Posted by: Khepera | Friday, 27 June 2008

BOOK: African Cultural Astronomy

I am very pleased to see this work come out, in this all too neglected field. Yes, we should examine the perspective, context and authors contributing. However, imho, the publishing of the book raises the bar and elevates the discussion of this field/topic to a new level. Archaeoastronomy is a field many are not familiar with. Granted, the fact that western science still feels compelled to put ‘archaeo’ or ‘ethno’ in front of astronomy, to distinguish it from ‘modern astronomy’ — as mentioned in the editorial review of this book on Amazon(see comments) — at least we are beginning to broaden the exposure of this information, and that will provide benefits down the line.

Yes, this book is inordinately expensive, and is likely best viewed in a college library somewhere. On the other hand, those, like myself, who have endeavored in this field over the years cannot help but see this as a potential ‘tipping point’ in the embrace of the work by those in the publishing industry. Yes, it is true that in these days of burgeoning Internet publication & distribution capabilities, this is less of an obstacle than before. However, there yet remains, among a sizable percentage of readers/seekers, a hesitance or reluctance in giving works acquired over the Net the same stature & respect as those whose books they can hold in their hands. For those interested, I have posted the Table of Contents below, from the publisher’s web page, Springer.

Of particular interest in the contents, imho, are the entries on the alignment of buildings and structures to celestial bodies, particularly in terms of Namoratunga(hopefully I & II) — the first archeoastronomical evidence in sub-Saharan Africa; and the discussions connecting astronomical/celestial knowledge and cosmology/spiritual wisdom systems. All three of these are paths of inquiry which I have delved into significantly, the first primarily in terms of ancient Khemet & the Nile Valley civilization complex. Namoratunga is significant beyond its popular appellation as the ‘Stonehenge of Africa’, which is humorous considering the respective age of each. The latter discussion takes us into a realm of inquiry which is at the core of engaging the connections between science, consciousness and spirituality — and particularly how these inform the development of material culture & technology.


Table of Contents

Glossary of Terms

Introduction by Keith Snedegar

The History of African Cultural Astronomy Research by Jarita Holbrook

New Section: The Primer

  1. African Geography
  2. African History
  3. African Literature – Damian Opata
  4. African Folklore –
  5. African Arts and Material Culture
  6. Archaeoastronomy – Kim Malville [The alignment of buildings and structures to celestial bodies]
  7. Astronomy – [Naked – Eye Astronomy]
  8. Celestial Mechanics – Johnson Urama – [ Solar system motions including the Sun, moon, and planets apparent motions]
  9. Cultural Anthropology Methods –

New Section: Current Research

  1. The Borana and Mursi Calendars – Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester, United Kingdom
  2. Namoratunga: Archaeoastronomical Site – Laurance Doyle, the SETI Institute, USA (This paper uses some of the findings from Ruggles’ paper to draw conclusions about the relationship between local calendars and this archaeological site.)
  3. The Astronomy of Nabta Playa – Kim Malville, University of Colorado (This paper is a report on astronomy alignments at archaeological sites.)
  4. Evidence for Ancient African Beliefs in Celestial Bodies– Felix Chami, University of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (Looks at archaeological evidence – Swahili people who are Muslim – Islamic theme.)
  5. The Qibla and Urban Morphology: Alignments in Muslim North Africa – Michael Bonine, University of Arizona (This paper looks at astronomical alignments of mosques – the Islamic theme.)
  6. The Timbuktu Science Project – Thebe Medupe, University of Cape Coast, South Africa (This paper focuses on the Islamic scientific writings in the Timbuktu collections.)
  7. Astronomy and Culture of Nigeria – Johnson Urama, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (Begins the Nigerian theme.)
  8. The Relationship between Human Destiny and the Cosmic Forces: A Study of the Igbo World View – Barth Chukwesi, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
  9. Astronomy and Divination among the Igbo of Nigeria – Damian Opata, University of Nigeria, Nsukka
  10. The Making of Cosmic Africa– Anne Rogers, Independent Filmmaker, Cape Town, South Africa (This film covered archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy sites all over Africa.).


Bios of Authors


  1. […] Original post by Khepera […]

  2. This is a very good find! I should note that while numerous forms of cultural bias exist in astronomy and science in general, there are practical, valid reasons for establishing sub-fields of astronomy and view astronomy through the lens of Astrophysics. Up until just less than a century ago, astronomers(including “western”) were unaware that the Milky Way was one of countless galaxies. That understanding which came about via increasingly more powerful telescopes and understanding of redshift, is central to the definition of “modern” astronomy. Astrophysics actually provides a basis for unifying not just the many sub-fields of astronomy but many other sciences as well. Ultimately it may help in our understanding of ancient African perspectives so we don’t want to taint it with the notion that it is rooted in cultural bias.

  3. Your point about the ‘origin’ of “modern astronomy” as being critically linked to the incorporation of physics into the field of astronomy is well taken. As noted, astrophysics critically links ‘the big & the small’ within the universe into a collective continuum.

    This clarification is crucial, imho. I have edited the original post to reflect this. I would add that an understanding of this phased development of astronomy is in many ways similar to the confusion/conflation among many in the study of ancient Khemet(Egypt) around the actual meaning of “Upper Egypt” & “Lower Egypt” — these adjectives speak to aspects of elevation, not, as some assume, the idea that one is in the north, and one in the south.

    Many thanks, for the insight, and extending the conversation.

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