Archaeoastronomy is a synthesis of 2 words - archaeology and astronomy. It
the study of ancient people and their observations, interpretations and achievements
with regard to celestial objects and phenomena. This involves their astronomical
practices, religious beliefs, science and world views. Revolving around the
archaeological remains ancient people have left behind, archaeoastronomy is
where archaeology and astronomy are combined together to further the study
of the history of Man.
Why should we be interested in Archaeoastronomy?
Archaeology gives us insights into man's history of interaction with the world
around him. In many cultures the sky, being vast, permanent, awe-inspiring
and untouchable, was a prominent feature of their lives. Archaeoastronomy
shows us how different groups of people throughout history interacted differently
with the cosmos. It not only opens up an aspect of our past; it also allows
us to look at the development and formation of scientific and religious beliefs
relating to the cosmos. For instance, the ability to construct and plan structures
in line with astronomical observance is an indicator of the level of organization,
engineering and observational ability of the people involved.
Who is involved in Archaeoastronomy?
Archaeoastronomy is an interdisciplinary field involving the work of not merely
astronomers and archaeologists, but also ethnographers, geographers,
cartographers and scientists from other fields, who together interpret primary sources
of information such as pictorial or written records and structures of astronomical
relevance and hence draw conclusions on them.
Where are sites that involve Archaeoastronomy?
All over the world! As long as people have even noticed that there is a blue
roof above there heads, archaeoastronomy can be applied to find out more about
How are conclusions drawn in this field?
All primary sources of information on the people group in question are taken
into account, including written, oral, pictoral sources and artefacts. This
not only aids in an overall understanding of the culture but also allows for
cross-referencing of sources to confirm data. Besides folklore and written
records, Archaeoastronomy is largely aided by architecture. Numerous archaeological
structures around the world involve astronomically significant orientations
such as the direction of solstice sunrise or sunset, and such orientations
are looked for when they are suspected.
certain circumstances, archaeoastronomy also allows for another method of
dating archaeological findings. As astronomers are able to chart the movement
of stars and constellations through the skies as view from Earth throughout
the years, an estimated dating for a site with a structure that has been aligned
astronomically would be more accurate if the matching of the alignment to
such movements and positioning as should have been in place during the estimated
date could be confirmed. This method of dating is not very reliable.
When did Archaeoastronomy come into being?
Celestial orientations of various structures in the Middle East and Europe
were first studied scientifically in the late 18th and early 19th centuries,
increasing in intensity throughout the 19th century. Despite being very relevant
to studies of the past, and despite it being offered as a course in several
universities, it still is not an acknowledged science in many countries today,
probably because it is quite prone to controversy and is still in a rather
early stage of foundation.
Choose from the following to find out more:
North America | MesoAmerica
Europe | The Middle East and Africa | Asia | The Pacific
Use the Forum to air your views, comments or opinions.
Test what you've learnt!
sign our guestbook. To view the guestbook, click here.
Credits and Resources