Across time, people have marked the changes of seasons—sometimes in dramatic ways! Here are five amazing ancient sites—Machu Picchu and Stonehenge and more—aligned with the solstices and equinoxes.
Did you know that the equinoxes and solstices happens at the same moment around the world? Even though we all have different time zones, this is an astronomical event, based on our planet’s orbit around the Sun and tilt on its axis.
Our ancestors lived amidst nature more than most of us do today. They observed the universe, marveling in its rhythms. They used the Sun and the Moon as a sort of calendar, tracking the Sun’s path across the sky. Here are some examples of the ancient sites and monuments that aligned with the solstice and equinox.
Our ancestors built the first observatories to track the sun’s progress.
1. Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu (pictured above) is the transcendent City of the Incas. This archaeological site is perched atop a mountain overlooking the Urubamba Valley in Peru.
There is a giant stone at the top of this sacred mountain called Intihuatana, which means “the place when the sun gets tied.” Amazingly, the stone is perfectly positioned so each corner sits at the four cardinal points (north, south, east and west). Therefore, the stone is a precise indicator of the date of the two equinoxes; it’s a solar click.
2. Chichen Itza
At what is now Chichen Itza (“CHEE-chen-EET-sa”), Mexico, Mayans built a huge pyramid around the year A.D. 1000. The play of the Sun’s light on it signals the beginning of the seasons.
On the spring equinox, for example, the light pattern looks like a snake. Mayans called this day “the return of the Sun serpent.” See more photos of this incredible pyramid at the Chichen Itza Web site.
Every year on the summer solstice, thousands of people travel to Wiltshire, England to Stonehenge, a place with huge stones that were arranged in a circle around 3000 B.C. The huge monument marks the relation between the Sun and the seasons.
On the dawning of the summer solstice, the sun rises directly above the Heel Stone—a mysterious prehistoric monument whose origins, depending on interpretation, were as an ancient burial ground, an astrological observatory, even a supernatural phenomenon. See photos and historical details on the Stonehenge Web site.
4. Chaco Canyon
In today’s Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, the Ancestral Puebloan people, who were expert sky watchers, carved spiral designs into rock to track the seasons and record the passage of time.
In this canyon is a petroglyph called the Sun Dagger because of the way the Sun’s wedge-shape beams strike it in midday during the summer and winter solstices. See virtual movies of the Sun Dagger and other beautiful sites.
Around 3200 B.C., ancient people in Ireland built a huge mound of dirt and surrounded it with stones. Today, the knoll is called Newgrange.
For five days over the winter solstice period, a beam of sunlight illuminates a small room inside the mound for 17 minutes at dawn. The room holds only twenty people at a time.
Every year, thousands enter a lottery in hope of being one of the hundred people allowed to enter. See photos of Newgrange.
Celebrate the Seasons!
Mark the equinoxes and solstices! See our seasons page with dates for the start of spring, summer, fall, and winter.
Have you traveled to these ancient sites? Follow the links above to visit virtually. And tell us how you celebrate the seasons!