Archeology had, at one time, a reputation for being boring and then its reputation went from mundane to exciting and adventurous with the release of the Indian Jones movies.
Unfortunately the first impression of archeology was the more correct one for the general public. For those who are students of archeology there is more then enough excitement but not from ancient curses and booby trapped temples but from the thrill of discovery.
Archeology is growing and branching out in many directions making it appealing to more people. One of the newest and most intriguing branches of archeology is archaeoastronomy.
Archaeoastronomy actually straddles archeology and anthropology and could as easily be described as the anthropology of astronomy; it is not to be confused with the history of astronomy. Astronomy is a science and only dates back a few hundred years.
Archaeoastronomy is the study of how ancient people, viewing the night sky, interpreted what the saw and integrated their observations into their mythologies, religions and important yearly rituals. Thousands of years ago people looked with awe at the night sky and, much like we today, wondered what it was all about. But they weren’t just looking for guidance; once they realized they could determine when seasonal rains were due or when the opportune planting time had come this became equally important.
Our ancestors took their star gazing very seriously and the proof of that is found in the monumental structures they built for the duel purposes of religion and astronomical precision.
Stonehenge, as well as other megalithic sites across Britain, was constructed thousands of years ago in such a way as to indicate the summer or winter solstice and or the equinoxes.
It has been suggested that Stonehenge was a sort of prehistoric astronomical computer which provided more advanced astronomical knowledge then the people of that time were reputed to have. This is problematical, at best, due to the settling of the stones and not knowing where on the stones measurements were taken it is too easy to read into the site what one wants to find.
Stonehenge as well as other sites such as the Egyptian pyramids, the monoliths of Easter Island, the Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Chichen Itza in Mexico, were less likely to be built for the purpose of determining solstice, equinoxes, and cross quarter days, as it would have been so much simpler to count the days or build smaller easier to construct “calendars”.
These sites were more likely built for religious/ ceremonial purposes and incorporated their astronomical knowledge into the design. For this reason Archaeoastronomy is more closely related to archeology and anthropology then to astronomy or its history.
Archaeoastronomy is followed by both professionals and amateurs from all over the world with various backgrounds. The co-operation between the many interested parties has resulted in archaeoastronomy expanding outward in many directions. Archaeoastronomy touches on, among other things, concepts of time and space, origins of urban planning, geometry, surveying and navigational techniques used by ancient peoples.
Studying how our ancient ancestors used their celestial observations in their lives not only gives us a peek into their minds and souls but into ours as well.