PAROWAN — For more than 100 years, Iron County residents have been tuning in to the radio for weather forecasts or meteorologists such as Bob Welti on the television.
More recently, the pings and dings of apps, vehicle dashboards and bank signs on many Main Streets advertise such information.
For the ancient Iron County residents thousands of years ago, observation of the sun and the landmarks surrounding the Parowan Gap were the tools used to predict the changes in season.
Nancy Dalton, with the Parowan Heritage Foundation, has been working with a group of archaeologists to understand the meaning of the Parowan Gap petroglyphs.
Nestled in the cliffs on the east side of the Parowan Gap, located about 20 miles north of Cedar City on Minersville Highway, is a rock outcropping in the shape of a human head with his mouth slightly open.
According to Dalton, the story of the Overseer was first heard from local historian Alva Matheson by the group of archaeologists.
The Overseer swallowing the sun was a signal to Native Americans thousands of years ago that colder weather was to come at the Parowan Gap archaeological site near Parowan, Utah, Nov. 11, 2023 | Photo by Haven Scott, St. George News
“One of the ways that the Overseer protects his people, and that is on Nov. 6, 7 and 8,” she said. “The sun comes across the sky. And as it comes across the sky, it hits his mouth, then slowly rolls to the back of his mouth.”
What looks like the Overseer swallowing the sun was interpreted by the Native Americans who frequented the area as a sign of colder weather to come.
A dozen current residents braved near 20-degree weather to watch Toovoots, (pronounced Too-vuts), his name Native American name, on Saturday.
The Overseer was revered by the ancient residents as a protector of the people, Dalton said. Due to the earth’s rotation and orbit around the sun, the rock face can be seen spitting the sun back out of his mouth at sunrise in February.
“Then he is telling his people the warmer weather is coming, time to plant and to gather,” she said.”
In the 1990s, teams working to learn the meaning of the petroglyphs found a set of markings where the shadow of the sun hits a rock. Every three days, the ancient people made a mark where the shadow falls at sunrise until these events, the spitting or swallowing of the sun, occurred. And another mark every three days after.
“Whoever that person was for that culture actually stayed out there at the Gap,” Dalton said. “Those persons that had that responsibility had such an awesome life.”
Dalton noted that those making the observations were possibly from the Fremont period or earlier, saying digs in the area have found artifacts dating to 3000 B.C.
The Gap is notably famous for its summer and winter solstice observations, where from a distance the sun can be seen setting down the middle of the canyon.
For the ancient residents of Iron County, the Parowan Gap served as a travel corridor much like Interstate 15 does today, Dalton said.
“I get cold chills all the time when I talk about the different events being out there, because it is just awesome to be a part of it,” she said. “It is amazing the intelligence that the Native Americans and the ancient people had.”
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