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22 December 2004
Kansas intaglios are a story of ancient beliefs

Long before the first Europeans walked on Kansas soil, Native Americans celebrated the prairie and its December night skies. The winter solstice held tremendous significance to these prehistoric Kansans, said Sue Cowdery, registrar at the Holmes Museum of Anthropology at Wichita State University.
     As days became shorter and nights longer, winter was a time when the Plains Indian people would break into smaller family units and the hunters would go on the winter hunts for bison, leaving the rest of the family at home. The sky would take on great significance, said Donald Blakeslee, professorof archaeology at Wichita State. The positions of the stars and planets in the winter sky may have become part of the stories early Indians passed from one generation to the next.
     Those ancient people dug intaglios - animal figures - into trenches along hillsides across the state, such as the serpent near Lyons holding a ball in its mouth, another serpent near Waconda Lake, and four in Sedgwick County depicting a turtle, a duck and two caterpillars. Although remnants of the intaglios can still be seen on the Kansas landscape today, Blakeslee said, they are located on private land. There may have been more, but as the prairie sod was broken and crops were planted, the intaglios disappeared.
     Still, they may show connections with other cultures around the world. Blakeslee draws comparisons between the Kansas council circles and Stonehenge in England. The intaglios may be sacred calendars the sun hits at certain points during the winter and summer solstices. "The native people in Mexico connect the caterpillars with meteors and meteor showers - they have a celestial connection," Blakeslee said. Early Quivira and Pawnee Indians in Kansas may have shared similar stories of creation.
     "We don't have information on the Wichitas because nobody asked the right questions at the right time before they went through the hell they did and lost a lot of their own traditions," Blakeslee said.

Source: The Wichita Eagle, Kansas.com (19 December 2004)

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