iv. On the Wolf Trail

The Blackfoot tribe of the Rocky Mountains believe that the sky-world, inhabited by a celestial race of people, is reached via something called the Wolf Trail, which turns out to be the Milky Way. It forms part of a foundation story that is arguably Palaeolithic in origin, and might easily have crossed over to North America from the Eurasian continent more than 11,500 years ago. A number of other tribes preserve similar traditions about the Milky Way, seen as a celestial road or river to the sky-world. More significantly, some tribes, such as the Skidi Pawnee, single out the sky-world as a Star of the North, often confused with Polaris, the current Pole Star, which is nowhere near the Milky Way. This northerly-placed star is associated by the Skidi Pawnee and others, with a constellation known as the Bird Foot, or Turkey Foot, a three-pronged device identified as Cygnus, making Deneb the most likely candidate for the Star of the North. Such knowledge is confirmation that ancient star-lore of this nature might well date back to when Deneb was Pole Star. It also strengthens the case for such ideas being inherited by the Early Neolithic peoples from their Palaeolithic ancestors.

Yet what was the continuity of this veneration of Cygnus among the Native American tribes? Could its significance be taken back to the age of the Hopewell mound builders of the Ohio Valley, who were one of the earliest cultures known to have emerged on the North American continent? One example is an enormous circular earthwork known as Great Circle in Newark, Ohio. At its centre is a bird, or bird foot, shaped earthwork called Eagle Mound, thought to have been constructed by the Hopewell culture in c. 100 BC. The henge monument's single entrance faces the point on the horizon where the midsummer sunrise occurs, and after surveying the site we find that it was constructed so that anyone watching from Eagle Mound prior to sunrise on the summer solstice would have seen the Milky Way rising up into the sky from between the site's entrance. If the celestial trial was followed upwards it would take the observer to where the stars of Cygnus were to be seen directly overhead, imitating the position of Eagle Mound.

Thus Eagle Mound was almost certainly a representation of Cygnus as the Bird Foot constellation, an opinion drawn already by at least one archaeo-astronomer, Thaddeus M Cowan, who has identified Newark's Eagle Mound, as well as other bird effigy mounds constructed by the Hopewell, with the Cygnus constellation. The purpose of the midsummer alignment was most probably to enable the living and the dead to access the sky-world via the Milky Way as the celestial road or river of the soul.