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Supernova in Chaco Canyon Rock Art

Penasco Blanco, Chaco Canyon July, 1054 a.d.


Chaco Canyon Supernova Rock Art

Chaco Canyon Supernova Rock Art

Alex Marentes
In Chaco Canyon, in what is now the state of New Mexico, there is an unusual Anasazi rock painting. "With red paint on the underside of a low overhang, a Chacoan artist depicted a sun, a crescent moon, and a star, signing his work with the hand print that marks a site as sacred in the Pueblo tradition. It's possible...that the Penasco Blanco painting represents the a.d. 1054 supernova that resulted in the formation of the Crab Nebula. That supernova would have been visible in the American Southwest at the beginning of Chaco Canyon's peak period as a cultural center. The exploding star, which would have shone brightly enough to be visible during the day, would have appeared in conjunction with a waning crescent moon."

--Prehistoric Astronomy in the Southwest J. McKim Malville and Claudia Putnam


Penasco Blanco, Chaco Canyon July, 1054 a.d.

Nothing is as it was
all changed now as the land absorbs
the light of this new star burning
by day.

Always the heavens have directed us
homes and shrines in accordance
that we not live against the grain
of the cosmos that we become
integral part of pulse and flow
but this new presence shining above
what can it mean?

The people look to us but no priest
can explain. Concerned faces in the village
quiet confusion in kivas
fire messages blaze nightly and
runners run the roads.

Sandstone pressing
into my back I lie
on this ledge with my paints
record mysteries of the sky.
Below, the wash all appears
as it was but the
bright light brings wonder brings fear
will the rains continue to love
this place?

Sun, I paint
moon in crescent, fiery star
my palm into pigment pressed
against rock acknowledgment
Nothing is as it was.

--© Paul Young, Chaco Canyon, New Mexico 1992 re-vision 1996
Reprinted with permission; originally published in the American Indian Culture and Research Journal. Paul Young is a poet, brewer, and house remodeler. His poetry has appeared in The Gentle Survivalist, Native West Press, and other publications.
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