Pyramid of Kukulcan during the Equinox

Spring Equinox Celebrated Since Ancient Times Around the World

The vernal or spring equinox marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere, where I live. What does this actually mean?

The day marks the moment when the sun crosses the equator line, heading north. While above the equator, it assures that day and night are of equal lengths. Almost. At least for a short time.

The name “equinox” comes from this observation. The term in Latin actually means “equal night” (aequalis = equal, nox = night).

The event also marks the beginning of spring in our hemisphere. After this date, the Northern Hemisphere starts to tilt more towards the sun, which results in longer daylight hours and warmingn temperatures. (The opposite thing happens in the Southern Hemisphere.)

People all over the world have noticed this phenomenon, and they have been celebrating the change of season, the beginning of spring, since ancient times (though not always exactly on the equinox).

Ancient People Around the World Marked the Equinox

Ancient people were much more connected to the movement of the sun and stars then we are today. The Maya people, in particular, were some of the greatest astronomers of the ancient world. They created one of the most elaborate calendars, based on the movements of celestial objects, the sun, moon, and planets.

No wonder they felt the equinoxes were important. Many of their ancient sites mark equinoxes in one way or another.

Pyramid of Kukulcan during the Equinox

The Ancient Maya Marked the Equinox through their Buildings

The most famous site we can still watch a naturally occuring light-show during the equinoxes is Chichen Itza, where the shadow of the mythical feathered serpent of the ancient Maya descends the stairs of the famous Castillo.

Though the phenomenon is most obvious during the equinox, you can see it up to a week before and after, though the exact time of it differs.

Though not as obvious or spectacular, many other ancient structures mark the equinox in one way or another, both in ancient Mexico and other parts of the world.

The Ancient People in the US Southwest Also Marked the Equinox

…in Chaco

In the US Southwest, the best known place where ancient structures mark the equinox is the ancient site of Chaco. Here, at the entrance to Chaco Canyon, there is a solar marker on Fajada Buttes. Carved onto a cliff face, two sets of spiral petroglyphs offer the background to the sun’s movements to mark the equinoxes and solstices, as light shafts cross the centers of the spirals during the events.

The site, known as the Sun Dagger, is closed to the public, and in any case, the phenomena are not visible any longer. The rock the petroglyph stands on shifted in 1989, due to erosion, so the effect is no longer there. However, there is evidence that it was an accurate marker of solstices and equinoxes.

…in Hovenweep

The Hovenweep Castle
The Hovenweep Castle

In the Hovenweep Castle, two small ports and a doorway were most likely used to define a solar calendar inside the wall of a room. Archaeologists believe that the room was designed as a solar observatory, added much later to the actual structure. The light streaming into the room from these openings marked the equinoxes and solstices.

In Peru, Ancient People Also Marked the Equinox…

… in Machu Pichu

Another famous ancient site, the ancient city of the Inca, Machu Pichu also marks the equinoxes and solstices. On top of the sacred mountain called Intihuatana, in translation “the place where the sun gets tired”, there is a giant stone that indicates the exact time of the equinoxes and solstices.

Perfectly positioned where its four corners sit at the cardinal points, the Intihuatana Stone aligns with the sun on the equinoxes at noon, when the Sun’s shadow disappears. According to legend, when certain people touch their forehead to the stone during this time, they are allowed a vision of the other world.

… in Chankillo

Peru is also home to an even more striking marker of equinoxes and solstices. At the top of a hill on the coastal desert in Chankillo, 13 towers stand in a straight line. The sun alogns perfectly with these towers during the equinoxes and solstices.

The Ancient Structure Of Angkor Wat Is Also Aligned with the Sun During the Equinox

Of course, the famous Angkor Wat also marks the equinoxes and solstices. The ancient structure, built in the early 12th century, marks these astronomical events. During the equionxes and solstices, the central and talles tower of the complex aligns perfectly with the sunrise.

Stonehenge Also Marks Solstices and Equinoxes

The most famous arncient site in England, Stonehenge also marks solstices and equinoxes, and people still celebrate it.

And So Do the Stones in Cairnpapple Hill in Scottland

One of the oldest sacred sites in Scottland, Cairnpapple Hill dates from about 3800 BC. The ancient stones placed there line up perfectly with the sun at sunrise on the spring equinox.

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