Throughout ancient history humanity has looked heavenward in awe of the sparkling jewels in the cosmic creation. Ancient cultures formed world-views about astronomy practices, myths and legends, religious beliefs, and celestial lore.
A Scientific Investigation Of Archaeoastronomy
The archaeology study of these ancient astronomy beliefs and practices is called archaeoastronomy. In short, archaeoastronomy is the scientific investigation of the processes and practices of ancient peoples relative to their knowledge of the heavenly cosmos and how they acted as a result of their beliefs. It involves researching their astronomical practices by investigating the archaeology remains that they have left behind.
Archaeoastronomy, although dealing with old human cultures, differs from historical astronomy in that it is not a history of ancient astronomy but an anthropology of astronomy with emphasis on human interaction with the ancient cosmos.
Archaeoastromy As An Archaeology Specialisation
The foundations of archaeoastronomy are rooted in the Stonehenge archaeology investigations of the 1960’s and since then the study has developed into active interdisciplinary fields between archaeology and anthropology that provide new perspectives on how ancient cultures interacted with their upper environment.
The archaeoastronomist is more than a field archaeologist. The specialisation of archaeoastronomy involves archaeologists, geographers, cartographers, ethnographers, anthropologists and astronomers who attempt to interpret the discoveries of information, such as written texts, pictorial images, and astronomical structures, to determine their relevance in the eyes of those that made them.
What Do Astronomical Alignments Mean?
Many of the famous monuments and ceremonial buildings of ancient civilizations were astronomically aligned. Archaeology has revealed that the cardinal orientation of Egypt’s Great Giza Pyramid and the Venus alignment of the wonderful Maya Palace are outstanding examples of highly accurate cosmic alignments.
The astronomy alignments at prominent locations, like Stonehenge or the Mayan tables of eclipses, have aroused the co-operation of professionals in archaeoastronomy and amateurs from a variety of scientific backgrounds, to combine their interrelated interests in developing better understandings of ancient calendar systems, mathematical formulae including geometry and trigonometry, navigational techniques, surveying methods, scientific concepts of time and space, as well as the genesis of urban planning.
Science has learned much about the anthropology and development of philosophical cosmology from the study of the ancient alignments and the surviving traditions of the indigenous peoples.
The Archaeology Of Early Archaeoastronomy
The first scientific archaeology studies of particular orientations of various structures in the Middle East and Europe occurred in the 18th and 19th centuries. The intensity and interest slowly increased throughout the 19th century finally establishing itself as a recognised scientific discipline as archaeoastronomy in the late 20th century.
An old Hebrew text, E’yov (in English: Job) written more than 3,000 years ago, has the author referring to the ‘circular horizon on the face of the waters’ and ‘the earth hangs on nothing but empty space’. These ancient astronomy observations are insightful as to their understanding of earth as a sphere suspended in space, especially when compared to those of the medieval period, 2000 years later, who believed in a flat earth.
Deriving Conclusions Using Archaeoastronomy
Primary sources of anthropology and archaeology information such as oral traditions, written and pictorial artefacts, and all other pertinent objects from the site, are taken into account for study and research. Archaeologists on location are especially interested in discovering the architecture of the site. Ancient archaeological structures usually involve significant astronomical alignments and orientations that co-ordinate with the direction of the solstice sunset and sunrise. In the past, archaeologists have not been particularly interested in architectural relationship cosmologically, see it, if they considered it at all, as an anthropology feature.
People have been observing and pondering the planets and stars for as long as we know. The heavenly alignments have been important in the past as a way of predicting seasonal events for planting and harvesting of food supplies and as a tool for spiritual guidance and explanation. Two thousand years ago three astronomers from the Far East travelled across the Arabian Desert following a bright star. They were searching for a King. They found him in the Judean hills in a tiny town called Bethlehem. Maybe they were the first archaeoastrologists.