Meteors and the Native Americans

Image taken from: Cowboy and Indian Art of America

Astronomers have found records that dated back over 2,500 years ago in China and Europe. They recorded all kinds of information about planets, eclipses, and comets, which gave us a better understanding of space today. It is important to know how other cultures felt and to know their theories of the world. Focusing on North America, we examine what they thought of outerspace.

During the last two decades scientist have looked at how Native Americans viewed at the world. We can not compare their recordings to the books which were written by the Chinese and Europeans. Native Americans wrote in caves, on rocks, with beadwork, and even on animal skins. The most magnificent thing for the Native Americans was the Leonid Meteor Shower of 1833, which is visible this November in 1998. They had many drawings and paintings, and transferred information with storytelling from generation to generation.

Native Americans made notches in sticks for the passing of every year. This way they could keep a record on how long ago something like this meteor shower happened. The Pawnee had a story about a man named Pahokatawa, who got killed and eaten by wild animals. Before he died he told his tribe that whenever they saw stars falling that would be him returning to Earth. When this event happened in 1833 everyone was frightened that the world was coming to an end, but one of the tribes men told them of Pahokatawa and the people were relieved.

Other Native tribes were afraid of meteors and here are a few things that the tribes thought happened when they witnessed a meteor shower. One tribe thought that meteors were a sign of death, and that the following winter there would be great death. Other tribes thought that a meteor falling to the horizon meant death to someone close to them like the chief. The Shawnee believed that it was a warrior being released or running away from danger. While other tribes believed that it was a person's soul going onto the afterlife. Although many Native Americans have different beliefs, they are basically that same story of an omen of trouble.

Recorded myths and beliefs help us to learn more about the Earth and skies in the past and therefore, what may be in store for the future in the universe we live in.

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Email: johnsonm@esuvm.emporia.edu