Goseck Henge is believed to be possibly the oldest example of the desire of European Neolithic farmers to measure the heavens to gain knowledge and understanding of the world around them
Ancient astronomy – 7,000 years ago
It all started in 1991 when German officials noticed dark ridges in an aerial photograph of a wheat field 40 miles southwest of Leipzig, Germany. Dark ridges forming a giant circular ridge, confirmed later by a magnetometer survey to be part of a 7,000-year-old circular enclosure,with southeast and southwest gates interestingly aligned.
Global Positioning System data and scientific analysis by archaeologists Peter Biehl and Francois Bertemes in 2002determined the southeast gate of the ancient enclosure is possibly anentrance way aligned to mark the arrival of the winter solstice (first day of winter) andold man winter. The southwest gate is aligned to the summer solstice (first day of summer) and the coming of warm weather and youthful summer.
“We had just started our archaeology program, and we wanted a place near the university for our students to practice,” says Biehl, formerly a professor at Halle-Wittenberg University and now at Cambridge.”
The evidence collected thus far indicates Goseck Henge is possibly the world’s oldest known solar observatory. The Neolithic farmers of 7,000 years ago in Europe were doing more than tilling the land with basic tools to increase production. They were also watching and measuring the heavens using primitive, yet inventive technology in order to know the best time to plant crops to maximize growing time.
Goseck Henge isn’t unique to the region, archaeologists have excavated hundreds of similar wooden circular enclosures built in Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, all dated to a 200-year period around 4,600 B.C.
Except for the difference in size, all have basically the same features. Neolithic farmers dug a narrow ditch around a circular wooden wall, with large gates equally spaced around the outer edge.
Archaeologists for years tried to make sense of the hundreds of 7,000-year-old circular enclosures found dotting the landscape of Neolithic Europe. All created during a period when the Stroke-Ornamented Pottery Culture (STK) dominated Central Europe, which confuses archaeologists.
The Goseck site is helping to provide the answers archaeologist have been searching for after years of painstaking work at the enclosure. Analysis of the site indicates Neolithic farmers probably used the circular enclosure to worship celestial objects and constellations. Celestial objects and constellations they linked to natural events which determined their survival or death.
Archaeologists believe such sites were probably used for much more than just the worship of the Sun, moon or constellations.“This was probably the first monumental architecture in the world,” says Biehl, noting that the sites served as ritual observatories two thousand years before the ancient Egyptians erected pyramids along the Nile.
Since the discovery of Goseck Henge, news media has named the enclosure the “German Stonehenge” and public interest has increased to the point the German state of Saxon-Anhalt decided to make an investment in its past and present.
Today, standing on the original site of Goseck Henge is an authentic reconstruction of the circular enclosure. Composed of over 2,000 oak posts stripped by hand in order to give the site the look and feel of a Neolithic site of 7,000 years ago. European farmers and public gather on the winter solstice every year, to watch a pale winter sun blaze its final rays on the southeastern gate as their ancestors did over 7,000 years ago.
We all experience things differently, but we each witness wondrous things and gain knowledge about ourselves and the bigger universe we live in during our journey.
What does skywatcher or astronomer mean to you? People viewing the night sky and contemplating the meaning of the universe. We have created distinct categories that are listed below.
What kind of sky watcher or astronomer are you?
The professional skywatcher or astronomer earns a significant portion of their income from working in astronomy. They either teach the science in college or university or do space science research on a daily basis. Modern researchers work in individual science specialties like archaeoastronomy and astrometry, or on teams of space scientists planning current and future space missions and designing and engineering the latest spacecraft.
The amateur telescope maker and gadgeteer
This breed of skywatcher once composed a large percentage of astronomy hobbyists. They build amazing telescopes from scratch, grind mirrors, and haul their spaceship-to-the-stars to local star parties. Hands-on amateurs and inventive innovators, many are first time users and adopters of new astronomy technology. The amateur telescope maker and gadgeteer enjoy looking at telescopes as much as through one.
The amateur specialist astronomer
Amateur specialist skywatchers love to observe variable stars, track satellites across the sky, and spend days, weeks and even months hunting for comets. They provide useful scientific data that contributes to our understanding of the universe and enables the human journey to the stars.
The backyard skywatcher or astronomer
The backyard skywatcher thinks space is cool and many are quite knowledgeable concerning the latest astronomy news or book. They enjoy reading about space science and astronomy and a percentage own their own telescope.
The beginner skywatcher
The beginner can be of any age group and just joined the human journey to the beginning of space and time. They often come to the adventure with a relatively clean slate, so find everything exciting.
The astronomy photographer
Often a photographic artist of the highest ability, the astronomy photographer creates and shares astronomy photography techniques and stunning images of the cosmos. Having a vast array of astronomy photography skills and amazing patience, they often leave us sitting back and enjoying their work.
The science fiction fanatic
The science fiction fanatic loves astronomy because of concepts like wormholes, folding space, multiverses, and tachyons. Constantly looking for a door to another dimension or the next universe, they’re more at home in Star Trek, than the real human journey to the stars.
The space travel and planet colonization advocate
Often a romantic soul, the space travel, and planet colonization advocate can be a member of The Planetary Society and wants to colonize other worlds. They’re currently pushing for the colonization of Mars, traveling to nearby asteroids and the jovian moons, and actively push for funding for the human journey to the beginning of space and time.
The space nut or visionary
The space nut or visionary sends in letters ‘disproving’ relativity or offering a brilliant alternative theory. Often they believe NASA is covering up an eminent and world-ending asteroid strike and provide detailed math and physics to back up their claims. Convinced they know something the rest of us don’t, some could be right.
The imprisoned skywatcher
The imprisoned skywatcher has developed a deep curiosity about astronomy but lives in a light-polluted region of the world. They read all they can about space science and the human journey to the stars, but can’t enjoy the journey as they should.
The astronomy zealot
The astronomy zealot looks at the “Big Picture” and the most outrageous models of the human journey to the beginning of space and time. Throw them a string theory or multiverse hypothesis and they swallow it whole. They’re cerebral, speculative and open-minded to anything, and often prefer a novel possibility over hard fact.
The spouses and friends
Spouses get invited to attend star parties, astronomy talks, and sightseeing tours through the solar system and beyond. Only partly enjoying and understanding the process and events, they learn to enjoy these moments, or just put up with it.
The Star Followers
Star navigators are mostly pilots, adventurers, and yachtsmen using the night sky to navigate the globe because they enjoy the hands on feeling of adventure in the ancient art of celestial navigation.
Following their passion and desire to explore, they’re the astronauts of the future, the true adventurers at the forefront of the human exploration of the solar system and beyond.
The enthusiastic human with no idea
The enthusiastic human with no idea about the human journey to the beginning of space and time is the majority of the human race. Unable to name or pinpoint the brightest star in the night sky, or the most common element in the universe, the cosmos just isn’t that interesting to them, so far.
No matter what kind of sky watcher or astronomer you’re, the wonder and mystery of the cosmos can create a passion to answers questions deep within the heart.
Questions generations of sky watchers and astronomers spent thousands of years looking up into the night sky trying to answer. Answers we have designed and engineered amazing spacecraft and telescopes to find during the modern age of space travel and astronomy we live today.
Welcome to the human journey to the beginning of space and time!
Editor and Chief
The human journey to the beginning of space and time
Anasazi Indians astronomy knowledge written in desert rocks
Ancient Astronomy – The Anasazi civilization flourished throughout the American southwest over 1,000 years ago, before vanishing into the annals of history. Forgotten on the hot mesas of the southwestern desert, remains of their stone cities and enigmatic causeways offer quiet testament to their innovation and determination. Carved in the desert rocks of New Mexico archaeologists also found symbols that indicate astronomy was an integral part of Anasazi society and that they spent hundreds of years watching and studying the sky.
Skywatchers of the American Southwest
Modern archaeoastronomers believe the Anasazi were ancient sky watchers who interpreted signs in the sky in order to construct a calendar they could use to aid farming. High on a ledge near the top of a soaring butte in New Mexico’s Chaco Canyon, they found three large stone slabs forming an opening, through which sunlight shined onto two spirals carved in the stone behind the slabs. For possibly longer than 1,000 years, until the slabs shifted due to erosion, beams of sunlight correctly predicted the summer and winter solstices, as well as the March and September equinoxes. Archaeologists believe the Sun Dagger, as the spectacle is called, was a calendar devised by Anasazi astronomers.
Anasazi astronomer recorded death of star
Archaeoastronomers also found marks on an overhanging rock on a cliff beneath the remains of the Anasazi town called Penasco Blanco suggesting Anasazi astronomers witnessed the death of a star almost a thousand years ago. Displayed on a rock face, they found three colored figures, a hand, a crescent, and a rayed disk. Painted on the sandstone wall beneath the figures is a dot, with two rings around it. Archaeoastronomers believe the cliff was possibly a post used by Anasazi astronomers and sun watchers, much like other similar posts archaeologists have found in the southwestern territories.
The crescent isn’t a figure archaeologists have seen carved in rock faces around the southwest very often, so they believe this could represent a spectacular event in the history of the Anasazi. The rayed disk some archaeoastronomers believe might represent an exploding star, which would have appeared in the sky around 1,000 years ago. At that time, over in China, astronomers recorded the appearance of a “guest star” in the sky on July 5, 1054. This guest star some archaeoastronomers believe was a supernova marking the death of a massive star in the constellation Taurus, the remains of which are the Crab Nebula.
Did Anasazi astronomers record the death of a star 1,000 years ago in paintings they carved in an overhanging rock below the town of Penasco Blanco? Some archaeoastronomers believe this might be the case. NASA astronomer John Brandt tried to verify this in 1979, by having a friend reproduce the night sky above the town in July 1054. They discovered the night sky above the town was almost exactly as depicted in the rock face in Chaco Canyon.
If the evidence is assembled and to be believed, around 1,000 years ago an Anasazi astronomer took up his post below the town of Penasco Blanco as the sun was about to rise above the horizon. Keeping his eyes toward the eastern horizon, he observed as the moon rose with a star of amazing brilliance suspended almost in the curve of its upside-down crescent. Captivated by the appearance of this guest star in the sky, the astronomer marked the moment in time by carving its image into the rock.
African tribe claims to have been visited by alien beings in ancient times
Ancient Astronomy – Sirius 1 is the main star in the star group Canis Majoris and the brightest in the night sky. Called the Dog Star by both ancient star watchers and modern astronomers, Sirius is mentioned in the cosmology and myths of many ancient cultures. In 1836, European astronomer Friedrich Bessel measured an imperceptible wobble in the orbit of Sirius, he believed was caused by something pulling on the Dog Star. After studying Sirius astronomers determined the Dog Star is orbited by a fainter companion star about every fifty years.
This unseen companion star, called Sirius B, was finally seen around 1862 by American telescope designer Alvin Clark, through an 18.5-inch refractor which was the most powerful telescope in the world at the time. It would be half a century before astronomers at California’s Mount Wilson Observatory discovered Sirius B is, in fact, a new type of super dense star they called a white dwarf.
The puzzle concerning the Dog Star deepened in 1950, when two noted French anthropologists just back from what’s today the Republic of Mali, reported that the unseen companion star had been the celestial keystone of the Dogon tribe’s cosmology for centuries. The French scientists had lived with the Dogon tribe for over a decade, by which time they had come to learn their cosmology. They reported watching Dogon holy people use sticks to scratch a rough diagram of the Dog Star, with a companion star circling it in an elliptical orbit, along with a third body astronomers had not detected yet.
Dogon holy people had told the two men the elliptical orbit of the unseen companion star stood for fertility. They said the small companion star orbited the main star every fifty years and was called po. It was made of a metal the Dogon called sagala, according to Dogon holy people, and was brighter than iron and so heavy the population of Earth couldn’t lift it.
The mystery went even further when the Frenchmen indicated the cosmology of the Dogon goes far beyond the star Sirius. They discovered the Dogon believe Jupiter has four large moons, Saturn is ringed, and the Earth orbits the Sun.
The mystery is how can a tribal cosmology that predates the invention of the telescope be so near to the truth? Do Dogon holy people have some means of viewing the universe using divination or some type of psychic power?
Some scientists indicate the Dogon were probably not as primitive or as isolated as first reported. In fact, they indicate the traditional homelands of the tribe are close to ancient trade routes that once linked West Africa with ancient Egypt. They also border a major trade road that connected regions in Africa during ancient times, the Niger River. Timbuktu, the home of one of the greatest Muslim universities of 400 years ago, was once just south of their lands. All of these things lead scientists to believe the Dogon’s cosmology could be due to these facts or even just outrageous lying.
Alien visitors from the stars
The Dogon cosmology could be due to cultural interactions, but some investigators still point to the similarities between the real Sirius star system and the Dogon cosmology as a mystery. The Dogon, however, say there’s no mystery involved. Hundreds of years ago, they were visited by a race of beings from the Sirius star system, they call the nommo. This ancient race told them things about the cosmology of the universe before they returned to their home planet.
Very few scientists or people believe the Dogon were in fact visited by beings from the star system Sirius. There has been no forthcoming explanation, however, for how the Dogon possess astronomy knowledge concerning bodies they can’t possibly have seen. Enough knowledge according to reports to accurately sketch unseen star systems in the sand.
Minoan artifact could be ancient farmers’ almanac created by ancient astronomers
Ancient Astronomy –
Late one night around 1971, two men stood staring upward at a virtual representation of the star covered sky of ancient Crete. One was Leon Pomerance, an amateur astronomer with time and money on his hands. The other was Kenneth Franklin, an astronomer working at the American Museum’s Hayden Planetarium in New York City. On this night, Kenneth had programmed the planetarium to show the night sky above Crete as it was 4,000 years ago. Pomerance was astounded by what he saw because he recognized the sequence of constellations he saw above his head. He had seen this pattern of constellations on the ancient face of one of the most mysterious ancient artifacts ever found, the Phaistos Disk.
Phaistos Disk opens astronomers’ eyes
Found around 1908 by Italian archaeologist Luigi Pernier, the Phaistos Disk was recovered from the ruins of the City of Phaistos, a center of the Minoan culture that thrived in Crete about 3000 to 1100 BC. A terra-cotta disk six inches in diameter and inscribed with 45 different symbols of animals, people, and designs that repeat in different variations along a spiral band that coils to an end in the disk’s center, the Phaistos Disk is an enigma of history.
Inscribed by ancient astronomers
Were the figures on the disk inscribed by ancient astronomers? The designs on the disk include dot clusters, a bird, a bear, a serpentine figure and even a human head, but they’re totally different than the known hieroglyphic systems of the Minoan culture Linear A and B. The figures inscribed on the Phaistos Disk also appear to have been pressed into the clay surface with small instruments, like a form of ancient movable type. Could they be representations of constellations in the night sky thousands of years ago?
For some experts and archeologists, the Phaistos Disk is purely a linguistic puzzle, but these scientists have yet to translate the symbols on the disk’s surface. Different linguists translate the symbols differently and some say the symbols will never be translated because linguists can’t determine enough of the vocabulary with the information they have to work with.
Leon Pomerance believed the symbols on the Phaistos Disk were graphic symbols, like the glyphs on road signs they stood for things, not sounds. After studying the disk for years he believed the symbols were inscribed by ancient astronomers who had spent decades recording the passage of celestial bodies across the night sky.
Deciding to test his theory, he asked for the help of Kenneth Franklin at the Hayden Planetarium. One night, beneath the virtual sky of Crete in 2,000 BC, he and Franklin watched as the planetarium computer set the ancient night sky of Crete in motion. They watched as the constellations swiftly went through their progression 4,000 years ago. First Serpens Cauda, the Serpent’s Tail, came into view in what would have been late November, followed by Aquila the Eagle, which seemed to fly toward the west. Next, the seven-star Pleiades appeared in April, just before the Sun. Pomerance recognized this pattern of symbols as the same pattern inscribed on the clay surface of the Phaistos Disk.
What do scientists think?
He concluded it was probably an ancient almanac used by prehistoric farmers to list previous planting and harvesting times. This interpretation has been met with both skepticism and approval by archeologists and other experts. Today, possibly one of the earliest human records of seasonal changes in the night sky waits in the Heraklion Museum on Crete for confirmation of his belief. One day, an archeologist could find an artifact dredged from the Aegean or discovered in ancient Minoan ruins confirming this idea.
To ancient sky watchers, Christopher Columbus was old news
Ancient Astronomy – Humans have been looking upward at the stars in the night sky for tens of thousands of years, wondering where it all began. Prehistoric humans revered the earth and heavens above and used the stars as a guide. Thousands of years ago ancient astronomers in China and India spent whole lifetimes staring into the vastness of time and space, cataloging the patterns of stars in the night sky. By the time Christopher Columbus announced the world was round, it was old news to ancient sky watchers in many regions of the world.
Greek Astronomy and Astronomers
The earth is a globe (Pythagoras)
In the western world it’s believed the fifth century BC Greek philosopher and astronomer Pythagoras originated the idea of a spherical earth, but the possibility of this idea being borrowed from Egyptian or eastern sources exists. Two hundred years later another Greek, Aristarchus of Samos, affirmed the belief in the earth’s spherical shape. He also announced the earth spun on its axis and, like the other planets, revolved around the sun. It wasn’t until the third century BC that Eratosthenes, custodian of the library of Alexandria, used his knowledge of astronomy to measure with considerable accuracy the earth’s circumference and diameter.
Astronomers in India
Ancient writings show that ancient astronomers of India had ascertained the spherical shape of the earth by the fourth century BC. Verses from the Sanskrit sacred books called the Vedas written in 3000 BC refer to a sun-centered universe. A universe ruled by the sun, moon, earth, sky and dawn, all deities to ancient astronomers in India, with attributes to match their natural ability. By the first century BC, it’s clear ancient astronomers and many common people in India knew the earth was spherical in shape.
Chinese astronomy has roots at least 4000 years old and China is considered by most archaeoastronomers to be the oldest known star watching society on earth. Ancient Chinese pottery dated to 6,000 years ago shows scenes of the sun, moon and stars, even ancient Chinese records of the stars are depicted on bones and shells, but the oldest known evidence points back as far as 14,000 BC. Ancient Chinese astronomers were studying and cataloging the patterns of stars in the sky tens of thousands of years ago.
By the time Christopher Columbus announced to the western world the earth was round, this was old news to star watchers and astronomers in many of the most advanced regions of the world.
Watch this documentary on the History Channel about Christopher Columbus.
Prehistoric Irish astronomers built sunbeams for the dead
Ancient Astronomy – Archaeoastronomy
Just thirty miles north of Dublin stands Newgrange, one of the great astronomical wonders of the prehistoric world. Poised on a long, low ridge overlooking the narrow Boyne River, ancient farmers over 5,000 years ago built an oddly shaped temple mound more than 260 feet in diameter and 30 feet high. A wall of sparkling white quartz lines the river-facing southern edge of the mound, with an entryway in the middle guarded by a massive, intricately carved stone. This ancient house of the dead is more than a heap of stones gathered by prehistoric farmers to celebrate and remember the dead. It’s also believed to have been a cathedral to the life-giving force embodied in the sun.
The entrance leads to a passage sixty-two feet long, lined with forty-three stones, each taller than a man and weighing ten to twelve tons. At the end of the passage lies an intricate structure of massive rocks, some carved with symbolic designs, forming a cross-shaped chamber that rises into a vault over twenty feet above the floor. Set in the floor of each arm of the chamber is a large, flat rock with a shallow indentation carved into it, called a basin stone. It was here over 5,000 years ago bodies of the deceased were placed and once a year a slender beam of sunlight brought intimations of life to the remains of the dead at the exact moment of midwinter sunrise for seventeen minutes.
Newgrange Astronomers Built Over Thirty Houses of the Dead
Newgrange is the largest and most elaborate of three similar New Stone Age tombs built by ancient Irish farmers near this part of the Boyne River. This house of the dead is also just one of over thirty mounds in the region and predates the building of Stonehenge by over 1,000 years and Egypt’s pyramids by several centuries. A true monument to the astronomical knowledge and tomb building skills of the prehistoric sky watchers of Ireland. Newgrange and other mounds in the region stand as testimony to their desire to understand the mysteries of the universe.
Click on this link to watch a YouTube video called “The Cygnus Enigma”, on the discussion on the astronomical significance of Newgrange.