Masters Thesis

The Pawnee Star Chart: An Experimental Reading from Positional Astronomy

Purpose of the Study: The Pawnee Star Chart is a relic of the Pawnee tribe, Skiri band, once successful inhabitants of the Central Plains of North America until 19th century pressures forced abandon-of former lifeways. The Skiri had been reknowned for an elaborate ceremonial religious system loosely described as star worship. The Chart is oval, painted on skin, 38 X 56 cm in dimension. Date of execution of execution is unknown. Native identification of stars on the Chart is somewhat mythologized but to a later investigator the Chart is only a partial illustration of either the known fragments of Skiri mythology or the actual sky. The purpose of this study is to investigate the notion that the Chart may be a more realistic portrayal of the actual sky than previously suggested. Procedure: To determine possible relationships between Chart and Sky, this study has used positional astronomy's WHAT/WHERE/WHEN by comparing Chart with contemporary star maps (inverted east-west for consistency with Chart's mirror-image of Sky). underlying this comparison are considerations of the non-scientific observer as painter. Findings: Features on Chart are found to be virtually congruent with the most prominent features of Sky once Chart shape and sequences of execution are considered. (WHAT/WHERE). Quadrant placement and several other features strongly suggest WHEN factors, to be discussed in a subsequent study. Conclusion: Close positional similarities between Chart and Sky suggest that the painter was both a persistent observer of Sky and a practiced copier of spatial relationships.