Archaeoastronomy in Americas

The Astronomy of the Cultures in the American Continent

Adriano Gaspani has thoroughly analysed the astronomical orientation of the fortified structures built by the pre-Incan Peruvian cultures along the banks of the Rio Grande, in the Casma valley, a province in the north coast of the Ancash Region, in Perù, that show a certain astronomical significance as confirmed by the archaeoastronomical survey carried out by the means also of satellite images. Adriano Gaspani studied as well a number of Mayan settlements located in the lowlands of Campeche, Yucatan and Quintana Roo in Mexico, trying to explain the well-known clockwise misalignments with respect to the astronomical cardinal directions. The author, in collaboration with his fellow colleague Silvia Motta, tested various hypotheses on the astronomical criteria applied by the Mayan people in order to build and orient their cities, and proved the existence of a strict relationship between the architectural alignments and the astronomical observations of the most important stars in the framework of the Mayan religion. With regard to Northern America the archaeoastronomical survey of the Chaco Culture sites carried on by the author highlighted the presence of a remarkable astronomical knowledge, as witnessed by the so-called "Sun Dagger" rock engraving at the Fajada Butte in New Mexico, USA.

Image: detail of the Dresden Codex, a pre-Columbian Maya book dating to the 11/12 century AD of the Yucatecan Maya in Chichén Itzá featuring a detailed account of the astronomical observations of the Mayas (public domain, source: Wikimedia Commons).

Here below you can find Adriano Gaspani's contributions (mostly in Italian language) published on Historia Vivens Web. Texts and images, unless otherwise attributed, are provided by the Author himself, and are his copyright. Please note that, to ease the reading, all articles, in full version and accompanied by pictures and notes, are free to download in PDF format. We hope you will enjoy the contents and wish you a pleasant surfing. This section is constantly evolving, please come back often for the latest updates. Thank you!

El Chankillo (Peru): the astronomy of the pre-Incan cultures

Archaeology has revealed traces of the existence of quite well organized sites and buildings, located in the Peruvian coastal region and built long before the Inca civilization, around 400 BC, by pre-Incan populations, such as the Chauvin, the culture of which is not completely known yet. One of the most interesting and intriguing pre-Incan archaeological sites is El Chankillo created by the Casma/Sechin culture (c.3600 BC - 200 BC), the large concentration of pre-historic ruins in the valleys of the Casma and Sechin rivers and along the nearby coast of the Pacific Ocean, in today Peru.

Image: the regularly-spaced Thirteen Towers of El Chankillo (copyright and source: Ivàn Ghezzi).

The ancient monumental complex of El Chankillo, located in the Peruvian coastal desert, in the Casma-Sechin basin in the Ancash Department, includes some residential areas, the hilltop fortress and so-called "Thirteen Towers", which, originally considered defensive structure by the archaeologists, have then been interpreted as an astronomical observatory, since they may have played an important astronomical function connected with the observation of the Moon and its periodicity. The site has been archaeoastronomically investigated by Adriano Gaspani who provides us with the results of his studies in this article.

You can download here the full article (in Italian) in PDF format:

Calakmul (Mexico): the astronomy of the Mayan culture

Calakmul, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in deep in the rainforests of the southern Campeche region in Mexico, was once the capital of one of the greatest and most powerful Mayan empires. The Maya were great observers of the sky and of the motions of celestial bodies. The exponents of their priestly class were invariably focused in the pursuit of so-called "time measurement". For them, the time was not understood in a linear pattern as in our modern sense, that is a straight line from the past and continues into the future, but according to a cyclic applicant as was typical for all ancient peoples. The rigorous repetition of celestial phenomena fully supported a conception of this kind.

Image: the Calakmul I structure (copyright and source: PhilippN via Wikimedia Commons).

The structure of the planimetries and the directions of the axes of the Mayan cities were referring not only to solar phenomena, but also to those related to the cycle of Venus. The analysis of the geometry of Calakmul confirms that it develops along two orthogonal axes aligned along the astronomical cardinal directions. The original aim of this work by Silvia Motta, Adriano Gaspani was to investigate a possible use of the E-Structure in order to mark the rising points of Venus. In particular, the corners of the Structure IV can be used as collimators for an observer staying upon the Structure VI and looking for the heliacal rising and the heliacal setting of the planet, as well as their acronic rising and setting.

You can download here the full article (in Italian) in PDF format:

Chaco Canyon (USA): the Ancestral Puebloans and the supernova SN1054

Archaeological findings and researches confirm that already Neolithic cultures sometimes used to depict spectacular celestial phenomena on the stones by the means of petroglyphs or pictographs. One of the most discussed cases is the so-called "Sun Dagger" petroglyph, which is carved on a rocky wall in the Chacho Canyon, and supposed to represent the first recording of the supernova observed in year 1054 AD at its brightest. The Chaco Culture Park is a US National Historical Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in a remote canyon cut by the Chaco Wash, and represents one of the most important pre-Columbian cultural and historical areas in the USA. 

Image: ruins of the Great Kiva of Chetro Ketl, Chaco Canyon (New Mexico, USA). Public domain, source: US National Park Service.

The SN 1054 supernova was first observed on 4/5 July 1054, and was recorded in contemporary Chinese astronomy. Further references to it can be found also in later Japanese and Arab records. The debris from the explosion of SN 1054 created the Crab Nebula, which is located in the sky near the star Zeta Tauri (ζ Tauri).

The Chaco Culture Historical Park is home to the most exceptional concentration of ruins of ancient pueblos (meaning "village" in Spanish), a term used by the Spanish explorers to refer to the particular style of multi-storied buildings surrounding an open plaza and built of stone, adobe mud, and other local material. From the 10th to the 12th century AD the Chaco Canyon was a major centre of the Anasazi Culture, the Ancestral Puebloans, one of the most enigmatic civilizations of Earth. Several Chacoan rock carvings seems to depict mythological and astronomical symbols, while many of their buildings may have been astronomically aligned to record the solar and lunar cycles, which has certainly prompted centuries of astronomical observations and skills passed down from generation to generation, thus witnessing a distinct astronomical knowledge held by the Anasazi...

You can download here the full article (in Italian) in PDF format:


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Images: All images on this page are public domain or provided by the Author himself unless otherwise stated.





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