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Throughout human history, various methods have been employed to measure time, such as moon cycles, plant ripening, and saints' days. There are many ways to divide up what we consider to be the modern year, but tracking time has always been important regardless of how it is measured. Innovative calendars were created by societies to meet this human need. Working in the canyons near the Colorado-Utah border, archaeologists discovered what they think is an Ancestral Pueblo people spiral calendar, carved and used in a way never before seen. The local elders provided information that something interesting could be found high above the famous, clearly visible dwelling houses carved into the cliff faces, which led to the discovery of these reliefs. 

Leading the team is Radosław Palonka, a Polish archaeologist from Jagiellonian University, whose doctoral work with American Professor Willian Lipe opened up research opportunities in the US. In the Mesa Verde region, close to Castle Rock Pueblo, the calendar relief was found. The Ancestral Pueblo people, whose ancestry dates back thousands of years, settled in the village in the thirteenth century. The Ancestral Pueblo lived in the southwest from the earliest days of cultivation until the arrival of Spanish colonists in the 13th century, when they mostly moved away from Mesa Verde. They produced magnificent circular kivas for religious ceremonies, cliff drawings, and impressive cliff dwellings. 

The precise drawings the archaeologists discovered astounded them. "I used to think that we studied this area thoroughly, conducting full-scale excavations, geophysical surveying, and digitisation," Palonka said in a statement. However, elder residents of the area gave me some indications that the higher, more inaccessible reaches of the canyons hold more riches. We set out to confirm this information, and the results far exceeded our expectations. It turned out that many petroglyphs that were previously unknown are located approximately 800 meters above the cliff settlements. The massive plateau is encircled by enormous rock panels for more than 4 kilometres. 

Spiral carvings measuring up to one meter (3.3 feet) in diameter were present in these panels. These were carved in the 12th or 13th century, just like the majority of the glyphs discovered nearby. The researchers hypothesised that the people who created the spirals "used these petroglyphs for astronomical observations and to determine the dates of some special days in the calendar: spring and autumn equinoxes, as well as summer and winter solstices." Despite the lack of evidence in the paper, the Ancestral Pueblo spirals resemble the well-known Mayan calendars in that they are circular.  “These discoveries forced us to adjust our knowledge about this area. Definitely, we have underestimated the number of inhabitants who lived here in the 13th century and the complexity of their religious practices, which must have also taken place next to these outdoor panels,” says Palonka.

The Hopi Tribe and many other contemporary Pueblo tribes are among the descendants of the Ancestral Pueblo who still call the area home, despite centuries of disease and violence.

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