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Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest Paperback – April, 1993

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Johnson Books; Rev Sub edition (April 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555661165
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555661168
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,214,888 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

J. McKim Malville is a professor of astronomy at the University of Colorado. Elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science for his work in solar astrophysics, he has concentrated in recent years on studies of the ancient astronomy of India and the American Southwest.

Claudia Putnam, a former student of his, has a particular interest in the Southwest.

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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Readalots on May 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Malville and Putnam bring an interesting and informative study with "Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest" (1993). As a means of understanding the now long disappeared life of the ancient Anasazi people the authors review several southwestern prehistoric Native American sites from an astronomy viewpoint.

With an eye to the sky, Malville and Putnam study Chaco Canyon (New Mexico), Hovenweep (Utah), Chimney Rock (New Mexico) Yellow Jacket (Utah), and Mesa Verde (Colorado), to form the basis of their scientific conclusions. The authors talk about the similarities and differences between each archaeological site. They make several informed suggestions about corner windows (page 35), sunrooms (page 39), the significance of carved spirals on cliff dwelling walls (page 44), ancient Anasazi male and female industry (page 52), T-shaped doorways (page 92), and much more. They think Anasazi life was continuously influenced by celestial activity and portents.

Proving conclusively that the ancients were fervent sky watchers, Malville and Putnam consider the subterranean Kiva, found at nearly all Anasazi locations, to be the principal astronomical symbol. This community central structure may have represented the center of the ancient cosmos. Much of Anasazi belief and living pattern may have focused around what happened in the Kiva as representative for what was seen in the sky.

Although this book is small (108 total paperback pages) its science is well documented (with 6 pages of endnotes). It offers dozens of black and white photos, sky charts, maps and illustrations (of particular interest is page 14's illustrated method for using a gnomon to locate "true north").

This is a very good book.
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By Robert C. Ross on April 14, 2015
Format: Paperback
This fine book was updated in a new edition in 2012: go to Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest.

My review of the revised edition is at

J. McKim Malville has a history of updating this fine guide every four years or so to keep up with the new and exciting, as well as the better established learning on astronomy in the Southwest. I haven't seen a new version yet, and he doesn't seem to maintain a blog. But this is really interesting information and he gives a good bibliography to help you keep up to date with other researchers.

The first four chapters deal with general concepts of archeoastronomy, with references to sky watcher as long ago as 7,000 years in the Sahara Desert at Lake Playa. His focus, though, is on the Ancestral Puebloans and their culture in the 600 years between 700 and 1300 CE. He identifies four major themes:

1. Ceremonies at the solstice; the sun dwells at the extreme points for several days so it was relatively easy to establish markers. But, in such a dry climate, with rainfall uncertain, there are better ways to determine when to plant than the position of the sun on the horizon.

2. North-south orientation; this science began in the San Juan region and moved southward into Chaco Canyon where the Great Houses display sophisticated astronomy and strong social cohesion and leadership.

3. Major stand-stills of the moon, obvious, perhaps, at Chimney Rock where every 18.6 years the moon, but never the sun, rises between the chimneys.

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