Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Fjordman: Astronomy in Prehistoric Europe

Fjordman’s latest essay has been published at the Brussels Journal. Some excerpts are below:

It is difficult to speak of “science” in prehistoric times. Perhaps the closest we can get is the systematic study of the heavens. Archaeoastronomy is the intersection between astronomy and archaeology. The patterns of stars in the night sky were far more familiar to people in ancient times than they are to us, who often suffer from light pollution from electric lights.

Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France with beautiful prehistoric cave paintings and spectacular drawings of bulls, horses and other animals. It dates from the Upper Paleolithic, the final phase of the Old Stone Age, and is estimated to be more than 16,000 years old. Slightly younger (ca. 14-15,000 years old) cave paintings are known from the Cave of Altamira in Spain. German researcher Michael Rappenglueck believes that he has found a prehistoric map of the night sky among the Lascaux paintings. This is plausible, but the truth is that we simply don’t know what the function of these artistic drawings was. According to Paul Mellars in The Oxford Illustrated History of Prehistoric Europe, “Exactly how the art would have functioned in this context remains more speculative. One possibility is that some of the major centres of art production (such as Lascaux in south-west France, or Altamira in northern Spain) served as major ritualistic or ceremonial centres — perhaps the scene of important ceremonies during regular annual gatherings by the human groups. Alternatively (or in addition) the production of the art could have been in the hands of particular chiefs or religious leaders who used the creation of the art, and associated ceremonial, to reinforce and legitimate their particular roles of power or authority in the societies.”

The Goseck circle, sometimes called Germany’s counterpart to England’s later Stonehenge, dates from just after 5000 BC. It is proof that Neolithic Europeans observed the heavens with greater accuracy than previously believed and is one of a rising number of archaeological finds aided by aerial photography. Scholar John North in his book Cosmos, 2008 edition, writes about early European astronomy. Many attempts have been made to reconstruct the belief systems of the peoples responsible for these astonishing astronomical monuments:
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“There are numerous indications of cults of the Sun and Moon, not all of them stemming from the orientation and planning of large monuments. One of the most interesting finds was that made in 1902 at Trundholm on Zealand (Sjælland, Denmark), of a Bronze Age horse-drawn disk, dating perhaps from roughly 1400 BC. There can be little doubt that this had solar significance. The Sun is shown being pulled by a horse in several crude Swedish rock carvings of much the same date. An equally rich discovery, this time from Germany, was of a disk of bronze 32 centimeters in diameter, studded with gold shapes that related to the heavens in some way. Found near Nebra at the end of the twentieth century and now known as the Nebra disk, it came more specifically from Mittelberg — a modest hill in the Ziegelroda Forest, between Halle and Erfurt. It seems to have been discovered within a pit inside what had once been a Bronze Age palisade and complex of defensive ditches.”
The Nebra sky disk from ca. 1600 BC was first assumed to be a forgery (of which there are unfortunately quite a few in museums around the world), but closer studies eventually revealed it to be most likely authentic. The Trundholm disk or Sun chariot dates from the fifteenth century BC or earlier and shows a horse-drawn vehicle with spoked wheels. Horse-drawn chariots with spoked wheels are associated with the second phase of the Indo-European expansion and spread across Eurasia, from China to Sweden, in the second millennium BC.

From about 4500-2500 BC, a belt of megalithic monuments stretched along the Atlantic coastlands of Western Europe, the Iberian Peninsula and some western Mediterranean islands. In the Mediterranean region there were observations of the heavens similar to Stonehenge in England. In Sardinia, numerous nuraghes or towers of large stones were built in the second millennium BC or earlier, many of which still exist today. Some of their entrances and corridors may have had lunar or solar orientations, but their usage remains uncertain.

T-shaped megaliths are known from prehistoric Menorca, but some of the most impressive megalithic monuments can be found on the Mediterranean island of Malta. The earliest of these Maltese monumental stone structures probably predate the Egyptian pyramids. Some indications of ancient stone structures with a possible astronomical significance have been discovered in Brazil, in addition to the Andes region in South America and especially Mesoamerica where a relatively advanced level of astronomical activity is well-attested.

Read the rest at the Brussels Journal.


Fjordman said...

Thank you for posting. Perhaps the strongest continuity we can find in the history of European civilization, from the Minoans around 2000 BC via the ancient Greeks and Renaissance Italy to modern Holland and France, is the creation of unusually lifelike and photorealistic art compared to all other cultures. When considering the fact that a few of the Lascaux cave paintings exhibit traces of perspective you could conceivably argue that this continuity stretches back more 15,000 years. This begs the question of whether this has a genetic basis. Did Europeans view the world differently from other peoples, perhaps even quite literally?

mace said...

Very interesting,particularly your comments in regard to the realistic qualities of Western art.One of the earlier commentators on the Minoans thought that their artists were capable of eidetic memory,because of their ability to capture movement and the Lascaux paintings certainly suggest this ability.
It's interesting how the Greeks,within the space of two centuries,left the static confines of Egyptian-inspired art and produced the marvellous Classical and Hellenistic traditions.