31 October 2016

Echoes of Archaeoastronomy: 1/4 A brief introduction to Archaeoastronomy

What is Archeoastronomy?

Wikipedia says: ”Archaeoastronomy is the study of how people in the past "have understood" the phenomena in the sky, how they used these phenomena and what role the sky played in their cultures.”

Others say:”… the study of ancient civilization's use of the sky for purposes of calendar, agriculture, ritual, ceremony, mythology and celestial event prediction.
Archaeoastronomy draws on the disciplines of astronomy, archaeology and ethnology to identify and interpret these ancient inscriptions and alignments”.

I say, ”Archaeoastronomy is the study of astronomy through stone" found on Earth. Archaeoastronomical artifacts are found all over the world and have been constructed in all periods of history. The knowledge of astronomy in ancient times are recorded in these stones.”

Our ancient ancestors had devised clever ways to record the celestial movements.
Here are some techniques that ancient people used to obtain knowledge of astronomy.

Horizon sightings: Observation at local horizon of the risings/settings of certain stars.
Local horizon risings/settings of the moon, planets or Sun on the horizon.
Observers would have notice the heliacal risings/settings of stars. Using the horizon as a line to catch the exact moment of the risings/settings of planets, moon and stars. Resulting in accurate observations of the motion of the heavens.

Heliacal rising of the star Canopus in Stellarium

Shadow imaging: Observing the shadow the Sun casts (shadow and light).
Observers would have set stone slabs on rock faces to create light slits to create shadow on the background walls. On these background walls there would be rock carvings interacting with the shadows produce by the slabs to give the observer the knowledge of seasons through out the year.

Sun dagger at Fajada Butte, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, USA. 

Rock/ Stone Carvings: Observing the motion of the sky and the sun and record it on stone or bone.
Observers/assistants would have carved observations of the night sky on rock or bone to keep record of time and events passing. These astronomical tools could then be passed to next generations to further on the knowledge of astronomy.

The Venus tablet of Ammisaduqa 1700BC (Wikipedia)

Architectural alignments: Align buildings with astronomical events.
Observers/builders would set alignments with accurate positioning of the Sun, the Moon or the stars within the buildings they built. Walls surrounding temples, stones align to the Solstices or Equinoxes (rising or setting of the Sun). Passage graves align with certain dates to commemorate and remember past times. Stone circles and Standing stones helping catch the exact time of certain events in the heavens. Incorporate astronomical alignments in the layout of important buildings.

Seated between Amen-Re to his left and Re-Harkhti to his right, the statue of Ramses II
has greeted the rising sun twice a year for the past 3,200 years at Abu Simbel.
Photograph by Georg Gerste

Archaeoastronomy tends to be thought as a fringe discipline that established institutions take with caution. It is often ridiculed and lowered as pseudo-research. In any cases the field of archaeoastronomy has open many new ideas about our past and the way our ancestors viewed their surroundings and the sky above.

In my opinion, the search for new ways to find the truth should be acceptable and encouraged by professionals and amateurs alike. As it was mentioned at the beginning of this article, archaeoastronomy is a interdisciplinary tool that helps make sense of the problem encountered on the field. Not only that, but giving other disciplines more credibility.

In my 1 year research on the connection of astronomy to the ancient civilizations. I used these techniques to identify a connection to astronomy at these rock art sites i visited in Morocco in 2014 and 2016. Linking petroglyphs to astronomy, in form of astronomical alignments and celestial body (Moon, Planets, Sun, stars) calendars.
Continue reading the next article in the series. Echoes of Archaeoastronomy: 2/4 Villageof Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco and village of Oukaimeiden, Atlasmountains, Morocco.

Please take time to read the links and PDF files about the subject.