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Early Ohioans tracked solstices

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« on: December 09, 2009, 11:15:46 pm »

From The Stump
John Switzer commentary: Early Ohioans tracked solstices

Sunday,  December 6, 2009 3:29 AM

By John Switzer

The first full moon of December, which came on Wednesday this year, is known as the Cold Moon.

Luckily, it occurred while the Guernsey County Fine Arts and Crappie Fishing Society was holding its late-fall rendezvous on the shore of Seneca Lake. Each night during the rendezvous, we sat around a huge wood fire telling lies and gazing at the silvery moon.

But if you missed the first full moon of the month, you'll have a chance to see a second one. It's called a blue moon, and it will come on the 31st -- New Year's Eve, the final night of 2009.

A blue moon happens so seldom that that's where we get the saying "once in a blue moon."

Another mystical thing that will happen this month is the winter solstice at 12:47 p.m. on the 21st. The most significant thing about that day (at least for me) is that, after it occurs, the amount of daylight will begin to grow each day. Daylight has been decreasing since the summer solstice in June.

On the winter solstice, the sun seems to pause momentarily and then start to come back to us in North America.

The winter solstice was an important event in the lives of ancient Americans, and, believe me, they knew exactly when it happened. I imagine they felt comforted because they knew then that spring would come again.

In Ohio, we know that the Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures knew when the solstice happened because they left behind earthworks and other features that point to the sunrises or sunsets on the solstice.

Bradley Lepper, curator of archaeology at the Ohio Historical Society, said two of those features are at the Fort Ancient earthworks in Warren County.

"There are two so-called stone serpent effigies in the field below the earthworks. One of the stone effigies is lined up to the summer-solstice sunrise, and the other lines up to winter-solstice sunrise," he said.

Kim Schuette, spokeswoman for the Historical Society, said, "We are going to have an event called Light up the Serpent at Serpent Mound."

Folks will light up the giant snake effigy in Adams County with luminarias, she said. "We will surround the serpent effigy from 4 p.m. to

6 p.m. on Dec. 20."

The head of the serpent points to the summer-solstice sunset, Schuette said. "One of the coils in the serpent's tail points to the winter-solstice sunrise.

"Hundreds of luminarias around the serpent is kind of magical."

Retired weather columnist John Switzer writes a Sunday Metro column.
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