Astronomy of Ancient Cultures

The science of archaeoastronomy combines the fields of astronomy and archaeology with the goal of uncovering clues to the importance of astronomy in ancient cultures. The pages below focus on a variety of early civilizations, but regardless of their differences, it is apparent that these cultures had one thing in common: astronomy was a backbone of their social, political, and religious systems. Astronomy is considered to be the most ancient science, although until recently it was not conducted as science for curiosity’s sake or for the furthering of human knowledge. Instead, the study of the sky was a vital part of the theological foundation of early civilizations. The sky’s obvious effects on Earth led to the view of an intense connection between celestial events and human affairs. The first question we must ask when we begin to study archaeoastronomy is: why did the ancients bother? The most obvious explanation derives from the fact that the sky is a dynamic and ever-changing scene. Due to the changing positions of the Sun, Moon, planets, stars, and other astronomical objects, astronomy probably began as a natural curiosity. Eventually, over a few generations patterns were noted in the sky, and the people began to assign a mythical value to certain patterns. The cyclical occurrence of the Sun, constellations, and to a lesser extent the planets, gave the impression of a cosmic order. Everyday observations, such as the rising and setting of the Sun, and seasonal observations, such as the summer and winter solstices, were carefully noted and often coincided with festivals. Astronomical events like eclipses and supernovae were often hailed as religious signs. Archaeoastronomy is a fascinating field which gives an immense insight into the mindsets of ancient cultures. The reference page below contains a listing of some of the best books and articles on the subject, as well as a list of interesting websites dealing with archaeoastronomy.