Looking Through a Historical Lens

machu-picchu
This is Machu Picchu, a famous temple in South America that was constructed with the June solstice at least somewhat in mind.

Much of science is the act of investigating phenomena and elaborating on such investigations done by others. This is an incredibly difficult task to accomplish with modern technology. Incredibly though, there is a great source of proof to show that many peoples of the past were able to make some form of astronomical discoveries and observations. Archaeoastronomy is the combination of the two; it is the investigation of the astronomical instruments created throughout history by people who died long ago and left no explanation. Many of these instruments appear, to the unknowing eye, to just be weird rock formations and intricate architecture. I think one of the most interesting things about this field of study is the idea that figuring out the uses of these devices follows a similar sequence of events required to construct them. The most accurate way to tell if a building is meant to track the highest point of the sun throughout the year is to see if the roofline of the building matches said points. While matching the concept to the instrument might seem easier to determine than the initial crafting of the object, I think there’s a chance this is not true. I’m sure that archaeoastronomers have spent time analyzing objects that end up having no relation to the sky and space. Alternatively, they must guess what the instrument is trying to convey based on no context other than naked-eye observations. The discoveries would be very rewarding, but I’m not sure that the effort would make the accomplishments worthwhile. If given the opportunity, would you try your hand at archaeoastronomy?

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One thought on “Looking Through a Historical Lens

  1. It is also very difficult to imagine the math associated with archeoastronomy before computers and programs such as stellarium. Now it is easy enough to wind back time in Stellarium, but taking into account precession and all the other long term changes in the sky without a computer is mind boggling.

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