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Last modified: Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Themester's 'Footprints in the Stars' blends astronomy, American Indian sky lore

Nov. 10, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Big Dipper, Orion, Scorpio and the Pleiades -- familiar constellations of western culture -- also figure prominently in the sky lore of the prehistoric peoples of the Americas, reflecting their own ancient, naked-eye astronomy.

George Lankford

George Lankford, professor emeritus of social science at Lyon College and a 1975 Ph.D. in folklore from Indiana University, will present "Footprints in the Stars" Wednesday (Nov. 11) as part of the IU College of Arts and Sciences' Themester.

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George Lankford, professor emeritus of social science at Lyon College, Batesville, Ark., Wednesday (Nov. 11) will present his take on an enthno-astronomy view of how American Indian peoples understood the universe with his free, public presentation, "Footprints in the Stars," a 2009 IU College of Arts and Sciences "Evolution, Diversity and Change" Themester event.

"Evolution, diversity and change is exactly what I want to talk about, with major reference to tribal life, visual art and oral tradition," said Lankford, who received his Ph.D. in folklore from IU in 1975.

"The American Indian peoples' stories of the night sky held the traditions and wisdom linking past and future generations, and the stars represented not the distant gods and goddesses, but a living, passable trail between the earth and the inhabited sky," he said. "The varied narratives associated with the familiar asterisms, however, provide clues to the interactions and migrations of different cultures among these early Americans. The prehistoric art and astronomical stories of prehistoric North America likewise provide a path for today's researchers to reconstruct how American Indian peoples understood the universe."

Lankford will share his study of the star knowledge among the American Indian peoples of Eastern North America with illustrations from prehistoric art and the night sky. He is the author of many works, including Reachable Stars: Patterns in the Ethnoastronomy of Eastern North America (University of Alabama Press, 2007) and Looking for Lost Lore: Studies in Folklore, Ethnology and Iconography (University of Alabama Press, 2008).

The event begins at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 11) in room 100, Rawles Hall, and is being co-sponsored by the IU Department of Astronomy and the IU Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

For more information please contact Steve Chaplin, University Communications, at 812-856-1896 or