Foreword

A third-millennium academic cliché worth repeating is that the questions we pose and the problems we now attempt to solve seem to have the effect of blurring the lines that demarcate the traditional disciplines. This is true not only among the sciences, in which universities now routinely offer interdepartmental courses in biophysics, neuropsychol-ogy, and astrogeology, but also across the traditional academic divisions of science, social science, and the humanities. The study of ancient astronomies is a perfect example of the latter case. Once partitioned into the traditional history of astronomy, which dealt exclusively with the underpinnings of Western scientific astronomy, and its upstart adopted child archaeoastronomy, which treated all other world cultures, it has now been subsumed by cultural astronomy, which, in addition, envelops the astronomical practices of living cultures.

The problems treated in Exploring Ancient Skies are as follows: What did ancient people see in the sky that mattered to them? How did they interpret what they saw? Precisely what knowledge did they acquire from looking at the sky, and to what ends did they employ this knowledge? In short, what were they up to and why?

You hold in your hand a weighty tome, the product of an enduring collaboration between a pair of seasoned veterans: one an observational astronomer of great expertise, and the other an archaeologist/epigrapher, well known among his Mesoamerican colleagues for his significant contributions to the problem of decipherment of ancient Maya script. What an ideal blend of expertise to produce a true interdisciplinary synthesis that treats the problems posed by these engaging and complex questions! Exploring Ancient Skies combines a deep and thorough treatment of relevant empirical naked-eye astronomy with sweeping cultural coverage from peoples of the Arctic to Oceania, from the unwritten astronomy encoded in ancient standing stones to what would become the platform on which Western astronomical tradition yet rests.

Daring in the presentation of some of its hypotheses and somewhat unorthodox in the treatment of certain long-standing problems, Exploring Ancient Skies may cause some scholars to bristle, for example, at the readings of certain pages of the Maya codices, the treatment of the calendar correlation problem, the universality of world ages, and the diffusion of astronomical ideas and concepts both north-south and east-west. But a foreword is not a review. Let any reader's reactions not diminish an appreciation of the way Kelley and Milone have delivered fresh knowledge and created a challenging synthetic approach that can only derive from years of experience in a variety of related fields.

Will Exploring Ancient Skies help solve our problems? Only time will tell. Seminal progress in the development of all fields of scholarship depends on our capacity to listen and to learn the lesson of history.

Hamilton, New York Anthony F. Aveni

Russell B. Colgate Professor of Astronomy and Anthropology

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