Today is the winter solstice, which means two things: the anniversary of the beginning of this blog (three years now), and the shortest day of the year. Up here in Alaska, the second is particularly noteworthy. We had about five and a half hours of daylight today; officially, the sun rose around 10:15 and set around 3:45. In Anchorage, however, which has mountains to the east, the sun didn’t actually appear until about 11:00. The state likes to emphasize the converse of this phenomenon in summer in their promotional material, of course, hence the idea that Alaska is the “Land of the Midnight Sun,” but in the winter the “Twilight Noon” is equally appropriate. Indeed, for the parts of the state that are below the Arctic Circle (most of it), it never gets completely dark or completely light for 24 hours straight, so the Midnight Sun never strictly appears even on the summer solstice. Noon on the winter solstice definitely does start to look pretty similar to twilight, though.
I’ve talked a lot about archaeoastronomy in the Southwest on this blog, which is why marking events like the solstices has been such an important part of it, but as far as I can tell there is no evidence that the native people up here paid much attention to astronomical phenomena. (It’s quite possible that they did and I just haven’t found the documentation of it, of course.) This could be because of the lack of an indigenous agricultural tradition, since calendar-making has generally been linked to agriculture, although of course seasonal events like salmon runs are often very important to non-agricultural people and it would presumably be helpful to have a means of marking them. I believe navigation by the stars was pretty well developed among some of the more maritime-oriented societies of the North, which makes sense given the general lack of landmarks along the Arctic Ocean coastline, but use of the sky to tell time doesn’t seem to have been as important. Presumably people just paid more attention to other time markers. This is a topic I should definitely look into. Anyway, happy solstice, and thanks for reading.