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American Indian legend with wolf and eagle

Mysterious Medicine Wheels of the American West

A hundred stone constructions dotting the landscape of the American north-west, called ‘Medicine Wheels’ by the ignorant, may be pre-dating the Egyptian pyramids to 5,000 years ago.  At first glance they may seem primitive, yet they are aligned with constellations, perhaps pointing to a lost civilization’s pinpointing heaven. As American pioneers began to move across the Mississippi River and confront the vast north-western prairies, they discovered curious concentrations of stones set out to imitate, at least to those who were accustomed to European culture, spokes on a wheel.  They asked the people who had lived in these places for millennia what they were. "We don't know," came the reply. "They were there when we got here."

Big Horn Medicine Wheel (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Big Horn Medicine Wheel (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Were the indigenous people being serious, or were they just feigning ignorance to keep the white people from snooping into sacred sites that they didn't seem to understand and would probably plow under or otherwise mess up? Whatever the case, somewhere in the late 1800s the new settlers started calling the stone configurations ‘Medicine Wheels’, beginning with the Bighorn Medicine Wheel in Wyoming.  It was not by any means an ‘Indian’ term.  But their outlines looked like wheels, and the Native Americans obviously considered them to be sacred (‘Medicine’ in white parlance).  So, the name stuck and is still in use today. From above they look like bicycle wheels, with spokes emanating out from a central core.

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