There are more things in heaven and earth, cobber, than are dreamt of in your philosophy

Astronomically inspired indigenous art at the Ilgarijiri exhibition on display in Geraldton. Photo (cc) AstroMeg.

This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for Studying astro­nomy in cul­ture should be simple. There’s only so much that is vis­ible by the naked eye, and it fol­lows pre­dict­able pat­terns. Modern astro­nomy means that we can recon­struct what was vis­ible any­where in the world in human his­tory, within cer­tain bound­ar­ies for errors. If we know what hap­pens when, then study­ing a cul­ture should just be a case of tak­ing a shop­ping list of astro­nom­ical phe­nom­ena and see­ing what a cul­ture does with them. And some bad his­tor­ies of astro­nomy read like the author is award­ing marks to cul­tures for astro­nom­ical achievements.

There’s vari­ous things that don’t work with that plan, but the biggest is that you sup­posedly are examin­ing cul­ture and are fit­ting a study to a very spe­cific view of astro­nomy, a mod­ern west­ern view. It’s awk­ward because we live in a cul­ture where a mod­ern Platonic view of sci­ence is rarely chal­lenged. There’s a good reason for that. Our view of sci­ence makes sense within our cul­ture. But if we don’t acknow­ledge that sci­ence is a social con­struct then we don’t fully under­stand other cul­tures. Reality is the same for all of us, but not our way of mak­ing sense of it. An Overview of Australian Aboriginal Astronomy by Philip A. Clarke in Archaeoastronomy is a good paper that helps show the dif­fer­ence between under­stand­ing the use of astro­nomy in a cul­ture and com­par­ing an indi­gen­ous astro­nomy with ours to see how much they got right.

The paper starts at the very best place to start, as after a brief intro­duc­tion it con­siders the sources of the data. It’s a key point because if the source data is full of lead­ing ques­tions and pre­con­ceived notions then you’ll only get the answers you were look­ing for.

Clarke then looks at how Aboriginal peoples saw their world. If you’re going to exam­ine the sky, it helps to know how the people describ­ing it saw it in rela­tion to the rest of the world. A com­mon fea­ture of abori­ginal cos­mo­logy is that the sky was seen as con­nec­ted to the land. Clarke refers to the sky as the “Land of the Dead” or the “Land to the West”, because spir­its are thought to travel to the west to enter the sky. The meth­ods of get­ting there var­ied. Tasmanians saw their foot tracks in the forest as lead­ing to the Milky Way. This reminds me a bit of the Greenlandic idea that the shaman could walk to the moon. In the far north the moon can roll across the hori­zon, so that it has a vis­ible con­nec­tion to the Earth. From that view the idea that the Milky Way is a foot track con­nec­ted to the Earth where it meets the hori­zon makes sense. Others have the idea that birds could trans­port people to the Skyworld, which again matches obser­va­tions of birds being between land and sky. Still more say that you can reach the Skyworld by climb­ing tall trees and get­ting help from a passing tornado.

The abori­ginal Skyworld seems to be a very richly described place. The abori­gin­als have no truck with celes­tial spheres. Their Skyworld has topo­graphy, trees and inhab­it­ants. The Skyworld is where the ancest­ors live, and so it’s a handy place to visit if you’re in need of a bit of ancient wis­dom. They should be easy enough to find as some of the ancest­ors are thought to be vis­ible as stars.

The iden­ti­fic­a­tion of ancest­ors in the sky brings a whole series of fur­ther factors. Kinship is import­ant in abori­ginal soci­ety and the same is true for the ancest­ors. Antares is Butt Kuee Tuukuung in south­w­est Victoria, and the fainter close stars are his wives. Brightness and loc­a­tion explains a lot of the other rela­tion­ships that Clarke lists. Time is also an issue. In north­ern Queensland the Evening Star is Dog and the Morning Star is Bitch. All these fea­tures are cat­egor­ised in clans and sec­tions just like the rest of the abori­ginal world includ­ing anim­als and plants on the land.

Opinion is divided on how the Sun and Moon return from the west to the east. For some people this is through a path in the under­world. The people of Arnhem land have a tale the Sun becomes a great fish and swims under the land through the ocean. That appeals to me at a nar­rat­ive level. Other regions have other tales and some include the pas­sage of stars beneath the earth as well as the Sun and Moon.

One of the inter­est­ing fea­tures that comes out of this paper is that the Aboriginal people seem to have a concept of stars, but not so much of stick-figure con­stel­la­tions. Clarke men­tions a sur­vey by Haynes that finds evid­ence of some faint stars being Unwala the Crab Ancestor [PDF], but not both­er­ing with Procyon and Regulus — two much brighter stars close by. My reac­tion was that maybe this shouldn’t be too much of a sur­prise. If a bright star is an ancestor then it’s an indi­vidual not part of a lar­ger fig­ure. There are already kin­ship con­nec­tions between stars so the idea of Greco-Roman style con­stel­la­tions is prob­ably a bit too con­fus­ing. Another factor is that because the Milky Way is so vis­ible, there are already plenty of dark-cloud con­stel­la­tions that actu­ally look like things. For example one patch of neb­ula in the Milky Way blots out the stars mak­ing the sil­hou­ette of an emu in the sky. That makes draw­ing stick fig­ures between stars an uncon­vin­cing altern­at­ive for con­stel­la­tions. But there are other bet­ter reas­ons too.

Clarke makes the point that col­our is very import­ant in abori­ginal cos­mo­lo­gies. One example he gives are the Arrente people of Central Australia who give more import­ance to red­dish or white stars than yel­low or blue stars. It won’t sur­prise you the same people value red ochres and white clays as sym­bols of power. Colour becomes more com­plic­ated when you exam­ine the Sun or Moon, which are red at the hori­zon but change col­our as they climb and fall. A red Sun seems to a par­tic­u­lar prob­lem as it’s a fem­in­ine sym­bol and red is a power­ful col­our. One tra­di­tion describes it as a kangaroo skin dress that is given to her by men who spend the night with her. The mottled face of the Moon seems to be explained by scars of con­flict, but the exact nature of the fight var­ies from region to region.

Clarke cov­ers time­keep­ing, espe­cially sea­son­al­ity in depth. The only thing I’ve found miss­ing here is when the day starts. Some cul­tures see it start­ing at sun­rise, oth­ers at sun­set but I’ve no idea if there’s a shared day concept in Aboriginal cul­ture. The Pleiades seem to be par­tic­u­larly import­ant in the turn­ing of the sea­sons [PDF]. Clarke notes that Tindale has fifty dif­fer­ent ver­sions of Pleiades myth­o­logy con­nect­ing them to chan­ging of the sea­sons. That might indic­ate a lot of dis­agree­ment, but the fact that so many abori­ginal cul­tures over such a large area are using the same gen­eral idea and dis­agree­ing on the details points to inter­con­nec­tion between peoples.

The sad­dest sec­tion is The Collapse and Rebirth of the Cosmos. Aboriginals did not pass­ively sit wait­ing for white set­tle­ment and news of the Europeans pre­ceded their arrival in many places. Clarke can show this is reflec­ted in their cos­mo­logy. The British arrived in the east and thanks to small­pox brought death with them. Visions of the Aurora Australis and met­eors were inter­preted as omens of dire times. Given the res­ults it’s easy to see how the arrival of the British could be seen as a cos­mic apo­ca­lypse.

The com­mon theme in this paper, apart from sheer vari­ety and oth­er­ness of abori­ginal astro­nomy is that this is also a con­tinu­ing tra­di­tion. I’m acutely aware I may have mixed up tenses in the descrip­tion because some of these ways of life have gone, while oth­ers are still alive. This life isn’t simply a rut that people return to, but a tra­di­tion that can adapt can appro­pri­ate new ideas, like Aboriginal beliefs about UFOs, or sci­entific dis­cov­er­ies. Clarke men­tions the met­eor­ite strike that cre­ated the Wolfe Creek Crater has been woven into tales of the Dreamtime.

Astronomically inspired indigenous art at the Ilgarijiri exhibition on display in Geraldton. Photo (cc) AstroMeg.
Astronomically inspired indi­gen­ous art at the Ilgarijiri exhib­i­tion on dis­play in Geraldton. Photo (cc) AstroMeg.

Good writ­ing can trans­port you to strange new places. Sometimes its an evoc­at­ive geo­graph­ical descrip­tion, but it can also show you the uni­verse in a new light. Astronomy can show the majesty of the cos­mos and the sheer scale of cre­ation. At the oppos­ite end of the scale you can go on safari with micro­scopic bac­teria far too small to be seen by the human eye. In the case of work like Clarke’s, it can be a guide to show how spe­cial the appar­ently mundane is. The night sky we see is more or less the same as seen by the abori­ginal peoples of Australia, allow­ing for some effects of lat­it­ude of the observer.

What I like about this paper is that at each step Clarke is link­ing back to the cul­ture that the astro­nomy is in. The fact that abori­ginal astro­nomers are inter­ested in the col­ours of stars is, by itself, a foible. Because Clarke makes that point that col­our is con­nec­ted to all sorts of ter­restrial sym­bol­ism and mean­ing then the con­nec­tions between sky and soci­ety become much more mean­ing­ful. Likewise the lack of con­stel­la­tions might be taken as a sign that Aboriginal peoples aren’t that inter­ested in many stars. Knowing about the kin­ship sys­tem shows how mis­taken that is, and that state­ments about the Skyworld are also strong polit­ical state­ments about life in the world below.

The many pages of ref­er­ences at the end of the art­icle are the icing on the cake, because this paper is very much an over­view. Any single sec­tion of the paper is a gate­way to many many more art­icles research­ing abori­ginal astro­nomy and cul­ture. You never want to take one author’s work as the last word on a sub­ject, but if you’re inter­ested in Australian indi­gen­ous astro­nomy you could do a lot worse than take Clarke’s art­icle as the start­ing point.

ResearchBlogging.orgClarke, P.A. (2007). An Overview of Australian Aboriginal Ethnoastronomy Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture, XXI, 39–58 (Mendeley link)

Theorising Space Archaeology


The future archae­olo­gical site of Spaceport America. Photo (cc) Jared Tarbell

There’s a thought-provoking post on Space Archaeology about how you define the term Space Archaeology. I’ve gen­er­ally just thought of it as the archae­ology of remains asso­ci­ated with space­flight, but I’ve never seen the need to give the defin­i­tion any ser­i­ous thought. It’s a small enough field as it is without draw­ing up bound­ar­ies. Steve Wilson (I assume, the blog is uncred­ited) has given it more thought, and he’s come up with a much more inter­est­ing way of look­ing at it. He sees Space Archaeology as being made up from Aerospace Archaeology (the bit I was think­ing about), Xenoarchaeology (the mater­ial remains of alien civil­isa­tions) and Exoarchaeology (any mater­ial remains that are offworld).

My first reac­tion was does this add any­thing? Adding in Xenoarchaeology is awk­ward as there are no known alien arte­facts. There’s crank mater­ial of ancient astro­nauts and vari­ous forms of SETI which are anthro­po­lo­gical con­cerns and not spe­cific­ally archae­olo­gical. Adding Exoarchaeology only adds fic­tional mater­ial. Things like the archae­ology of ter­ra­form­ing would fit in this cat­egory. As it stands it only adds an archae­ology of things that don’t exist. The dia­gram also excludes Space Heritage and Space Junk, which do exist. As a defin­i­tion, I’m don’t think it helps. However as an ana­lyt­ical tool, I think it could be very clever.

I’ll start with Xenoarchaeology, because that’s the field that’s easi­est to dis­miss as barmy. What’s the evid­ence of palaeo­con­tact? There isn’t any really. But think­ing about how people do Xenoarchaeology, and what would be neces­sary to show the pres­ence of alien mater­ial on earth could be use­ful. Tools developed in this area can then be applied to ‘crash sites’ like Roswell in the dia­gram where Xenoarchaeology and Aerospace Archaeology inter­sect. You won’t learn any­thing about alien civil­isa­tions by study­ing Roswell, but you could learn about how humans react to per­ceived alien vis­it­a­tion. Such research could have helped at Carancas. Likewise a ser­i­ous study of how xenoar­chae­ology is prac­ticed could give genu­inely use­ful insights into the assump­tions in SETI programmes.

Similarly Exoarchaeology poses its own prob­lems when look­ing at inac­cess­ib­il­ity. Thinking about these issues could high­light how the archae­ology of space­flight in orbital space makes demands and chal­lenges that we simply don’t have on the ground. Thinking about it this way Space Heritage and Space Junk could straddle every zone between Exoarchaeology and Space Archaeology. It depends on whether you class the human waste mat­ter on the Moon as part of Aerospace Archaeology or not. I’d include Space Junk / Exogarbology too, because a lot of ter­restrial archae­ology is the study of junk.

While Space Archaeologists might not need bound­ar­ies, draw­ing up defin­i­tions can high­light what makes a field inter­est­ing and also throw some basic assump­tions that need ques­tion­ing. The one that both­ers me is the idea of Xenoarchaeology.

Oddly, it’s not the Xeno bit. I could be pedantic and say archae­ology is the study of the human past through mater­ial remains. Still, the stick­ing with human is a throw­back to the early nine­teenth cen­tury when Man (prefer­ably with a mous­tache and stovepipe hat) was a cre­ation apart from the anim­als. Early palaeo­lithic archae­ology, palae­on­to­logy and prim­ato­logy are sim­ilar enough that it’s look­ing more and more like an arbit­rary dis­tinc­tion about where human ends. It’s the archae­ology bit that troubles me. The study through mater­ial remains when, so far as is known, there are no known mater­ial remains of extra-terrestrial activ­ity near Earth. I think study­ing the human reac­tion to pro­posed alien inter­ven­tions is an inter­est­ing research prob­lem. We study ancient faiths, so why not study mod­ern faiths too? It’s just that archae­ology isn’t always the best way of doing it. Sometimes a bet­ter approach is anthropology.

Thinking about Space Anthropology could have two advant­ages. One is that it recog­nises the inter­est­ing work done by eth­no­graph­ers. Alice Gorman has poin­ted out that indi­gen­ous peoples have a rough enough time as it is get­ting any recog­ni­tion in their sac­ri­fices for space explor­a­tion. Taking American-style four-field anthro­po­logy as a model also points to some other inter­est­ing research top­ics. For example is there any­thing bio­anthro­po­logy could con­trib­ute, and how do bio­anthro­po­lo­gical con­cerns integ­rate with research that is already being done?

I real­ise that by now my response is a bit longer than the ori­ginal post, which was flag­ging up an idea and not inten­ded as a fully formed model of Space Archaeology. Even so I think it’s an inter­est­ing way of think­ing about what archae­olo­gists of space explor­a­tion do. I’d love to see it developed further.

Preserving a culture in wild honey


This post was chosen as an Editor's Selection for

What is her­it­age?” sounds like the kind of essay ques­tion a lec­turer might set when they run out of inspir­a­tion. It depends where you ask it. In some places it’s a ques­tion that car­ries a sting for the unwary. In the UK it’s almost always old build­ings. Sometimes it’s very old build­ings, but we build our her­it­age around the things we build. Sometimes a place can have a his­tor­ical potency, like a medi­eval bat­tle­field, but usu­ally we insist that some­thing leaves a mark before we acknow­ledge its his­tor­icity. It’s not sur­pris­ing. The UK is an indus­trial soci­ety. It’s a settled soci­ety. So is the rest of indus­tri­al­ised world. So how to you even start to exam­ine the her­it­age of a non-industrial soci­ety? Is the very concept of her­it­age loaded in a way that dis­em­powers some peoples? Mick Morrison, Darlene McNaughton and Justin Shiner have a paper ‘Mission-Based Indigenous Production at the Weipa Presbyterian Mission, Western Cape York Peninsula (1932–66)’ that tackles the prob­lems of power in 20th cen­tury Australia by look­ing at indi­gen­ous activ­ity around Weipa.

Weipa, North Queensland. Image © Google, used under edu­ca­tional terms.

Weipa is in the north­ern part of North Queensland on the west side of Cape York, the pointy bit at the top of Australia. It’s around here that the Dutch made first land­fall in Australia. The set­tle­ment was built due to the arrival of a Presbyterian Mission in last years of 19th cen­tury. The mis­sion was moved closer to the shore and it’s the later mis­sion that the art­icle is about. There’s a plan of the mis­sion and the first thing that struck me was the pos­i­tion of the Boy’s Dormitory and the Girls Dormitory. I wondered where the adults slept, then I wondered why the chil­dren were sleep­ing in dorm­it­or­ies any­way and not with their fam­il­ies. Finally, because I’m a bit slow of think­ing, I real­ised what the mis­sion was doing there.
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Are Extraterrestrials a Greek thing?


I had a slight worry earlier today. I have an idea that I think has cross-over rel­ev­ance between SETI and Ancient History about ancient spec­u­la­tions on extra­ter­restrial life. I was slightly alarmed when I read Jean Schneider’s new pre-print on arXiv, The Extraterrestrial Life debate in dif­fer­ent cul­tures. In it Schneider argues that argu­ments about life on other worlds can be traced back to ancient Greece. It sounds like an idea I’ve been kick­ing around for a couple of months. It was a topic raised by the atom­ists like Democritus and Leucippus who said that in an infin­ite cos­mos with an infin­ite num­ber of atoms there must be infin­ite worlds. Plato rejec­ted this idea, as did Aristotle who argued for a hier­arch­ical cos­mos. Schneider says debates in other cul­tures are derived from this and then asks why it should be only the Greeks who spec­u­lated on off­world life.
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New 4SH


There’s a new edi­tion of Four Stone Hearth live at Afarensis. He’s done a great job with it, and he’s found plenty that I’ve missed.

Also, while I’m point­ing at things, Michael E Smith has a thought­ful post on agency and the prob­lems that hap­pen when archae­olo­gists try talk­ing about it. I’ve found often agent is a syn­onym of indi­vidual. Someone else I know sug­ges­ted soul. It might sound woolly, but a lot of talk about agency is, because people don’t often define what sort of agency they’re talk­ing about. Smith’s post shows another sort, from the polit­ical sci­ences, which clearly could be have applic­a­tions in archaeology.

Speculations on the sex of the Moon


I may be busy, but not too busy to point and laugh. You’ve prob­ably seen this story in the Examiner about the Japanese crash­ing an orbiter into the Moon. If you haven’t then it’s Satya Harvey com­plain­ing that sci­ent­ists will be pen­et­rat­ing a female moon without first ask­ing her per­mis­sion. Lots of people have found it a remark­able pub­lic dis­play of ignor­ance. In fact she’s elev­ated ignor­ance to an art form, because she is also clearly unaware that, in Japanese myth­o­logy, the Moon is male and the Sun is female.

If you live in the West you might think that makes the Japanese freaks. I’ve got a book, The Moon: Myth and Image by Jules Cashford, which picks up on this. The Second World War alli­ance between Germany and Japan was blamed (only in part I hope) on the two nations both per­ceiv­ing the Moon as male. She found Laurens van der Post on one of his off-days writ­ing: “…[S]ome omin­ous per­versity of the abori­ginal urgings of both Germans and Japanese, was rendered into a fixed and immut­able mas­culin­ity.” If you’re keen to sample some per­versity then you may not need to travel that far. Cashford also has an incom­plete list of cul­tures with male lunar deit­ies which includes, Ainu, Anatolians, Armenians, Southern Arabians, Australian Aborigines, Balts, Basques, Canaanites, Eskimos, Finns, Germans, Georgians, Greenlanders, Hindus, Hittites, Hurrians, Japanese, Lithuanians, Melanesians, Mongolians, Persians, Phrygians, Poles, New Guineans, North American Indians of British Columbia, the Machivanaga of Peru, Scandinavians, Slavs and Tartars. With the Moon being a rock, and the Sun a nuc­lear implo­sion there’s no reason to assume the genders have to be fixed one way or the other.

If you’re after a more adven­ter­ous myth­o­logy you don’t even need the Sun and Moon to be oppos­ite genders. For example the Bororo of South America have the Sun and Moon as twin broth­ers who ascen­ded from the Earth. A male Sun and Moon myth­o­logy might be use­ful if you want to have a cos­mic example of Men going out and doing stuff while women… umm… don’t. If you want some­thing more soph­ist­ic­ated, the Aztecs and the Egyptians saw the Moon as male or female or both as the mood took them.

In fact it’s the female Moon which may be odder than a male Moon. If you want oppos­ite genders for the two bod­ies, a female Sun might make more sense because it drives life. The reason the Sun is male in astro­logy (and I assume Ms. Harvey means spe­cific­ally Graeco-Roman Astrology) is because it was asso­ci­ated with Apollo in reli­gion. Thanks to the Roman Empire that’s the basis for Astrology which sur­vived in the West. Indian Astrology is some­what dif­fer­ent. Where does that leave the Sun’s role as a life-force? The Greeks saw the male as the source of life. The womb was where you depos­ited the seed to grow, the credit for the fin­ished product belonged to the man. Did that belief come from the same root as a male Sun? I wouldn’t know; it’s pos­sible one caused the other. In any event it would seem reas­on­able to ask how the gender of celes­tial bod­ies affected the way people saw the universe.

It’s the fact that sci­ent­ists see the Moon as gen­der­less that helps open up new ways of look­ing at the uni­verse. We can ask new ques­tions, find new answers and dis­cover new mys­ter­ies which we couldn’t even just fifty years ago. In con­trast Satya Harvey offers a narrow-minded and blinkered view of the moon which cas­u­ally dis­misses any­thing which doesn’t fit her own pre­con­cep­tions. A uni­verse where women are tied to 2000 year old gender roles seems a claus­tro­phobic little place. If a Japanese probe can help smash a way out of that, I’m all for it.

And while I’m at it, I’ll crow­bar a link into Steven Renshaw’s page on Japanese Astronomy.

Skywatchers, Shamans and Kings by E.C.Krupp

Skywatchers, Shamans and Kings by E.C.Krupp

I was sur­prised to find I haven’t already put up a page say­ing how good this book is, so I’ll cor­rect that now. This is one of the best books you can get on archae­oastro­nomy, and it’s also one of the more affordable.

One of the big attrac­tions of the book is that not only does he answer the ‘how’ ques­tion but also the ‘why’. The book starts with a dis­cus­sion of the centre of the world which, depend­ing on your myth­o­logy, can be found at Delphi, Beijing, Chaco Canyon or sev­eral other places he men­tions. The point he makes is that if the uni­verse revolves around you, then you must be a spe­cial kind of per­son. The rest of the book is an explor­a­tion of how people con­nec­ted them­selves to the stars.

The meth­ods aren’t simply by align­ing stones. Krupp is one of those people with a very wide geo­graph­ical grasp of his sub­ject which means he can draw on eth­no­graph­ies from around the world. Along with the usual sus­pects in any pop­u­lar archae­oastro­nomy book, you also get Mongolians, San bush­men and Chumash sham­ans. He shows that while the meth­ods might vary around the world, there was a uni­ver­sal con­cern in hav­ing the heav­ens on your side. This isn’t simply about time­keep­ing or mys­tic har­mony. This is also about the dis­play of power.

Silver Four Ladies of Hollywood Gazebo.
Photo (cc) Floyd B. Bariscale.

The book opens with the chapter on The Center of the World, and pulls from a diverse pool of examples includ­ing Hopi set­tle­ment, Evenki drums and a gazebo on the Holloywood Walk of Fame to illus­trate the concept of world quar­ter­ing. This tends to be the divi­sion of the world into the car­dinal dir­ec­tions in the Old World, and pos­sibly the quar­ter­ing of the sky between sol­sti­cial sunrise/sunset pos­i­tions, or the path of the Milky Way in the New World. Krupp uses this as an intro­duc­tion that order was seen as being inher­ent in the cos­mos, rather than some­thing imposed on it. In fact the word cos­mos ori­gin­ally meant order, rather than universe.

Chapter two is about Plugging into Cosmic Power and the meth­ods of doing that. Celestial con­cerns are accessed via sham­anic ritual, pos­sibly with some chem­ical assist­ance. The aim may be to reach to the stars, but Krupp keeps an eye on the fact that these prac­tices were earth-bound. The Centers of Creation and Mother Earth chapters look at birth, cre­ation and renewal, with Agents of Renewal giv­ing more details on how people dropped the hint to the uni­verse that fer­til­ity was a good idea.

The chapters on Shamans, Chiefs and Sacred Kings and Celestial Empires talk more about the con­sol­id­a­tion of power with Enlightened Self-Interest and Ulterior Motives examin­ing how that could be sub­ver­ted. Of course there’s no point in hav­ing power if you don’t let people know you have it, which is the topic of It Pays to Advertise. All of this then gets pulled together in the con­clud­ing chapter Upward Mobility, which draws the threads of the argu­ments con­nect­ing astro­nomy and power together.

If you’ve read his Rambling Through the Skies column which used to be in Sky and Telescope, then you’ll know Krupp has a neat turn of phrase and an eye for an arrest­ing ana­logy. As an example in It Pays to Advertise, he com­pares the astro­nom­ical imagery found on sham­anic cloth­ing with the icons found on super­hero cos­tumes. Just as Batman, Spiderman and Green Lantern show the sources of their power, so too ancient peoples used sym­bols related to the sky to emphas­ise their abilities.

If there is a cri­ti­cism to be made of the book it’s that Krupp picks up and drops examples within a page or two, so the reader is whisked from one corner of the world to another and bat­ted between cen­tur­ies. It’s all con­nec­ted with the point Krupp is try­ing to make but it can be dizzy­ing on occa­sion. Possibly fewer and more rooted examples would have helped. This wouldn’t have affected the impres­sion of uni­ver­sal­ity of astro­nom­ical sym­bol­ism and power which he argues for.

That is a rel­at­ively minor cri­ti­cism, and the main reason for mak­ing it is just to demon­strate I have read book. It is a great tour of the archae­ology and anthro­po­logy of astro­nomy. It was afford­able when I bought it and, if you pick it up from the right shop, it’s even more so now. If you’re look­ing for more than a super­fi­cial intro­duc­tion to the diversity of archae­oastro­nom­ical evid­ence then it’s a great place to start.