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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge

Technology Through Time: Issue #29, Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Scattered across the upper Great Planes and into Alberta, rings of stones bare mute testimony to ancient rituals and purposes long since lost in legend and folklore. For 4000 years, some have watched the passage of time and a million sunsets.


Big Horn, Wyoming
Latitude 4449.6'
Longitude 10755.7'


The wheel has 28 spokes, the same number used in the roofs of ceremonial lodges. The wheel was built between 1200 and 1700 AD. The central cairn is the oldest part. Excavations have shown it extends below the wheel and has been buried by wind-blown dust. Alberta has about 66% of all known Medicine wheels (46) which suggests that Southern Alberta was a central meeting place for many Plains tribes who followed Medicine Wheel ceremonies (usually on the Summer Solstice - June 21st).


At the center of the wheel there is a raised central cairn, and several others on the periphery of the wheel. These have been alleged to have astronomical alignments. Astronomer John Eddy suggested that a line drawn between the central cairn and an outlying cairn at the Bighorn Medicine Wheel pointed to within 1/3 of a degree of the rising point of the sun at the summer solstice. The actual astronomical purpose of the design of these wheels remains controversial. The design may also have assisted in the performance of specific rituals and ceremonies that have been lost to us. The 28 spokes could indicate the lunar month, or the length of the female menstrual cycle.



Image Gallery:

Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Photo Credit:

Prof. Steve Dutch

Explore Big Horn Medicine Wheel

Explore Bighorn Medicine Wheel though a variety of on-line resources including satellite views and a 3-D Tour! Find answers to questions such as "What are Medicine Wheels? What purpose do they serve? Where do the Sun & stars rise & set?"

Technology Through Time Bulletin Board Activity

This bulletin board activity is designed to focus student attention on the role that sun watching has played in humankind's survival through time. As part of this display you may wish to use your own world map ordownload one we have created for you.

Related Big Horn Medicine Wheel Links