Saturday, January 7, 2012

Marks on Our Land: Sun Circles

Sun Circles

         In order to leave a record of their presence and sometimes beliefs, our ancestors left marks upon their homelands.  Ancient and old circular drawings and symbols have been found throughout north Alabama on rocks, copper artifacts, mussel shells, and beech trees for years.  Since the American beech can live from 600 to 800 years and can retain drawings on their bark for a long time, they were referred to as boundary trees by the Cherokee and other local tribes.  The beeches were used by both our early Indian people as well as the settlers who left their marks upon the bark of the tree.  Many times the old circular Indian and pioneer etching signify a relationship to the sun and several of these drawing as seen below are illustrated in the book, Sun Circles and Human Hands.

         Copper sun disks have been found in association with prehistoric Indian burials dating back to the Mississippian Period.  Before the time DeSoto traveled the southeast in 1540, Mississippian chiefs were adorned with copper disks having lines radiating out from a central point.  These rays represented the brightness of the sun and the importance of light and warmth to the ancient people and their crops.  Much of the planning for the planting season was associated with the solar and lunar cycles.  A number of days from the spring equinox or summer solstice was for planting the various crops which sustained the lives of our Southeastern Indian ancestors as well as our early pioneer settlers during the winter months.

         Today in the Warrior Mountains still visible in rock drawings (petroglyphs) and drawings on beech trees (arborglyphs), looms the mystic sun bursts, sun disks, or sun circles.  Probably the Mississippian descendants of a race trodden under foot remembered the importance of the ancient ways of their ancestors.  Some of the sun symbols, found as arborglyphs in the beech trees, signify the importance to their Indian culture of the sun to the pioneer descendants of the first Warrior Mountains inhabitants.

         Many images of the ancient sun burst, sun disk, or sun circle drawings have been found on the American beech trees found in the deep hollows of the forest.  Some of the drawings even though miles apart are very similar in their characteristics.  Two such sun symbol arborglyphs are found miles apart on beech trees on Hubbard Creek and Braziel Creek in Bankhead Forest.  Also found on Capsey Creek just inside Winston County,  under the Kinlock Rock Shelter in Lawrence County, and under the Trapp Shelter in Franklin County are very similar petroglyphs of these mystic sun symbols.  In the picture below of Kinlock Rock Shelter, the large boulder under the right side of the shelter contains sun symbols.

Kinlock Rock Shelter

         In 1775, James Adair writes in his book, History of the American Indians, "the Chickasaw name of the supreme deity as Loak-Ishto-Hoollo-Aba...which appears to signify the great holy fire above, and indicates his connection with the sun".  Adair adds that "he resides as they think above the clouds, and on earth also with unpolluted people.  He is with them the sole author of warmth, light, and of all animals and vegetable life".

         During 1773-1774, William Bartram in his writing, Observations on the Creek and Cherokee Indians, stated, "the Indians at treaties, councils, and other important occasions blew smoke tribute toward the sun, and looked at it in reverence".  As evidence from early historic writings, our Southeastern Indian ancestors believed the sun was one of the most important objects affecting their lives.

         The Yuchi who lived in the Warrior Mountains and through the Tennessee Valley during historic times were known as the "Children of the Sun" and believed that white people were born on the dark side of the moon.  The Yuchi as other local Indian tribes saw the importance of the sun to their food supply, warmth, and health.

         Without question, one only has to review historical records and to look upon these mysterious drawings to recognize the symbolic sun bursts, sun circles, or sun disks which were carved into trees and rocks of the Warrior Mountains.  Prior to the treaties taking all Indian lands, sun symbols of bursts, disks, and circles with rays were drawn to indicate the significance of the sun to our Indian ancestors and early mixed-blood settlers who lived in north Alabama.  Today throughout north Alabama, one can still find representations of the sun as made by these first people of our state.

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