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Amazing Examples of Ancient Astronomy Through Prehistory

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posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 04:46 PM
G’day ATS!

This topic has interested me for quite some time. When I have tried to do any research I’ve always been astounded by the number of results that any search brings up. Let’s just say it’s difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff! It seems like every one has an alignment theory or idea about Archaeoastronomy and it isn’t too hard to present a good case.

I’ve actually started this thread on several occasions, only to come to an abrupt halt after realising what a mammoth task I was undertaking. It’s not the effort and time, but the hundreds of web pages and references to this topic that one must wade through in order to collate all the information, sources and articles. That’s not even considering related images and diagrams! In order to make a start, just to get this project off the ground, I’ll begin at the beginning (quite literally as far as we know!) by sharing one of the earliest examples of Man’s interest in Astronomy.

Ancient Lunar Calendar circa 32,000BC

The Amazing Image below is of a bone carving dated to the Aurignacian Culture of Europe, c.32,000 B.C. It shows the lunar cycle and its phases.

The Oldest Lunar Calendar on Earth


The Oldest Lunar Calendars and Earliest Constellations have been identified in cave art found in France and Germany. The astronomer-priests of these late Upper Paleolithic Cultures understood mathematical sets, and the interplay between the moon annual cycle, ecliptic, solstice and seasonal changes on earth.

What an extraordinary find, it demonstrates the intelligence of our ancestors who understood the significance of the lunar cycle and realised that this knowledge needed to be recorded as an aid for farming, hunting, reproducing and ritual.

Marshack deciphered sets of marks carved into animal bones, and occasionally on the walls of caves, as records of the lunar cycle. These marks are sets of crescents or lines. Artisans carefully controlled line thickness so that a correlation with lunar phases would be as easy as possible to perceive. Sets of marks were often laid out in a serpentine pattern that suggests a snake deity or streams and rivers.

There are thousands of posts on ATS regarding the importance of the Serpent in Ancient cultures and religion, we see another fine example here.

Orion - ‘The Hunter’

Although he is a figure from Ancient Greek Mythology, I believe the notion of Orion the Hunter hails from our hunter-gatherer past. In the myth:

His task was to rid the land of wild beasts and monsters. Luckily, this was a test for which he was well qualified and his magic lion skin protected him from harm.

Both Orion and his Belt are prominent in Ancient Myths and Cultures around the world. It is the most prominent feature (excluding the Moon) in any night sky and our Ancient Ancestors have no doubt been gazing at it for countless millennia.


Possible depiction of Orion’s Belt (Grapevine Canyon, Nevada), note the serpent figure above, a connection with the Lunar calendar previously mentioned

Initially depictions of the constellation Orion appear in Pictographs and Petroglyphs around the world as dots painted or carved into rock faces or the walls of caves. With Rigel and Betelgeuse being the 5th and 7th brightest stars in the sky at midnorthern latitudes, and the ‘belt’ (comprised of ζ Ori, Alnitak; ε Ori, Alnilam; and δ Ori, Mintaka).also a strikingly regular feature in the night sky, it is little wonder that our ancestors became interested in this constellation.



Backstone Beck Carvings, Rombalds Moor, Ilkley showing possible depiction of Orion’s belt (bottom image only)

The Thornborough Monument Complex circa 3,000BC

One of the finest examples of an Ancient monument built in honour of Orion (besides the Pyramids of Giza of course!), is the Neolithic Thornborough Monument. The complex pre-dates the Pyramids by 1,000 years (cough, depending on which ‘history’ you believe of course, this is ATS after all!), and the alignment of the complex is more accurate than the Great Pyramid and its two counterparts.


Aerial view of the monument showing alignment similar to Orion’s Belt

Thornborough is a religious site that is 5,000 years old; it comprises the world's only triple henge complex. This is a single precinct that was built as part of a religious pilgrimage point. The henges are circular ditches - three 'circus rings', each 240m in diameter - with external earth walls that serve to create the UK's largest ritual complex of the period.

Impressive as this construction may be, it’s only one of the connections this site has with Orion, the other involves a ceremonial causeway called the Cursus.

The earliest Orion alignment comes from the Cursus monument that is now largely quarried out and underlies the central henge. Cursus monuments are amongst the earliest ritual monuments in Britain and are thought to be ceremonial causeways. If you imagine a very wide and straight Roman road - with banks and ditches on either side - this is similar to how the Cursus would have looked.

The Cursus is aligned roughly east-west and it is to the west that the Cursus is thought to have aligned with the setting of Orion in 3,500 BC. The eastern alignment may well have been set to the midsummer solstice sunrise, for although the monument was built using straight lines, at its centre (the point under the central henge) it changes direction slightly: an adjustment for its eastern alignment - possibly the sunrise?

The Cursus was originally at least 1.2 miles in length and may well have been much longer, since it disappears under the village of Thornborough. It is this Cursus that may have been the first monument in the world aligned to Orion.

How impressive this astonishing monument must have looked when cut back to the natural limestone chalk on either side. Of course this pales in comparison to the Great pyramid, but interestingly here we should note that the Pyramids themselves were also originally lined with limestone which is a remarkable coincidence.


Plan view of the Pyramids of Giza demonstrating similar alignment to the Thornborough Henge complex

[edit on 19-4-2010 by kiwifoot]

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 04:46 PM
The High Man of Ireland


Orion depicted in roadways, rivers and monuments

This example may be controversial but after all this is ATS so I’ll include it. This idea was floated in 2004, I will leave it up to our discerning membership to consider its validity.

Two researchers have claimed that a huge, human-like depiction present in the road system straddling Meath and Louth (Ireland) could be the world’s largest ground-based representation of the constellation of Orion. They say that there is "tantalising evidence" that the vast 'High Man' figure may have been set down in prehistory and a five-year project of research into ancient myths and stories has revealed a significant astronomical knowledge among the ancient Irish.

Now this could simply be a ploy to attract tourists, however this area doesn’t really need the extra publicity!

Within the boundaries of this giant geoglyph, lay Newgrange (I will cover this place in more detail later, Millmount, Knowth and Dowth (MORE INFO HERE). Some of the finest examples of passage tombs found anywhere. Newgrange is extremely important to this topic (see ‘Of Sunrises and Sunsets’ below)

While it might seem strange that such a life-like geoglyph should exist in the road network, The High Man is a very potent and profound discovery, with a possible manmade genesis. It might appear that only extraordinary chance could result in such an outstanding visual icon. But what if this huge figure exists not by the result of quirk or chance, but rather by the outstanding brilliance of an ancient design?


Depiction of Orion’s belt from Newgrange, part of the High Man complex

Back in the Stone Age when Millmount was probably constructed, significant stars and constellations were setting in the direction of Tara. These included Sirius, the brightest star in the entire sky, and the great warrior-like constellation Orion, whose giant shape appears to have been copied onto the ground by The High Man figure.

Combining two ancient and holy Irish rivers, several ancient roadways, monuments and other features in the surrounding landscape it does indeed seem that a huge Orion figure is laid out. The entire site is 12 miles from top to bottom, so it is quite an accomplishment. What intrigues me is how the builders of this geoglyph were able to take in the entire landscape and conceive how it appeared from the air – the only place where it truly becomes apparent that it is Orion the Hunter with a shield.

Of Sunrises and Sunsets

This is probably the most widely documented aspect of archaeoastronomy and rightly so in my opinion, as the power and magnificence of the Sun has been incorporated into scores of ancient structures and monuments. As with Orion, it is in rock art and carvings that we first see possible ties with the setting and rising of the sun.

Fajada Butte – & the Amazing Sun Daggers


High atop the imposing butte at the entrance of the canyon is the most famous of Chaco’s sites. There, a set of spiral petroglyphs pecked into a cliff face behind three giant slabs of rock functions as a solar marker. At summer solstice, a vertical shaft of light pierces the main spiral exactly at its center. On the winter solstice, two shafts of light perfectly bracket the same spiral. Light shafts strike the center of a smaller spiral nearby on the spring and fall equinoxes.

While the petroglyphs and the use of the slits in the rock are definitely intentional, there is some debate as to whether the stone slabs were placed in their location or ended up in situ by some natural process. Regardless, the effect is the same, with the rays of sunlight providing a clear indication of the time of year.


Graphic explaining how the ‘Sun Dagger’ worked

Piedra del Sol

Piedra del Sol (literally, "rock of the sun") is a large boulder not far from the visitor enter at Chaco Canyon. Pecked into this boulder is a petroglyph in the shape of concentric circles, a symbol thought to represent the sun.

Standing with your back to this petroglyph, you see a distinct triangular rock before you. The sun appears to rise from the tip of this rock exactly two weeks before summer solstice.

Nearby pecked basins, in which corn would have been ground for ceremonial offerings to the sun, support the theory that this site was used for observing and offering prayers to the sun.

Newgrange, Ireland – circa 3,200BC


The Megalithic Passage Tomb at Newgrange was built about 3200 BC. The kidney shaped mound covers an area of over one acre and is surrounded by 97 kerbstones, some of which are richly decorated with megalithic art. The 19 metre long inner passage leads to a cruciform chamber with a corbelled roof. It is estimated that the construction of the Passage Tomb at Newgrange would have taken a work force of 300 at least 20 years.

Taken simply as a monument, Newgrange is spectacular in its own right. However it’s only during the Winter Solstice that the amazing knowledge of Newgrange’s builders is demonstrated.

At dawn on Winter Solstice every year, just after 9am, the sun begins to rise across the Boyne Valley from Newgrange over a hill known locally as Red Mountain. Given the right weather conditions, the event is spectacular.

At four and a half minutes past nine, the light from the rising sun strikes the front of Newgrange, and enters into the passage through the roofbox which was specially designed to capture the rays of the sun.


For the following fourteen minutes, the beam of light stretches into the passage of Newgrange and on into the central chamber, where, in Neolithic times, it illuminated the rear stone of the central recess of the chamber. With simple stone technology, these wonderful people captured a very significant astronomical and calendrical moment in the most spectacular way.


I think we can all agree that this is a truly amazing monument, both in terms of construction and the use of Sunlight on the Winter equinox. After writing this thread, I will make an effort to visit this place some time soon.

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 04:47 PM
Lunar Observatories

No less spectacular than the harnessing of the Sun by the Ancients, is their knowledge and use of the Moon in the monuments and structures forged millennia ago. One of the most amazing and significant examples are the Recumbent Stone Circles of Aberdeenshire.

Recumbent Stone Circles circa 3,000BC

As stone circles go, these aren’t particularly spectacular save for one important feature.

A recumbent circle is formed principally of a ring of stones, like all other stone circles; however, there is one, large recumbent stone laid on its side, usually flanked by the two largest of the standing stones immediately on either side. The stones are commonly graded in height with the lowest stones being diametrically opposite to the tall flankers.


Images showing Recumbent stone laid on its side, creating an ‘altar’

Surrounded by modern day forests it’s hard to conceive the actual purpose of the stones. At first glance I was reminded of the Hopewell Lunar Observatory (see below). After further research I realised that the actual purpose of these stones gives us a tantalising glimpse of Moon worship back in the Neolithic.

The stones are actually altars to the moon, they are place precisely in locations where the night time Moon will seem to pass over the Recumbent, allowing gatherers within the Stone Circles to pay reverence to the passing celestial body!


The Moon running its course over a Lunar Altar

These Stone Circles aren’t simply great examples of Archaeoastronomy, but an insight into possible religious and ceremonial aspects of Neolithic culture. This theory proves that the moon was held in high regard by the population of Scotland in Prehistory, especially when you consider the effort and resources the construction of these circles must have required.

DISCALIMER: I borrowed the next example from a previous thread of mine, I found this place extremely interesting, the knowledge that the Hopewell had regarding the moon and its orbit around Earth is just staggering. I consider it to be one of the finest examples of a Lunar Observatory to be found anywhere.

The Octagon Earthwork, a Hopewell Lunar Observatory circa 100-300AD

Named after the eight sided polygon which the earthwork resembles, the Octagon Earthwork is a very substantial monument. Including the Circular feature that is attached to it, the complex covers somewhere in the region of seventy acres (the complex is large enough to hold four Roman Colosseums). It’s connected to the other structures on the site by avenues of parallel walls and ditches, and has a large “road” leading away (or to) it that is flanked on either side by burial mounds, which have all been mostly destroyed.


Aerial view of the octagon, the earth works can be seen where the grass has grown to varying lengths

A large platform mound, referred to as Observatory Mound, is located along the south-western perimeter of the circle opposite the gateway to the Octagon. The form of Observatory Mound suggests it was built across a former entrance to the circular earthwork.

19th Century excavations revealed a distinct lack of burial mounds, pointing to an alternate use for the complex. Luckily the entire site has been protected by the building of a golf course over it, enabling archaeologists to study the entire complex.

It was first theorised that the gaps in the Earthworks were collapsed archways, then a solar calendar of some sort, perhaps like Stone Henge is believed to be. However there was no evidence to substantiate these hypotheses. In fact, the scientists looking for solar connections couldn’t even find alignments by chance which on such a structure (so big with many walls and gaps) was quite extraordinary.

This was perplexing, until it dawned on them that there were no solar alignments because the walls were aligned to something else – the moon. They found that the architecture of the Octagon Earthworks incorporated alignments to all of the eight major moonrises and moonsets that define a repeating 18.6-year lunar cycle.


Plan of the Octagon and Observatory mound

The Octagon Earthworks are a remarkable testament to the architectural and engineering genius of the Hopewell culture, but astronomers recently have come to realize that the Hopewell culture builders aligned these earthworks to the cyclical dance of the earth and moon. If you stand atop the Observatory Mound and look across the circle through the parallel-walled passage leading into the octagon and out through the octagon's northeastern gateway, the point on the horizon at which you are sighting is where the moon rises at its most northerly extreme. The intricate 18.6 year-long cycle of the moon can be encompassed by four points on the eastern horizon marking a maximum northern moonrise, a minimum northern moonrise, a maximum and minimum southern moonrise and four points on the western horizon marking the corresponding moonsets. The Hopewell culture builders encoded all of these astronomical landmarks into the architecture of the Octagon.


Here are some pictures to give you a basic idea about what the Observatory was like and how it worked:


The passage of the Moon was watched from the viewing platform


Depending on the time of year, the moon would rise and fall in the gaps in the substantial Octagon Earthwork


Graphic showing various alignments of the setting Moon

The knowledge required to built such an amazing observatory must have been hundreds of years to acquire. I have visions in my mind of the builders and workers consulting with shaman and elders to create this brilliant feat.

Final Thoughts

When you have a moment, I suggest you Google 'Archaeoastronomy' and see for yourself the sheer number of results and pages that are out there!

It's impossible for me to bring them all to you, however I have tried to bring a few of the finest. I have obviously omitted Stonehenge, the Pyramids and the Mesoamerican cultures, not for any other reason than they are extremely well documented and have been threaded to death on ATS. This thread was for the lesser known examples.

I hope you have enjoyed the read and have also maybe learned a thing or two, I know I did!

All the best ATS, Kiwi!

Sources NOT in Thread
The High Man
BBC - Thornborough Henge Complex
The Orion Zone
Chaco Canyon Observation

[edit on 20-4-2010 by kiwifoot]

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 05:54 PM
Fantastic thread. A great read.

Thank you for taking the time to compile the information and post it.

I've always been fascinated by history, and the apparent fact that ancient man was much more sophisticated and intelligent than we give him credit for. Perhaps much more technologically advanced than we give credit for too.


posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 06:04 PM
Gonna take me a while to synthesize this all into my measly brain!

Thank you very much kiwifoot, highly enjoyable and enlightening thread.

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 07:58 PM

That was an amazing and most informative thread.

Just another indication to me that a more advanced race whether alien or just of a higher vibration had to have been here before us.

Thanks for the post.

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 08:16 PM
Great job, once again, Kiwi!!

Not aliens again, please!! People have been gazing at the sky for hundreds of thousands of years (no TV back then and the misses had a headache
) so various phenomena that caught their eye "spoke" to them in a different way (maybe they perceived them as a message from the "Gods", maybe math was born during those starlit nights, who can tell for sure?). they did place great value on these repeated phenomena though because they helped ancient people tell the time of year (when to sow, when to reap, when the big game came their way, things essential to their survival) and once ancient freeloaders established the first religions, they were thought to help predict the future (and effortlessly fill the bellies of said freeloaders).

There is one thing to keep in mind when observing the skies and noting significant phenomena. While the Moon and its phases have stayed the same for the last couple of hundreds of years, other stellar arrangements may have changed (the Polar star comes to mind, as an example). the ancients, depending on time and place, could see a slightly different sky than we observe today so some of those alignments may not be accurate today. Astronomical data are needed to establish what they could be depicting, if the modern sky says it makes not much sense.

One amazing, for me, part was the Moon altar and that fantastic photo of the Moon "rolling" on the altar stone, I had read about things like that but never seen one, thanks for posting that pic

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 08:21 PM
To me, this only shows the true genius of man, not that we're too stupid to do this ourselves and needed alien help.

posted on Apr, 19 2010 @ 09:10 PM
I really like the "sun dagger" one.

This thread reminded me of something I saw on TV once.
A woman claimed that cave paintings were done by creating the caves in a way that at certain times the sun would light up the whole cave and so the paintings could be done and viewed.

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 03:39 AM

Originally posted by Maegnas

One amazing, for me, part was the Moon altar and that fantastic photo of the Moon "rolling" on the altar stone, I had read about things like that but never seen one, thanks for posting that pic

Thanks a lot mate, I agree about the altar stone theory, for me it was one of the highlights of making the thread. It gives us an insight into their rituals and possible beliefs!

I could have gone on for pages and pages, but it's better to keep some threads relatively short!

All the best bud, Kiwi!

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 05:18 AM
Nice work Kiwi (again :lol

These sites are just astounding. The sun daggers was my personal favorite.

Ah, the joy of living back then and having no light pollution ruining your night sky. Must have been just perfect.

I'm going to have to read through this again! Good job.


posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 07:13 AM
I'm going to read through this when I get more time. I have to give you a quick S&F for including my favorite example, the sun dagger calendar at Chaco Canyon, NM.

Nice work!

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 08:17 AM
reply to post by kiwifoot


Great post!!!

Seeing the photos of Chaco brings back old memories. Spent a few nights there and the sky is pristine. (and the Coyotes are friendly!). The camping area there is right next to some cliff dwellings. Definitely a moving experience, highly recommend a trip to the canyons of NM.
BTW, don't take any artifacts from there it is supposed to be bad luck. When we went we returned a cigar box full of artifacts that were taken a few years before by some "unlucky" friends!!!

Thanks again for all of your research and great post.

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 08:26 AM
AWESOME thread OP!
Very well researched and informative! One of the better threads Ive seen on ATS in my years!
a well earned star and flag for you!

I wonder how many more ancient observatories and petroglyphs we would find if we went around the coast of every nation and looked between 200-400ft, which is how much the water levels have risen since the last ice age!

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 08:36 AM
Great work! Thanks for sharing it with us, it's very informative. I wonder; archaeologists tell us these were places of worship and religion. What if they were not? What if they were watching the skies for some other reason? Not aliens. What if some ancient unknown civilisation was destroyed by some celestial event and these places were built to watch in case it happened again? Would it be possible to go through these places and figure out what it was? Just a thought.

Again, great work and hope you get applause from the mods.

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 08:56 AM
Awesome collection. Nice work.

Star and Flag!

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 09:12 AM
Give prehistoric men a little more credit. You doont have to be visited by aliens to be savvy in astronomy, just a good observer, and prehistoric people were great observers who could also conclude quite sharply.

Modern man simply relies on high tech whereas ancient people had to be knowlegdeable in astronomy in order to navigate correctly or plant their crops by the right time.

One false "prediction" and you were miles off your course in hostile waters or your crops would have died.

so yes, our ancestors were quite the clever people, and we should be proud to have originated from them, right know it seems were "devolving" into a less intelligent form, if thats ever possible.

Great and informative thread OP, well presented.

Star and flag

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 09:19 AM
Absolutely fantastic. Thanks for this. I've been to Chaco Canyon and seen the daggers, and have read about most of the others, but there are some new ones I didn't know. There goes the weekend to research, again, gonna be fun.

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 09:38 AM
Your totally reaching with this I just don't see what your getting at, after all the earth is only 6000 years old? the talking snake said so.

posted on Apr, 20 2010 @ 09:55 AM
What a well researched thread you've put together with some great info and links, I've read quite a bit on Newgrange, the walls are embedded with quartz. This the reason I vist ATS!!

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