Archaeoastronomy: The Anthropology of Astronomy

An unnamed stone circle outside of our rental home in the South of Ireland. Photo credit goes to my mother. 

On the Center for Archaeoastrony’s website, they differentiate their science as “the anthropology of astronomy” rather than “the history of astronomy.” By studying the influences that astronomy has had (frequently, it seems, through the study of archaeological sites) on the humans and cultures who were studying the stars and attempting to reason with that which they did not understand through that which they could see. This has such an invaluable place in our understanding of not only the history of science and beliefs, but our own history as a race (someday maybe I will write a blog post which does not relate back to history, but it’s not today). Having visited Stonehenge myself, as well as many other astronomical and religious sites around the greater British Isles, I was struck by the grandiose size, structural complexity, and technological maturity of the sites. Aside from wondering how on Earth people (without a crane) could have constructed such a site out of rocks of that sheer size, weight, and stature, it does leave one wondering why they would have been so driven to put such time and energy into the erection of something of that kind. I try to imagine how the sky must have looked, so many thousands of years ago, when light pollution was just from the torches burning around the town, rather than the constant leakage of the cities onto the blackness of our nights. I imagine, looking at Stonehenge, looking at the endless and infinite seeming number of stars above them, their many beliefs which to some now may seem inane and unbelievable, would seem understandable and correct.


2 thoughts on “Archaeoastronomy: The Anthropology of Astronomy

  1. Hi! Great post!
    I am taking two anthropology courses this semester, and it was really cool to read here how astronomy and the use of astronomy fits into that anthropological perspective. I honestly think anthropological astronomy would be an awesome idea for a class! Also I appreciate how you wrote about putting yourself in their shoes and looking up at the sky; what an incredible sight that would be.


  2. I never thought about how astronomy could provide insight to the development of the human race. How societies of the past developed through their understanding of celestial bodies can help us understand how to develop as a society by making sense of the unknown.


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