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Astronomical Heritage Finder

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In collaboration
with the

International Astronomical Union

Thematic essays overview

Early prehistory

Since the early 20th century, and especially during the last few decades, interdisciplinary research has strengthened the evidence that during earlier prehistory (35,000–9,000 BP) people observed certain celestial phenomena and reflected about the spatiotemporal structure of the world they perceived themselves as dwelling within. What appear to be traces of very early systems of time-reckoning...

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Later prehistoric Europe

The later prehistoric period within Europe, and particularly around the Atlantic façade, marks the widespread construction of large, evidently communal, structures built predominantly of earth, timber and/or stone. The vestiges of many earthworks and stone monuments dating to this period remain conspicuous in today’s landscape. People have long identified tangible connections with the sky at...

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Pre-Columbian America

Broadly speaking, our understanding of indigenous astronomical knowledge in the Americas through the ages is derived from historical accounts by Spanish chroniclers, reports by ethnographers and anthropologists working among native groups during the last 150 years, several well-presented archaeological and historical sites, numerous rock-art sites and the living traditions of indigenous peoples....

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Indigenous uses of Astronomy

In one sense, all cultural uses of astronomy are indigenous, whether past or present. In practice, though, the term ‘indigenous’ is commonly taken to apply only to people outside the ‘Western’ framework of thought, given the global nature of modern science. This introduces a dichotomy that parallels the differences of approach between historians of astronomy—who tend to focus upon places,...

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Ancient and medieval Far East

Geologically, China occupies a large and central position in East Asia. It is one of the first places in the world where agricultural civilization originated, and it remained an agriculturedominated culture until the end of the imperial period in 1912. For this reason, Chinese people became keen observers and worshippers of celestial phenomena from very early times. For them, these phenomena high...

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India

Our understanding of archaeoastronomical sites in India is based not only on a rich archaeological record and texts that go back thousands of years, but also on a living tradition that is connected to the past. Conversely, India has much cultural diversity and a tangled history of interactions with neighbouring regions that make the story complex. The texts reveal to us the cosmological ideas that...

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Mesopotamia and the Middle East

The earliest known written sources dealing with astronomy come from the regions of ancient Assyria and Babylonia located in what is now Iraq and its neighbours. These sources are written in the Akkadian language using cuneiform writing on clay tablets. Because clay is a non-perishable material, especially when baked (either intentionally in an oven or in sunlight, or unintentionally in a burning...

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Ancient Egypt

In what follows we shall not deal with the history of mathematical or theoretical astronomy as a natural science, which is hard to trace in ancient Egypt, but rather with the cultural aspects of the discipline. These are the main focus of archaeoastronomy, an interdisciplinary subject in which the powerful tools of spherical and positional astronomy are brought to bear on anthropological and historical...

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The Classical World

What we identify here as the ‘classical world’ is better defined culturally than geographically. Chronologically, it spans the Greek and Italic societies of the Iron Age (8th to 4th century BC) and the Hellenistic and Roman civilizations, finishing with the end of the Roman empire. In geographical extent it comprises today’s Greece and Italy, together with the Greek colonies and Roman...

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Islamic astronomy

In the time interval between Ptolemy (2nd century AD) and Copernicus (16th century), the major developments in observational and theoretical astronomy took place from North Africa to Central Asia—during late Antiquity, and then in pre-Islamic and finally Islamic societies. The main advances happened between the 9th and the mid-15th centuries. During this period, Muslim scholars familiarized...

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Medieval astronomy in Europe

It would be helpful to begin to spell out the geographic, chronological, and cultural limits of medieval European astronomy by distinguishing it from three other astronomical traditions with which it is related: the Classical World (ancient Greece; Hellenistic period; Rome); Arabic...

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Astronomy from the Renaissance to the mid-twentieth century

The period from the European Renaissance to the middle of the 20th century was an extremely rich one for the history of astronomy. The heliocentric paradigm of Copernicus (mid 16th century) followed by the techno-scientific revolution of Galileo’s refracting telescope (1609) initiated a tremendous movement for revival and progress in astronomical observations and theoretical understanding of...

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The development of radio astronomy

Radio astronomy has been a very instrument-driven science. The great discoveries of radio astronomy often happened soon after a new radio telescope was put into operation. Many of these discoveries have been serendipitous but contributed to the rapid progress in modern astronomy. Thus the question of what has happened to the historic instruments is a very relevant...

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Applied astronomy in modern times

The development of astronomical knowledge in modern times has forged strong connections with technology and led to the development of a variety of new applications of that knowledge. At the same time, many of the social uses of astronomy are, essentially, unaltered since ancient times: these include the establishment of calendars; aiding human navigation across...

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Space Heritage

The term ‘Space heritage’ can have several connotations, of which the commonest perceived could be summarised as: heritage related to the process of carrying out science in space; heritage related to manned space flight/exploration; and human cultural heritage that remains off the surface of ‘planet Earth’. Although inextricably...

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‘Windows to the universe’: Starlight, dark-sky areas and observatory sites

The sky, our common and universal heritage, is an integral part of the environment perceived by humanity. Starting from this general idea, the Declaration in Defence of the Night Sky and the Right to Starlight, adopted in 2007, states that “an unpolluted night sky that...

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