The Intihuatana Stone is an ancient sundial located in Machu Picchu, Peru, part of the Incan Empire. Incans lived in Machu Picchu until the 1500s and 1600s.
Incan worshippers might have believed the sun was tethered to the Intihuatana Stone as if on a leash, resulting in the tall stone's nickname: the Hitching Post of the Sun. The stone was arranged to point directly at the sun during the winter solstice. At noon during the equinoxes (where day and night are of equal length), the Intihuatana Stone casts no shadow.
Solstices now mark the beginning of summer and winter. Because someancient Europeancultures only recognized these twoseasons (there was no autumn or spring), the solstices occurred in the middle of the season. Solstices are known asmidsummer andmidwinter for this reason.
The summer solstice is the longest day of the year, meaning it has the most hours of sunlight. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year and has the fewest hours of daylight.
Solstices happen due to the way the Earth circles, or orbits, the sun. The Earth is tilted on its axis, not straight up-and-down. When the Earth orbits the sun, one half of the Earth is tilted toward the sun, while the other half is tilted away from the sun.. The Earths tilt changes throughout the year, causing the latitude, or location, where the sun appears directly overhead at noon to change also.
Around June 22, the Earths Northern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. The suns vertical rays strike the Tropic of Cancer, 23.5 degrees north of the Equator. The June solstice is the longest day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere (the summer solstice) and the shortest day of the year in the Southern Hemisphere (the winter solstice.)
The opposite occurs on December 22, when the Earths Southern Hemisphere is tilted toward the sun. The suns vertical rays strike the Tropic of Capricorn, 23.5 degrees south of the Equator. The December solstice is the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the longest day of the year (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
Since ancient times, many cultures have marked the solstices as the longest and shortest days of the year.
Ancient European tribes celebrated midsummer with feasts and bonfires. Many of these traditions still survive in Europe and countries that have large populations of European (especially Scandinavian) heritage, such as Canada and the United States. In 1595, the English writer William Shakespeare wrote a comic play called A Midsummer Nights Dream. The play tells the story of two sets of couples enchanted by a magical forest during the summer solstice. Brazil celebrates midsummer with St. John festivals. (Many Christian countries associate midsummer with the birthday of St. John the Baptist. John is a saint, or holy man, to Christians.) Brazils St. John celebrations are among the largest outdoor parties in the world.
Followers of ancient traditions also honor the winter solstice. Monuments to this event can be seen at Stonehenge, in the United Kingdom, and the so-called Intihuatana Stone, or Hitching Post of the Sun at the Incan ruin of Machu Picchu in Peru. At these sites, people gathered to celebrate and pray for their survival through the winter. Religious holidays surrounded midwinter as well. In the Roman Empire, the midwinter festival (Saturnalia) was celebrated the week of December 25. Early Christians adopted the timing of the holiday for one of their most important holidays, Christmas. Pagans and neopagans, followers of early European religious traditions, still celebrate the winter solstice as a holiday called Yule.
Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry ancient Adjective
an invisible line around which an object spins.
Encyclopedic Entry: axis bonfire Noun
large outdoor fire.
to observe or mark an important event with public and private ceremonies or festivities.
people and culture focused on the teachings of Jesus and his followers.
Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus of Nazareth.
learned behavior of people, including their languages, belief systems, social structures, institutions, and material goods.
our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.
Encyclopedic Entry: Earth Equator Noun
imaginary line around the Earth, another planet, or star running east-west, 0 degrees latitude.
Encyclopedic Entry: equator feast Verb
to eat large amounts of food, usually to celebrate or honor something.
ecosystem filled with trees and underbrush.
cultural or family background.
period of celebration or honor.
people and culture native to the Andes Mountains and Pacific coast of South America.
distance north or south of the Equator, measured in degrees.
Encyclopedic Entry: latitude magic Noun
control of natural or spiritual forces.
period around the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.
(Dec. 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, June 22 in the Southern Hemisphere) winter solstice.
large structure representing an event, idea, or person.
Northern Hemisphere Noun
half of the Earth between the North Pole and the Equator.
to move in a circular pattern around a more massive object.
Encyclopedic Entry: orbit pagan Adjective
following the religious traditions of ancient Europe, including polytheism and nature worship.
Roman Empire Noun
(27 BCE-476 CE) period in the history of ancient Rome when the state was ruled by an emperor.
holy person in Christian religions.
Roman festival around the winter solstice.
region and name for some countries in Northern Europe: Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Denmark.
period of the year distinguished by special climatic conditions.
Encyclopedic Entry: season solstice Noun
astronomical event that occurs twice a year, when the sun appears directly overhead to observers at the Tropic of Cancer or the Tropic of Capricorn.
Encyclopedic Entry: solstice Southern Hemisphere Noun
half of the Earth between the South Pole and the Equator.
St. John the Baptist Noun
Christian holy man who baptized Jesus of Nazareth.
prehistoric monument in Salisbury Plain, England.
summer solstice Noun
day of the year with the most hours of sunlight, June 20 or 21 in the Northern Hemisphere and December 21 or 22 in the Southern Hemisphere.
ability to live.
beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.
community made of one or several family groups sharing a common culture.
Tropic of Cancer Noun
line of latitude 23.5 degrees north of the Equator.
Tropic of Capricorn Noun
line of latitude 23.5 degrees south of the Equator.
up-down direction, or at a right angle to Earth and the horizon.
William Shakespeare Noun
(1564-1616) English writer.
winter solstice Noun
(December 22 in the Northern Hemisphere, June 22 in the Southern Hemisphere) longest night of the year and the beginning of winter.