Polynesian and Micronesian Astronomy

The ancient Oceanic peoples populated a vast area of the earth, successfully colonizing a diverse range of island environments prior to European contact. Astronomy was a major factor in their ocean navigation. Directional stars were used to guide navigators to familiar and not-too-distant islands. On land, directional stones or even stone canoes were set up so that would-be voyagers could sight along them and learn the appearance of the stars in the required direction of travel. For longer...

Megalithic Astronomy

This term, which is a chapter title in Alexander Thom's first book, came to be synonymous with Thom's ideas concerning the astronomical significance of the megalithic monuments of Britain. It is generally felt by archaeologists to be unhelpful (along with terms such as megalithic mensuration, megalithic geometry, and megalithic man) because there was no megalithic culture as such. The prehistoric communities who built many of the mega-lithic monuments of Britain and Ireland also built...

Lunar Parallax

We use modern astronomy to determine the appearance of the sky in different parts of the world at different times in the past. The formulae we use are derived from mathematical models of the motions of the earth through space, as it orbits around the sun, spinning and wobbling under the gravitational influences of the sun and moon. One consequence of this is that when we use standard formulae to calculate the declination of a celestial body or event, we implicitly make the assumption that we...

Islamic Astronomy

Scholars in the Islamic world were responsible for providing a vital bridge connecting ancient Babylonian and Greek astronomy to modern scientific astronomy. But for this bridge, the traditions of thought that had led to the development of mathematical astronomy in Hellenistic Greece (after the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century B.C.E. had brought the Babylonian and Greek traditions into direct contact) would have been all but severed. In any case, several centuries had...

Statistical Analysis

The need for statistical analysis arises in archaeoastronomy because astronomical patterns we perceive in the archaeological record may have come about purely by chance, or to be more precise, as a result of factors quite unrelated to astronomy. Doubts about intentionality can apply to a whole range of types of evidence concerning ancient astronomy monuments aligned upon the rising and setting positions of astronomical bodies displays of sunlight and shadow only visible on rare occasions groups...

Roman Astronomy and Astrology

Unlike the temples in ancient Greece, Roman temples are not obviously consistent in their orientation. Nor did any great innovations in philosophical cosmology or mathematical astronomy emerge in the Roman world at least none that are well known to modern historians of science. Roman astronomy, it seems, was more pragmatic in nature, often intimately bound up with prognostication and astrology. One of the best-known manifestations of Roman astronomy is the Julian calendar. It evolved initially...

Polynesian Temple Platforms and Enclosures

Undoubtedly the best known and most conspicuous material remains of Polynesian culture are the temple platforms and enclosures, variously known as marae in much of central Polynesia (the Marquesas, the Society Islands) and Aotearoa (New Zealand), ahu in the Tuamotus and remote Rapa Nui (Easter Island), and heiau in the Hawaiian Islands (where the term ahu refers just to the altar). The ahu of Easter Island, with their famous statues, or moai, are undoubtedly the best known, but many hundreds of...

Mesoamerican Cross Circle Designs

Cross-circle designs, often referred to as pecked cross-circles, are found at several sites in the highlands of central Mexico and also as far south as the Maya city of Uaxactun, typically pecked into the stuccoed floors of buildings or carved as petroglyphs in rocks in the hills around cities. The greatest preponderance is in and around Teotihuacan, where over fifty are known. They generally consist of one, two, or three concentric circles intersecting four radial lines in the shape of a...

Navajo Star Ceilings

Certain stars and constellations that were of particular cultural significance can be recognized in Navajo sandpaintings, rock art, and certain portable artifacts such as gourd rattles used in sacred ceremonies. Small crosses representing stars are also found painted on the ceilings of rock shelters and on horizontal, downward-facing surfaces of rock overhangs. Over seventy-five examples are known, concentrated mainly in the Canyon de Chelly area of Arizona. They contain anything from a single...

Maya Long Count

The Maya were the most enduring of the Mesoamerican civilizations. The origins of Maya society can be traced back to at least 400 b.c.e. in the lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula, when existing small villages which, in the dry north, were built close to cenotes, sink holes full of vital water formed by the collapse of underground caves started to develop into more sprawling towns with monumental structures at their centers. This process accelerated, with social elites beginning to gain power,...

Easter Island

Easter Island is the most isolated island on earth. Less than twenty-five kilometers (fifteen miles) across, it is well over 2,000 kilometers (1,300 miles) distant from the nearest habitable land in any direction. Yet when Europeans first chanced across it (Dutchman Jacob Roggeveen arrived there on Easter Sunday in 1722, hence the name), they found it inhabited. In fact, Rapa Nui (which is the Polynesian name for the island) had been colonized well over a millennium earlier, in about c.e. 400....

Nasca Lines and Figures

Few archaeological enigmas have excited so much fanciful speculation as the lines and figures etched into the desert near Nasca (or Nazca) in southern Peru. Few of the theories are scientifically tenable, and many are pure fantasy. However, behind the speculation lies a unique cultural phenomenon that for almost a century has attracted the attention of scientists and archaeologists alike. The coastal strip of southern Peru, which is in effect the northern extension of the Atacama desert in...

Babylonian Astronomy and Astrology

Ancient Babylonia occupies a pivotal place in the history of modern scientific astronomy. In great part this is due to the conscientious nature of the astronomical observations that were made there and the meticulous way in which they were recorded for generation after generation. In time, the existence of a huge, cumulative database of past observations made possible the development of mathematically based rules for predicting future events. The Babylonian legacy of careful observation and...

Haamongaa Maui

As ancient Polynesians voyaged across the Pacific, discovering and colonizing a great variety of islands, the cultures they established developed in different ways according to the environment and the available natural resources. At one end of the scale were sand and coral atolls where little but coconuts could be made to grow lifestyle there was frugal, and many of these atolls were settled for only a short period before being abandoned. By contrast, in large and fertile island groups such as...

Cacaxtla

The citadel of Cacaxtla is prominently located on a hilltop in the highlands of Mexico, in the state of Tlaxcala, about eighty kilometers fifty miles southeast of Mexico City. It dates to the Epiclassic period c. c.e. 650-850 , a time when great cities such as Teotihuacan had collapsed and independent highland kingdoms had begun to develop. It was the main seat of the rulers of a group known to archaeologists as the Olmeca-Xicalanca not connected with earlier Olmecs on the Gulf Coast . The most...

Ancient Egyptian Calendars

The kingdom of Ancient Egypt existed for over three millennia and for much of this time was remarkable in having two different calendars in simultaneous operation. Each arose in response to different social needs and developed a distinct function. At least, this is the standard interpretation of the evidence. The oldest Egyptian calendar was lunar. It arose in Predynastic times prior to c. 3000 b.c.e. from the simple need to keep agriculture in track with the seasons. Twelve lunar phase-cycle...