August 19, 2002 9:36 AM   Subscribe

Archaeoastronomy examines how ancient cultures studied and worshipped the heavens. From the arrangement of the Stonehenge stelae to the Mayan reverence for the planet Venus, this science has resulted in some fascinating and often beautiful discoveries, including star charts found in tombs in Ireland and Japan, the Lascaux caves in France, and rock paintings of a supernova in 1054 that resulted in the Crab Nebula. My personal favorite is the “Sun Dagger” in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico (scroll down for photos).
posted by gottabefunky (11 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Had these links 1, 2, that I was going to post in about 10 years(12/21/12). It seams that we need not worry about comet and asteroids hitting us in twenty years. We will either be in another dimension or under the rule of something that passes through the conjunction of the sun and the middle of the Milky Way. Either way those Mayans had it together with the calendar business.
posted by mss at 10:02 AM on August 19, 2002

1, 2
posted by mss at 10:09 AM on August 19, 2002

Ted Holden has written a couple of interesting papers on some topics related to archeoastronomy, such as The Saturn Hypothesis: 1 (intro), 2. In fact, his whole selection of writings on Catastrophism and Ancient Anomalies is worth looking through.
posted by Kikkoman at 10:17 AM on August 19, 2002

What a great post to wake up to. Thanks gottabefunky!
posted by homunculus at 10:41 AM on August 19, 2002

The archaeological community doesn't hold the archaeoastronomers with much esteem. More often than not, archaeoastronomers jump to rediculous unsupported conclusions, which is exactly the wrong thing to do. I studied Newgrange and Knowth (the Boyne Valley complex in Ireland) this summer.

There's no question that the tombs were extremely special to the people that built them. The large kerbstones that surround each tomb are about a meter tall by two meters wide, and each was transported almost 60 kilometers through dense forest to the tomb sites. That's dedication. There are also some clear astronomical connections, like the afore-posted article states. Any great conclusion beyond that, however, is mostly based on assumption. Numerous authors have published books that "explain" the artworks and tombs "completely", but there's so little evidence to validate them. This is especially frustrating for me, as I'm trying to write a thesis on the damn things.

The same logic applies to the other sites mentioned as well. Maybe Lascaux has a few constellations painted on the wall. First, the paintings are so amorphous that they may or may not be constellations. Second, even if they are, how do two tiny constellation paintings tie into the great corpus of art contained in the cave, and to the corpus of other Magdalenian and Aurignacian caves? A notorious French archaeologist named Jean Clottes has the current leading theory to explain cave art: shamanism. He makes a convincing case, until you examine the body of existing art. Most of the art doesn't fit into his theory, but he picks and chooses examples that do fit and presents those. A good use of selective data, and it's being used here as well: these astronomical exampls are but a handful in a body of art containing tens of thousands of individual paintings, drawings, and engravings.

Even if there are constellations painted somewhere in the world and astronomical connections abound, that still tells us nothing about what they meant to the people that created them. So enjoy these archaeoastronomers, but take their writings with a grain of salt.
posted by The Michael The at 10:57 AM on August 19, 2002

What, no fourth dimension?
posted by mss at 12:34 PM on August 19, 2002

Thanks, The Michael The -- a useful corrective.
posted by languagehat at 12:51 PM on August 19, 2002

TMT: You're right, I should have added that any examination of "the ancients" and "the stars" often leads to crackpot nonsense.

But a lot of it is still pretty amazing, like the solar dagger - that just blows my mind.
posted by gottabefunky at 2:21 PM on August 19, 2002

Yeah, they're totally amazing. I have to fight hard not to get too giddy with crazy ideas about them myself. Everyone should be able to and should visit these places.
posted by The Michael The at 2:27 PM on August 19, 2002

The Solstice Project did a follow-up to Sun Dagger. The Mystery of Chaco Canyon examines the relationship of the Sun Dagger (which also charts the 28 day and 19 year lunar cycles) to Pueblo ancestrial architecture, city planning and road construction.
posted by yonderboy at 12:46 PM on August 20, 2002

This is a little off-topic, but on the bent of mysteries of the ancients, has anyone read about these potentially "pre great flood" lost cities that have recently come to life? And no, I am not talking about Noah...rather the new theory that it is possible extensive civilization existed in low lying costal areas before the end of the last ice age, but was submerged when the caps melted.
posted by pjgulliver at 1:00 PM on August 20, 2002

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