Archaeoastronomy, Science

Adriano Gaspani: Elements of Archaeoastronomy

Welcome to the Archaeoastronomy pages on Historia Vivens Web! Here you will find a selection of articles and papers by Adriano Gaspani illustrating us the objects, methods, purposes, issues and developments of Archaeoastronomy, a 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 (Piedmont region), Northern Italy.

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 is a satellite-based positioning and navigation system that is owned and operated by the US Department of Defense, and 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 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!

What is Archaeoastronomy? A brief introduction

Scholars define Archaeoastronomy, or Astro-archaeology, or Paleo-astronomy, as the science that investigates the archaeological finds, both artefacts and sites, with astronomical significance, i.e. that witness observation and study activities of the celestial bodies carried out by the ancient cultures. This article by Adriano Gaspani describes in an easy to understand but always scientifically accurate way what Archaeoastronomy is about, and how it can be applied to all cultures and all time periods, illustrating as well its sources, methods, aims, the main issues addressed in the research and study, the evolution of the discipline itself over time, and finally also a forecast of its possible future developments...

Image: Stonehenge megalithic site (Wiltshire county, England) in Wintertime. Source:

"Che cos'è l'Archeoastronomia. Introduzione all'Archeoastronomia" by Adriano Gaspani

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

The modern methods of Archaeoastronomy

An interesting article about the new survey methods and analysis techniques of the archaeological sites of potential astronomical significance, and 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. 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...

Image: Callanish stones (Isle of Lewis, Scotland). Copyright: Massima Bianchi, source: Architecture Wallpapers.

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 was largely improved, both on the ground of the hardware of the receivers, and on the ground of the data reduction techniques, including the software tools, thus contributing to strongly increase the accuracy of the survey results. In this paper the Author describes the appreciable benefits brought by the application of the GPS in the survey of the archaeological sites with astronomical significance, referring to his own experiences gained during up to two years of practical application and tests of the GPS-Survey.

Image: a GPS satellite - source: NASA

The results were largely positive and the conclusion is that the GPS-Survey 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... 

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

Azimuth and altitude of first visibility of the stars

Every visible celestial body in the sky is 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 defined by making use of one of the four basic systems of celestial coordinates (system for specifying positions of celestial objects, such as satellites, planets, stars, galaxies) known in Astronomy: Altazimuth, Equatorial, Ecliptic and Galactic. For each system a celestial body is identified, for a given time, by a couple of numbers, its coordinates according to the adopted reference system. 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 centre of the earth and is parallel to an observer's horizon) and zenith (the distance from directly overhead).

Image: a colour-composite image of the Pleiades. Credits: NASA.

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.

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

Stars observation and the resolving power of the human eye

The Author provides us with 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 photocamera, and the brain, doing the complex image processing. The characteristics and operation of the human visual system are not fully understood yet despite long lasting and still ongoing researches. 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 in the night sky, that the eye can see as separate and distinguishable objects.

Image: stargazing in the dark blue night. Source: public domain.

In ancient times, the complete lack of artificial lighting, except the faint light produced by oil lamps, made the nights profoundly dark, and the mankind could easily observe with the naked eye the Moon and several thousand stars. Soon they learned to recognize the various celestial bodies, to evaluate their different light and follow their movements. The limited scope of the naked eye coupled with its selectivity determined a narrow view of the universe…

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


Credits & Navigation

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




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