Nissen Heinrich 18391912

Heinrich Nissen, professor of history at the University of Bonn, deserves more than anyone else to be recognized as the earliest pioneer of modern ar-chaeoastronomy. His interests ranged from the orientations of Egyptian and Greek temples—on which he published his first paper in 1885—to the ori entations of churches, where he was responsible for demolishing the popular myth that all churches faced (precisely) east. He was an almost exact contemporary of Sir Norman Lockyer in England, but he anticipated Lockyer's own measurements of Egyptian temples. Indeed, Lockyer was dismayed to discover the existence of Nissen's published work after returning from his own first season in Egypt and, when putting forward his own ideas that the temples were aligned upon the rising and setting of the sun and stars, fully acknowledged that Nissen had anticipated him in suggesting the possibility.

The fact that Nissen is rarely mentioned in accounts of the early development of ideas and methods in what subsequently became known as ar-chaeoastronomy, whereas Sir Norman Lockyer is generally considered the earliest serious pioneer in the subject, is explained by the fact that initial developments in modern archaeoastronomy in the 1960s and 1970s primarily took place amongst English-speaking scholars. Nissen's great work on the subject, the three-volume Orientation: Studien zur Geschichte der Religion, was published between 1906 and 1910 in German. The first volume appeared in the very same year as Lockyer's seminal Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered.

See also:

Archaeoastronomy; Lockyer, Sir Norman (1836-1920).

Church Orientations.

References and further reading

Lockyer, Norman. Stonehenge and Other British Stone Monuments Astronomically Considered, 459. London: MacMillan, 1906.

Michell, John. A Little History of Astro-Archaeology, 29. London: Thames and Hudson, 1989.

Nissen, Heinrich. Orientation. Studien zur Geschichte der Religion (3 vols.). Berlin: Weidmannsche Buchhandlung, 1906-1910. [In German.]

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