Summer Solstice Welcomed with Recreated Ancient Observatory at Jeffers Petroglyphs

For immediate release

Release dated: 
June 10, 2016
Media contacts: 

Jessica Kohen, 651-259-3148, jessica.kohen@mnhs.org
Mary Small, 612-226-8419, marysmall8419@gmail.com

Summer Solstice Welcomed with Recreated Ancient Observatory at Jeffers Petroglyphs

American Indian ancestors built original astronomical site thousands of years ago

Every day the Sun rises it impregnates Mother Earth.
-Dakota elder

An ancient, astronomical observatory, recently discovered and built on southwestern Minnesota prairie thousands of years ago by American Indian ancestors, will be replicated in a two-day public event at the Jeffers Petroglyphs historic site near Comfrey, Minn.

Solstice at Minnesota's Ancient Observatory, June 17 and 18, 2016:

  • The event begins at 7:30 p.m., Friday, June 17, 2016 with Jeffers site manager Tom Sanders discussing the ancient observatory’s discovery, and the study, documentation and science that confirmed its purpose. Participants will take a tour of the petroglyphs, ancient American Indian carvings made over a span of 7,000 years on a quartzite outcropping that divides the prairie.
  • As the sun sets, the group will replicate the original observatory, recently discovered and thousands of years old. The observatory, at an undisclosed site, spans nearly 600 square feet. It contains rock placements that mark the winter and summer solstices, the spring and fall equinoxes, several constellations (including Cygnus or the Swan) and other astronomical events.
  • The group will welcome the sun at Jeffers the next morning at 5 a.m., Saturday, June 18 to observe the summer solstice through the alignments of the observatory they have recreated.
  • Event participation is included with site admission of $8 for adults, $6 for seniors, college students and children ages 5-17, free for children age 4 and under and MNHS members. The event is recommended for school age through seniors.

“This is an extraordinary discovery,” said Sanders, an archaeologist whose inclusion of American Indian elders in studying the petroglyphs at Jeffers has broadened the interpretation and sacred intent of the 5,000 known, ancient carvings at the site. “Indian elders and archaeologists who have joined me in studying this observatory agree that this is not a random group of rocks but was an intentionally created, sacred space." 

Sanders noted that “the ancient observatory provides insight into how our ancestors thought, how sophisticated they were in their thinking. It really illustrates how intelligent and thoughtful the American Indian ancients were. Traditional academic thought is that only the ancient Greeks had a command of mathematics, geometry, and astronomy. This configuration of rocks on the prairie required extraordinary knowledge of mathematics and geometry.”

While the observatory’s configuration of rocks records several major astronomical events, Sanders believes the observatory’s focus is on the winter solstice. "In a snow covered northern climate it would be important to have a way to determine when spring is coming," said Sanders. “The sunrise that lines up with the winter solstice rock formation tells you that it is time to do certain ceremonies, and when to begin preparations for the next season.”  

Why build a replica? “The original is in a place where there are rare prairie plants, endangered species that can’t weather people,” said Sanders. “The observatory itself could be damaged, and our elders don’t want people on the site which is very sacred. It is fragile, rare, and needs protection. It is a miracle it survived. Our preservation action is to leave it as it is.”

The replica observatory will be built on restored prairie that is part of the Jeffers Petroglyphs site. The replica will remain on the site and will become part of the Jeffers experience. Future events at the solstice and equinox will be planned.

About Jeffers Petroglyphs
Jeffers Petroglyphs is located at 27160 County Road 2, Comfrey, Minnesota. Jeffers Petroglyphs is one of 26 Minnesota Historical Society sites and museums located statewide. Find out more at www.mnhs.org/jefferspetroglyphs.

MNHS is a non-profit educational and cultural institution established in 1849. MNHS collects, preserves and tells the story of Minnesota’s past through museum exhibits, libraries and collections, historic sites, educational programs and book publishing. Using the power of history to transform lives, the Society preserves our past, shares our state’s stories and connects people with history.

The Minnesota Historical Society is supported in part by its Premier Partners: Xcel Energy and Explore Minnesota Tourism.

observatory horizontal

Saturday, June 18 the sun rises on the recreated ancient observatory at Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site in Comfrey, Minn.

Minnesota Historical Society

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observatory verticle

Saturday, June 18 the sun rises on the recreated ancient observatory at Jeffers Petroglyphs Historic Site in Comfrey, Minn.

Minnesota Historical Society

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