Tuesday, April 19, 2011
Whether you believe in Ancient Alien Theory or not, the information about the skill with which the ancients observed the sky is amazing.This is by no means a thorough covering of the subject.
There are many ancient astronomers from many cultures all around the world, many of whom have their name lost over the ages. For example, we do not know who or when the planets were recognized as being different from stars. In some sense, most ancient people were 'astronomers' since all lived under non-light-polluted dark skies and everyone wonders what is up there. The names of the Egyptian, Mayan, and Chaldean astronomers are all lost, even if we know of some of their results
The history of astronomy is a very long one and astronomy has been pursued by all cultures, so there is a very wide range of tools. Before the discovery of the telescope, the only observing devices that people could use was the human eye, perhaps aided by any of a variety of sighting devices. Thus, the Chinese used armillary spheres, Tycho Brahe (Danish late 1500's) used long sighting 'tubes', neolithic farmers made Stonehenge to point to midsummer sunrise, and Ptolemy noted planet positions with respect to stars. After the discovery of the telescope, there was a steady push to larger-and-larger telescopes.
A) In the beginning, there were 3 basic types of ancient observatories
1) Simple markers
(a) Stone, wood, holes, or lines
Stonehenge in England is of course best known but many exist world wide.
Before the invention of the telescope, modern mathematics, modern physics, and modern ways of science, ancient civilizations were still able to discover an amazing amount of information about astronomy. All the planets in the solar system except for Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto were known to ancients. Ancient Egyptians were able to figure out how long a year was based upon the movements of the sun and the flooding of the Nile River. Greeks were able to estimate the diameter of Earth to within 32 km (20 miles) long before Europeans "knew" the Earth was flat. This page contains this and much more information on ancient astronomy.
Like today, there were always those who were interested in just knowing about things for the interest in simply knowing. However, that didn't get ancient civilizations very far, so there had to be a reason for people to study astronomy.
The main one was to try to understand what was going on in order to try to predict what would happen. Often times, ancient astronomers were priests, who were kept alive only as long as they correctly predicted events. Astronomical bodies, such as the sun, moon, and planets, were often seen as gods and goddesses. Predicting planetary positions were a way of predicting the will of the gods, and could then foretell events such as whether or not there would be a good harvest.
The pictures are Stonhenge and the earrings "Ancient Astromny" from Nurses Naturallyat Etsy.com