appearance of Halley’s Comet.


  1. Saw Halleys in1980s and it was large and hard to miss. I can certainly imagine someone going to the cliff-site to record the comet. I also wonder if the left portion of the supernova was made with a hand print and the other five points added to make the star shape. I like your diagram!

  2. Thanks for the post. I was there over the Winter Solstice. There is also a crescent moon and large circle (sun) to the left of the comet concentric circle left of the pictograph!