Archaeoastronomy, Science

Adriano Gaspani: Elements of Archaeoastronomy

Welcome to the Archaeoastronomy pages on Historia Vivens Web! Here you will find a selection from the articles and papers of Adriano Gaspani illustrating us the objects, methods, purposes, issues, advantages and also developments of Archaeoastronomy, a scientific discipline ideally placed halfway between science and anthropology that plays an important role in studying the origin and evolution of the astronomical knowledge spread among the ancient civilizations worldwide and its influence on their daily life and cultural expressions.

Image: Adriano Gaspani engaged in field surveys in Ossola valley, Northern Italy (photo provided by the author).

Adriano Gaspani conducts his field researches with a special focus on the proto-historic and medieval periods in Europe, as well as the development of the latest survey techniques, having contributed first, through original and still ongoing researches, to the implementation of the Global Positioning System (GPS) satellite technology to the topographic and planimetric mapping of the archaeological sites with astronomical significance. The GPS, a satellite-based positioning and navigation system owned and operated by the US Department of Defense, provides location and time information in all weather conditions, anywhere in the world, 24 hours a day.

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 usually accompanied by pictures and notes, are available for free and safe download in PDF format. We hope you will enjoy the contents and wish you a pleasant surfing experience. This section is constantly evolving, please come back often for the latest updates. Thank you!

What is Archaeoastronomy? A brief introduction

Archaeoastronomy is defined as the interdisciplinary science that investigates archaeological sites and finds, artefacts and artworks, inscriptions, carvings and written records, ethnographies and other sources and objects that may have had astronomical significance to past people. Archaeoastronomy studies and researches the observation practices and astronomical lore of the ancient civilizations worldwide, in other words how they interacted with the sky above, the celestial bodies and phenomena, and which use they made of such knowledge within their own culture and daily life.

Image: Stonehenge megalithic site (England) in Spring (copyright: David Ball, source: Wikimedia Commons).

Adriano Gaspani introduces us to the marvellous world of Archaeoastronomy, describing what this science is about, and how it can be applied to all cultures and all time periods, presenting its sources, methods, and aims, as well as the main issues addressed in the research and study activities and the errors that can occur. The author provides also a quick historical overview of how Archaeoastronomy evolved, and a forecast of its possible future developments...

Adriano Gaspani: "Introduzione all'Archeoastronomia"

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

The modern methods of Archaeoastronomy

An interesting four-handed contribution, written by Adriano Gaspani together with Silvia Cernuti, high-school professor of Mathematics and Physics and fellow Archaeoastronomy researcher at the Brera Astronomical Observatory in Milan (Italy). The article illustrates in depth the new survey methods and analysis techniques of the archaeological sites of potential astronomical significance. The authors analyse also the great contribution to the research provided by the modern devices, including the software based on the use of artificial neural networks, and fuzzy logic. 

Image: the Callanish Stones, a late Neolithic complex of stone circles and standing stones located near the village of Callanish on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland (copyright: Massima Bianchi, source: Architecture Wallpapers).

The very starting point of any investigation and speculation in the Archaeoastronomy field is the proper knowledge of the sky visible at the time any given find with astronomical significance was produced as well as of the geographical site where the find is (or was) physically located...

Adriano Gaspani, Silvia Cernuti: "I metodi moderni dell'Archeoastronomia"

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

The use of GPS in Archaeoastronomy

During the last decade the GPS-Survey has been largely improved, concerning either the hardware of the receivers, as well as the data reduction techniques, including the software tools, with an increased accuracy and reliability. In this paper Adriano Gaspani propose the GPS-Survey as working technique in the Archaeoastronomy field, illustrating the quite appreciable benefits brought by the application of the satellite GPS techniques to the survey of archaeological and archaeoastronomical sites, while referring also to his own experience of practical application and tests of the GPS-Survey.

Image: artistic interpretation of GPS satellite in Earth orbit (source: NASA via Wikimedia Commons, public domain).

The Author describes some experiences gained during up to two years of practical application and test of the GPS surveying. The results were largely positive, and the conclusion is that the GPS surveying represents a very valuable working technique in the archaeoastronomical survey, as well as a quite effective tool that should never miss in the equipment of any archaeoastronomer... 

Adriano Gaspani: "Applicazione di tecniche satellitari GPS al rilevamento dei siti archeoastronomici"

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

The positions of the celestial objects

All visible celestial bodies (or objects) in the sky, such as satellites, planets, stars, galaxies, are characterized, at a given time, by a fixed location relative to an observer placed at a point on the Earth's surface. This position can be specified by using one of the basic systems of celestial coordinates known in Astronomy, the Altazimuth, Equatorial, Ecliptic, and Galactic systems. Each coordinate system is named after its choice of fundamental plane. A celestial body is identified, for a given time, by a couple of numbers, its coordinates according to the adopted reference system.

Image: the Pleiades star cluster (author: NASA, ESA, AURA/Caltech, source: Wikimedia Commons, public domain).

In the Altazimuth system, which is also known as Horizontal system and is the most natural system, the position of a body on the celestial sphere is described relative to an observer's celestial horizon (a great circle on the celestial sphere having a plane that passes through the center of the earth and is parallel to an observer's horizon) and zenith (the distance from directly overhead).

The system uses the observer's local horizon as the fundamental plane to define the position of a star in the sky through a pair of specific coordinates: its Altitude, indicated by the symbol H (the measure of the vertical angle between the object and the observer's local celestial horizon, or in few words the height on the horizon), and its Azimuth, denoted by the symbol A (the measure of the angle of the object along the celestial horizon, from the north -or south- point of the horizon around to the east, to the point where the body's vertical circle intersects the horizon). Because the earth rotates on its axis, the altitude and azimuth of a celestial body are constantly changing according to the geographic position of the observer as well as through time.

Adriano Gaspani: "La posizione degli oggetti celesti: Altezza e Azimut di prima visibilità delle stelle"

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

Stars observation and the resolving power of the human eye

A thorough analysis of the capabilities of the human visual system, a highly sophisticated “device” that consists of the eye itself, functioning as the biological equivalent of a photo camera, and the brain, doing the image processing. The characteristics and operation of the human visual system are not fully understood yet. The resolving power (or visual acuity) is defined as the ability of the human eye to distinguish fine details and is expressed in terms of the angle of minimum separation between two bright spots (e.g. two stars) that the eye can see as separate and distinguishable objects.

Image: observing the milky way at the Mammoth Hot Springs, Yellowstone, USA (public domain, author: Neal Herbert/Yellowstone National Park via Wikimedia Commons).

In the past, the complete lack of artificial lighting, except the faint light produced by oil lamps, made the nights quite dark, and the mankind could easily perform a naked-eye observation of the Moon and a few thousand stars. learning soon to recognize the various celestial bodies, to evaluate their different light and follow their movements, although the limited scope of the naked eye coupled with its selectivity determined a narrow view of the universe…

Adriano Gaspani: "L’osservazione visuale delle stelle e il potere risolutivo dell’occhio umano"

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

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All images on this webpage are public domain or provided by the author unless otherwise stated.

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