Introduction to Archaeoastronomy



The study of the astronomical practices, celestial lore, mythologies, religions and world-views of all ancient cultures we call archaeoastronomy. We like to describe archaeoastronomy, in essence, as the "anthropology of astronomy", to distinguish it from the "history of astronomy". You may already know that many of the great monuments and ceremonial constructions of early civilizations were astronomically aligned. The accurate cardinal orientation of the Great Pyramid at Giza in Egypt or the Venus alignment of the magnificent Maya Palace of the Governor at Uxmal in Yucatan are outstanding examples. We learn much about the development of science and cosmological thought from the study of both the ancient astronomies and surviving indigenous traditions around the world.

Archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy, the study of contemporary native astronomies, have blossomed into active interdisciplinary fields that are providing new perspectives for the history of our species' interaction with the cosmos. One hallmark of the new research is active cooperation between professionals and amateurs from many backgrounds and cultures. The benefit of this cooperation has been that archaeoastronomy has expanded to include the interrelated interests in ancient and native calendar systems, concepts of time and space, mathematics, counting systems and geometry, surveying and navigational techniques as well as geomancy and the origins of urban planning. Sadly, sources of such information, both archaeological and ethnographic, are vanishing rapidly in the face of technological progress, population and economic pressures.

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