Student Services Overview

DATE: Monday, September 3, 2012
TIME: 10:00 a.m.
PLACE: Room B, Ladera Lane campus
CANDIDATE: Thomas M. Christian
DISSERTATION TITLE: "Under the Navajo Stars: The Intersection of Mythic Narratives, Archaeology, and Star Ceilings"
CHAIR: Dr. Paul Zolbrod
READER: Dr. Elizabeth Terzian
EXTERNAL READER: Dr. Lawrence Loendorf

Christian, T. (2012). Under the Navajo Stars: The Intersection of Mythic Narratives, Archaeology, and Star Ceilings (Doctoral dissertation, Pacifica Graduate Institute, 2012)


Star ceilings, an enigmatic form of Native American rock art found in the American Southwest, are described in the archaeological literature beginning in 1951. This type of rock art, which is characterized by its cruciform icons that represent stars, has generally been attributed to the Navajo people, due to the many examples of star ceilings found on traditional Navajo lands. However, there has remained some speculation that the Navajo “learned” this type of rock art from their neighbors, the Puebloan people. Moreover, there has been doubt about the possible motivations underlying star ceiling creation and use. This study utilizes the information gleaned from three sources—1) a star ceiling site examination; 2) the Navajo mythic narrative; and 3) the Spanish historical narrative—to explore the cultural and mythical etiologies of star ceiling phenomena, as well as the main mythico-religious motivations underlying star ceiling production and use. The methods used in this dissertation purposively bridge archaeology and mythology creating an interdisciplinary approach to star ceiling research; in essence, the Native American mythic narrative informs the archaeological details, and vice-versa. The findings associated with this study are as follows: 1) by way of dating techniques performed at a star ceiling site, it is found that star ceiling phenomena are older than initially presumed by researchers; 2) it seems likely, given the archaeological and mythic evidence, that the Puebloan people did, in some way, instruct their Navajo neighbors in the formulation and use of star ceilings, probably during some period of cultural stress like the Spanish Entrada; and 3) Native American mythology and the Spanish historical record can help elucidate star ceiling etiology and significance. These findings have far-reaching importance for Navajo and Puebloan Studies, for they uncover the mythological roots of cultural iconography.


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