Abstract

In western American rock art the concentric circle symbol, which is widely regarded as a sun symbol, is ubiquitous. We provide evidence from Archaic and Fremont Indian rock art sites in northwestern Utah that at least one depiction was motivated by an observation of a complex halo display. Cirrus cloud optical displays are linked in both folklore and meteorology to precipitation-producing weather situations, which, in combination with an abundance of weather-related rock art symbolism, indicate that such images reflected the ceremonial concerns of the indigenous cultures for ensuring adequate precipitation. As has been shown to be the case with rock art rainbows, conventionalization of the halo image may have resulted in simple patterns that lacked recognizable details of atmospheric optical phenomena. However, in one case in which an Archaic-style petroglyph (probably 1500 yr or more old) satisfactorily reproduced a complicated halo display that contained parhelia and tangent arcs, sufficient geometric information is rendered to indicate a solar elevation angle of ∼40° at the time of observation.

© 1994 Optical Society of America

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