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Archaeoastronomy & Ethnoastronomy News


Number 12 June Solstice 1994

by Dave Dearborn

Nature, is a word used to describe the basic constitution of the universe, and is culturally invarient. Electrons do not care what you call them, and ask nothing of an individuals belief system. As a result, televisions, nuclear weapons, imaging radars, or simple light bulbs work well for Europeans, Hindus, Chinese, and Moslems. Science is simply a means for questioning nature about its basic constitution. The questions that can be asked through science are limited in extent (ie there may be more in nature than can presently be investigated), but the process has given people from around the world an astounding ability to work with nature. This powerful process has developed from the achievements of individuals from many cultures, and elements of what has become modern science can be found in the activities of the inhabitants of every continent. Observation, and the systematic organization of information are activities that extend through the earliest historic periods, and perhaps even into the late paleolithic. While nature is invarient to culture, the method of asking it questions and the questions asked do vary. The means by which a society acquires and utilizes knowledge is not simply an academic curiosity, it can be a determinate for survival and prosperity.

The power of the sun, and the presence of the sky make astronomy an area that was questioned by many groups. As a result, astronomical knowlege is a suitable topic for cross cultural comparisons, and archaeoastronomy is persued as a means of learning more about how various cultures collect and use that knowlege. Archaeoastronomy is still in the early stages of developing the theoretical understanding of how astronomical practices were integrated into societies, but we are certainly beyond the stage of simple alignment collecting. While the primary goal of archaeoastronomy will continue to be social or cultural research, our results may be useful for for teaching how the process of science itself works.

In an earlier essay (A&E News #8), I suggested that archaeoastronomy was a superior vehicle for giving students an understranding science, and illustrating its integration into society. This is particularly true for students who reject science as a purely western development, that cannot be practiced without loss of cultural identity (and possible assimilation). Research like that of David Jacobs (see news note below) may ultimately be used to show students that science (or at least portions of it) was a process used in many cultures, and understanding it leads to enrichment, not assimilation. In an attempt to put my meager temporal resources where my scribbling has been, I have been working with the staff at DQ University (near Davis California) to develop an archaeoastronomy course for Native American students. As part of the usual academic proceedure (begging for grant money) we now have a DRAFT syllabus and reading list (and I admit to having drawn shamelessly from the materials sent to me after the earlier essay). I would now like to make that syllabus available to other interested parties with the hope of continuing discussion on the subject. To obtain a copy, call or send a message to me (Dave Dearborn) at the addresses listed in the newsletter (e-mail preferred).

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