Astronomy 135: Archaeoastronomy
Tuesday/Thursday, 11:35--12:50, LC102
Instructor: Dr. Michael Faison
Office: JWG 251, 260 Whitney Ave.
Office hours: Tues., 2-4pm, Wed., 12-2pm, and by appointment
Teaching Assistant: Joel Tanner,
Archaeoastronomy is the study of “old astronomy,” often taken to mean astronomy
before the use of telescopes. Archaeoastronomy is concerned with such issues as how people
over time have interpreted celestial events, or how celestial events may have affected our
overall worldview, or cosmology.
For example, architectural alignments of buildings with the
azimuthal direction of the rising sun on a particular day might tell us something about the
purpose of the building or the significance of that particular day in a prehistoric culture.
This course will be presented in three main parts.
First, we will learn the basics of
geocentric classical astronomy, such as how things move in the sky and the cyclic motions that
form the basis of almost all calendar systems around the world.
We will also cover important
practical uses of observational astronomy, such as timekeeping and celestial navigation.
the second third of the course, we will follow the historical thread of astronomy in the “Western”
world, starting with core ideas of modern astronomy that were established in Mesopotamia,
quantified into mathematical models by the Greeks, refined by Arabic astronomers of the Islamic
Empire, and eventually up to the Copernican Revolution in Europe.
Finally, we will look at the
development and influence of astronomy in several non-Western cultures, including China,
Southeast Asia, and Pre-Columbian Mesoamerica.
We will spend very little time discussing modern
i.e., the application of
terrestrial experimental physics to observed celestial phenomena.
For example, for most of the
course we will assume that the earth is stationary at the center of the Universe.
We will discuss
some ways that that archaeoastronomy has contributed to modern science, for example, in the