Exploratory research of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel acting as an indigenous place-based pedagogical instrument for learning sky-earth relationships, skywatching fundamentals, and celestial mechanics

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Letters & Science


This study explored the ability of the Big Horn Medicine Wheel to act as a pedagogical instrument for learning sky-earth relationships. The Big Horn Medicine Wheel is one of six large stone wheels in the northern plains that show astronomical potential. It is a National Historic Landmark and Sacred Site, created before all known histories--oral and written. Forty years ago, John Eddy and Jack Robinson proposed the first stellar alignments at the Wheel. My own study between 2009 and 2014 concluded that the Wheel's placement, its "Place," reveals extensive symmetry with celestial mechanics and offers pedagogy for learning skywatching fundamentals. My study combined the methods of Native Science and Western science. I collected oral histories, compared images of the Wheel taken by various photographers over 100 years, and tracked stars and the Sun through summer and fall seasons for five years using the naked eye, binoculars, transits, GPS, and a Meade Cassegrain 8" electronic telescope. I sought Native ceremony to prepare for the immersion of my senses in place-based cognition while allowing my intelligence to learn from "inert" materials such as stars, mountains, and stones. My results showed the Wheel accurately mirrors the sky using embedded stones on the ground to correspond to the major north polar stars over the Earth's 24,000 precessional cycle. The Wheel is perfectly situated on the shoulder of Medicine Mountain to make use of the dip in the northern mountainous horizon to cradle the precessional north polar stars as they roll through their millennia cycles, creating a stellar circle in the sky above the Wheel's stone circle on earth. I found the latitude of the Wheel is a "sweet spot" for detecting small angular changes in heliacal stars over time and for the nightly, yearly, and 5000-year circular movement of its zenith star Capella, which also holds a symmetry with the northern landscape. And I found the twenty-eight segments of the Wheel correspond to stellar grid systems based on asterisms. I make no conclusion about the builder's purpose, only about the possible pedagogical uses of the symmetry of the Wheel in its contextual Place.




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