Nottinghamshire, England – A team of astronomers presented a theory about the architecture of ancient tombs. The hypothesis was demonstrated to the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Nottingham.
The team of astronomers suspects these passage graves were built not only as tombs but as telescopes as well. The passage graves of the Seven-Stone Antas tombs made 6,000 years ago in central Portugal, are the focus of the study. According to the official site of the 2016 National Astronomy Meeting (NAM 2016), the astronomers believe that the long, narrow entrance passages to the ancient “megalithic” tombs may show how prehistoric humans saw the night sky.
The NAM 2016 website reports that the team’s goal is to prove how the opening of a doorway, or any other architectural feature, can affect the observation of stars. The primary structure to be studied are the passage graves, which are a megalithic tomb composed of a chamber made of the major interlocking stones and a long narrow entrance.
Spaces like the one described before are thought to have been sacred, where rites of passage were held. According to this idea, the initiate would spend the night inside the tomb, illuminated only by the light that shined down the entrance, where the remains of the tribe’s ancestors laid.
The research will try to understand how the human eye, without the help of a lens, could have seen the stars given sky brightness and color.
The ideas regarding the telescope-tombs are going to study in the Seven-Stone Antas tombs, which its entrance’s orientation suggests an alignment to offer a view the red star of Aldebaran, the brightest body in the constellation of Taurus.
— Live Science (@LiveScience) July 1, 2016
Graves working as telescopes could date back as far as six thousand years ago
According to the Guardian, Dr. Fabio Silva of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David said that the first rising of the Aldebaran occurred 6 thousand years ago, at the end of April of the beginning of May. This means the star could have been a good and precise calendrical marker for ancient men to know when it was time to move to higher grounds.
The scientist explained in the NAM 2016 that the first sighting of the red star might have been used as a seasonal marker. The most interesting aspect is that the observation of Aldebaran could have been secret or foresight. Early human societies probably spent nights and mornings inside caves to see the red star, considering it might not have been observable from the outside.
Kieran Simcox said that it is a surprise that no one has investigated how for example the color of the night sky impacts on what can be seen with the naked eye.
The Guardian reports that Dr. Silva said the key to this theory is that a passage grave with its long corridors could be an old telescope. The passages point toward the horizon that makes the viewer focus on one area of the sky; the walls of the chamber block the brightness; and as a result, the contrast increased and the person could easily spot other celestial objects in the sky.
“It is a long tube from which you are looking at the sky.” stated Silva.
Dr. Daniel Brown from Nottingham Trent University, who is also part of the team, said that the tombs were designed to make sure everything is dark apart from the small area in the sky. The Guardian reports on its website.
Hands-on simulation may help researchers understand ancient civilizations
Simcox, Silva, Brown and the rest of the team are currently working these ideas by simulating the conditions of the passages in the laboratories. The Guardian says that D. Silva explained that the experiment is going to simulate the Aldebaran rising at twilight conditions to ask people when do they see it. He added they would compare the results with the control group after the data became available. The control group is going to be in a room that replicates the conditions outside the passage grave.
The Guardian also published statements from Dr. Marek Kukula, a public astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich, who says that trying to understand the reasons behind the prehistoric monuments is a difficult task. He added that the team is working a fascinating study into how the human visual perception of a small patch of sky can be affected by the narrow views along the passages of the ancient Portuguese structures.
Kulula thinks that the tombs are not just an attempt to have a calendrical orientation or a spiritual ritual, in his view, these structures highlight the central role of stargazing in the first societies. He said that humans have always been fascinated by the night sky and watching it had an important part in the human race for millennia.
The research needs to be peer reviewed or published in a relevant journal because – according to some experts in the field – there is no evidence to support or oppose the theory.
— NTU Press Office (@NTUNews) June 30, 2016
Cultural astronomy: a recent topic in the National Astronomy Meetings
Cultural science has always been part of the NAM, but in the past three years, a designated session has been included to explore the connection between the sky, societies, culture and people through history. The NAM official site says Dr. Brown considers these sessions a way to highlight the cultural agenda within astronomy, which is also recognized by the inclusion of aspects of ancient science within the General Certificate of Secondary Education astronomy curriculum.
Source: The Guardian