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Taking a Look at Ancient Astronomy
Posted In: Ancient Civilizations  3/16/11
By: Yona Williams

Thousands of years ago, people started to take an interest in what took place in the night skies. Early astronomy is seen in nearly all ancient cultures – starting with stories about how the universe was created, the changes that took place, who was responsible, how earth came to be, and the origin of humans. In this article, you will encounter some of the beliefs of early civilizations, such as the ancient Egyptians.

The early Egyptians thought that the universe was large and rectangular. They thought that Egypt was located at the center of the bottom. Descriptions of the country include "huge lamps that hung down from the top of stars." Other cultures situated close to Egypt often held the same concept of an enclosed space where their region served as the center of the world.

During ancient times, the curiosity or interest in further investigating the universe did not exist because they were greatly affected by their belief in the importance of gods and goddesses. It was the belief that the universe was controlled by unpredictable gods. If this was true, then why try to understand concepts that were linked to gods that supposedly worked without warning. At the time, the only culture that worshipped one God was the Jews.  The Bible associated with the culture would have an important impact on science – in a positive way.

What we know about early astronomy comes from the records of observations kept by some astronomers. For example, the ancient Chinese have records that date back to the 1300s BC. During 700 BC, the Babylonians were equipped with the knowledge to predict certain heavenly events. The ancient Greeks started to show an interest in astronomy around 600 BC.

Early Methods of Ancient Astronomy

The early methods of ancient astronomy relied on some of the most basic approaches. Simple markers helped indicate some of their observations. Circles comprised of wood, stone, holes, or lines helped make early calculations. Temples and tombs also served a dual purpose. Outside of their obvious function, they were also constructed with passageways, shafts, doors, and other openings that would face the rising and setting of the sun, moon, and other important celestial bodies.

Some cultures that showed an interest or knowledge in the ways of astronomy have remained unknown. Stonehenge is an example of a structure that indicates a method of ancient calendars and other early connections to astronomy. Situated on the Salisbury Plain in Southern England, Stonehenge represents one of about 900 megalithic circles found throughout Britain.

Stonehenge was constructed between around 2800 BCE and 1075 BCE. Its main function was to help people observe the sun and the moon. They used the site to establish a calendar, for religious ceremonies, and to help with the planting of crops. Amazingly, the largest of the stones weighed 50 tons, and came from many miles away from the site. When viewed from the center, the sun rises over the heel stone at the summer solstice.


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