Archaeoastronomy in Asia

Archaeoastronomy in Asian Continent

The approach to astronomy by the Far Eastern cultures was entirely different from the understanding of astronomy typical of the western world cultures. The Chinese and Babylonian astronomy were less marked by the philosophical speculation, but more oriented towards the development of models aimed to predict to some extent the recurrence of the celestial phenomena. The Chinese astronomy in particular was completely focused on the meticulous recording of every change that occurred in the sky and in the consequent drawing conclusions and predictions for life on Earth, since the Chinese astronomers did never feel any need to develop a sort of cosmological model aimed to describe, predict and assess the position and motion of the celestial objects. As for the Asian continent Adriano Gaspani has been carrying on extended ethno-astronomical researches, studying and interpreting the astronomical knowledge of the ancient inhabitants of today Turkey and Japan, as well as of the tribes of the Malaysian Archipelago. Since the ancient times the people settled in this area had developed very rich cultural traditions in which astronomy has always played a key role.

Image: Ottoman astronomers at work around Taqī al-Dīn at the Istanbul Observatory, 1574-1595, by Ala ad-Din Mansur-Shirazi (source: Istanbul University Library via 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!

The Astronomy of the Malaysian Tribes

The tribes of the Malaysian Archipelago developed very rich cultural traditions in which astronomy and the sky observation have always played a key role. The Malaysian people have been dealing since always with the sudden changes typical of a tropical monsoon climate, with their survival strictly depending on the rice cultivation and the final goal to get good harvests. The Malaysians were able to effectively determine the most suitable time period for rice planting in the vivarium and then the transfer of the seedlings in the fields for the subsequent growth and ripening.

Image: a Malaysian village in Malacca region of the southern Malay Peninsula (copyright: Sandro Prato Previde; source: Il Milione Encyclopaedia Istituto Geografico de Agostini, Novara).

The methods that were used to determine the correct dates during the year have been for centuries (and still are) based on the observation of the Sun and stars. The Malaysian tribes were able to develop several original observation methods, achieving a remarkable knowledge of the sky and its phenomena, that they managed then to effectively apply to their agricultural planning.

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Göbekli Tepe (Turkey): an archaeoastronomical survey

The discovery of significant astronomical alignments in the Göbekli Tepe site, dating back to 9500-8500 BC (the so-called Pre-Pottery Neolithic), opens up new and quite important perspectives, first because it was possible to point out that already in the 10th millennium BC the systematic observation of the sky was widely practiced. Second, unlike the Neolithic sites of the 5th millennium BC, in which we detect the presence of solar lines, in the Pre-pottery Neolithic sites we observe the exclusive presence of alignments associated with the heliacal risings and settings.

Image: reconstruction of the Göbekli Tepe site (copyright: Fernando Baptista, source: National Geographic).

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Troy - Ilion (Turkey): nine cities built observing the sky...

The epic of the Trojan War, the great siege of Troy, an ancient city located in Anatolia region of today Turkey, waged by the Achaeans (Greeks), represents one of the most important events in Greek mythology, and has fascinated the mankind since the time when, according to tradition, in the Iliad Homer narrated part of the events related to the tenth year of fighting. The problem of the historicity of the Trojan War has become the subject of a widespread debate only with the rising of the modern source criticism in History from the late eighteenth century.

Image: a drawing depicting Troy VII layer from 1150 to 950 BC (public domain).

Surely few other topics of the Ancient History have become the field of study and research by the most diverse disciplines of the Classical Antiquity and Humanities than the Trojan War, attracting as well a great deal of speculation, not always performed on a very scientific basis. From Classical Philology to Ancient History, from Classical Archaeology to Protohistory, from the Indo-European studies to Hittitology and Oriental Archaeology, every scientific discipline has done his part, and now also Archaeoastronomy can bring its valuable contribution...

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Ancient Indian Calendars

The first Indian calendars date back to three thousand years ago. Described in the texts of the Vedic culture, there are solar calendars next to those based on the motion of the Moon, and about thirty of them still survive in modern India. The Hindu calendars have undergone many changes and local variations in the process of regionalisation, due to the difference in customs and astronomical practices adopted by calendar-makers in different regions of India, and also the month which starts the year varies from region to region. However, the names of the twelve months of many regional calendars are the same coming from the Sanskrit language, and they are all still based on common calendrical principles found mainly the Surya Siddhanta, the first Indian astronomical treatise...

Image: detail of a page from a fabric Hindu calendar/almanac corresponding to Western years 1871-1872 AD and coming from Rajasthan region of India (public domain, source: Wikimedia Commons). 

The modern Hindu calendars in used in India today are both the solar and the lunisolar and used for civil and religious purposes, and important in predicting the dates for the celebration of various festivals, performance of various rites as well as on all astronomical matters.

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The War of Bhārata (India): when did it take place?

The Mahabharata or Mahābhārata is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India, together with the Ramayana.The Mahabharata consists of a mass of mythological and didactic material presented around the central epic narrative of the feud for sovereignty between two groups of cousins, the Kauravas (sons of Dhritarashtra, the descendant of Kuru) and the Pandavas (sons of Pandu) culminating in a series of great battles on the field of Kurukshetra (north of Delhi). The date and even the historical occurrence of the war that is the central event of the Mahabharata are much debated still today...

Image: detail a 18th century manuscript illustration of the Battle of Kurukshetra, fought between the Kauravas and the Pandavas, recorded in the Mahabharata Epic (public domain, source: Wikimedia Commons).

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