Residents learn about the Winter Solstice nature at Sacra Via Park in Marietta

MARIETTA – More than a dozen people braved the sometimes heavy rain to learn about the significance of the alignment of the ancient earth works Saturday during the Winter Solstice Watch at Sacra Via Park in Marietta.

“All along we knew there was a small percentage we would get the chance of seeing the sunset,” said Wes Clarke, archaeologist for The Castle in Marietta. “We were hoping for a Christmas miracle and the skies would clear, but we didn’t get lucky.”

Those who did attend the short program, which began around 4 p.m. Saturday in the park between Second and Third streets, shielded themselves from the weather with water-resistant clothing and umbrellas.

“Really, I am very pleased so many people came out because they knew there was little chance we would be able to see the sunset,” Clarke said.

This was the first year for the event to gather people in the park to watch the solstice sunset where ancient Hopewell people celebrated the new year. One of the earliest ways man noted the passing of time was through observing nature: the seasons, animal migration and the movement of the sun, moon and stars, according to the British Museum (www.britishmuseum.org).

The earth works and mounds formerly located at Sacra Via aligned with the sunset on the shortest day of the year.

“For thousands of years people have been keeping track of time by paying attention to the movement of the sun and moon in the sky,” Clarke said. “Through observing the moon’s phases, ancient cultures were able to mark days, months and seasons.”

For many ancient cultures the winter solstice was a celebration of the beginning of winter and the beginning of a new year.

“With the new beginning, these people saw a way to restart things and make them better,” Clarke said. “The mound builders who created Sacra Via were agriculturalists and celebrated the solstice with renewed hope.”

Clarke added that if the previous year was good, the people hoped for a similar harvest, but if Mother Nature had not provided as well, they looked forward to the new year positively.

“Because many ancient cultures celebrated the solstice, early Christian leaders got the idea of observing the birth of Christ around the same time to make converting pagans easier,” Clarke said. “I know it upsets some people to think Christmas is where it is to coincide with a pagan event, but that is what happened.”

Although the sunset was not able to be seen through the overcast clouds and fog from the Muskingum River, Clarke said if the skies clear in the next couple of nights to allow for visible sunsets, the effect will be similar.

“The sun will have moved slightly, but it will look very much like it would have,” he added.

Even though the Sacra Via event was the only one of its kind in the Mid-Ohio Valley, Clarke said he was excited to have celebrated the event with many others around the world.

“The solstice is a worldwide phenomenon and observed by cultures everywhere and for thousands of years,” he said. “I think it’s neat to know the prehistoric remains here have been important.”

Clarke added this will not be the only winter solstice celebration to be held by The Castle.

“We plan to make it an annual event because those who have seen the solstice say the weather only cooperates once every few years but when it does, the sunset is a very moving event,” he said.