Posted by BC on May 28th, 2008
My job before becoming a pr0fessional astronomer/educator was being an excavator on an archaeology crew in Kansas, U.S.A. Usually when I tell people that, they are puzzled at how I can go from looking “down” to looking “up”. My usual response is to say that the ancient people were keen astronomers, and archaeologists can discover much of just how the prehistoric people observed and documented what they observed.
The new discipline of Archaeoastronomy has developed, and it is a growing science. Examining the way early cultures observed and used the observations can tell us much about those cultures and how they used astronomy in their lifestyles. Stonehenge is perhaps the most popular astronomy-related artifact, but early peoples all around the world have left behind artifacts of their own.
During one of the digs in Kansas, one of the excavation crew members found an effigy of a rabbit carved in a small, soft, red stone. Most of the professional archaeologists thought it was a trade good or a piece of jewelry. I knew that it was a carving of the Rabbit in the Moon that most early cultures saw. Of course none of the archaeologists knew about the Rabbit in the Moon, so they stuck to their own interpretation.
To find more about archaeology, you can check several organizations’ web pages for information: Center for Archaeoastronomy, International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture