Archaeoastronomy: Vestiges from Ancient Astronomers

Photo: Tamagusuku Castle gate, Sunrise. At June solstice the sun would align perfectly with this gate. Source: Journal of Astronomy in Culture

Astronomy is one of the oldest sciences studied by mankind. How do we know this? The work of archaeoastronomers, which are sometimes described as “the anthropologists of astronomy,” deals with studying vestiges of ancient civilizations and how the study of astronomy improved and advanced over time. Through archaeoastronomy scientists have discovered ancient civilizations’ use of astronomical knowledge, excavated ruins of ancient astronomical research centers or ceremonial centers, and traced this branch of science back to throughout the ages.

One interesting bit of research recently published in the Journal of Astronomy in Culture discusses the Sun-worshipping community of Ryukyu Islands (off of the southern end of the Japanese archipelago) during the 15h century. Like many ancient and/or secluded communities, the Kingdom of Shuri, which was founded on Okinawa Island, looked to the Sun for the basis of their religion. They built palaces that were oriented in a particular fashion: towards to rising of the June solstice. In fact, they even believed that their king was the child of the Sun. If the king died and a new king took to the throne, the coronation ceremony involved walking through two special gates: the Keiseimon gate (which means “the gate ofr the succession of the King) and the Bifukumon gate (which translates to “beautiful and happy gate.”). The king-to-be would walk through these gates and through the castle from east to west, replicating the movement of the Sun and “rising” as the new king.

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