ASTRONOMY BEFORE THE TELESCOPE
Edited by Christopher Walker, published by the British Museum Press at £14.99. 352pp. ISBN: 0-7141-2733-7
Excellent stuff! One of the best books I've had through my hands in ages and one which I have returned to time and again over the past couple of months.
The book brings together a wide range of serious articles on the history of astronomy by academics specialising in the various historical periods and cultural contexts in which astronomy has been practised. The only names likely to be familiar to the average pagan reader are Patrick Moore (of course) and Clive Ruggles, a specialist in megalithic cultures and archaeo-astronomy in Leicester University's archaeology department. Although written by academics, it is written for the general reader and is therefore quite easy to read and explains the material clearly and in a highly approachable and understandable way.
As well as discrete chapters on the astronomy of traditional cultures in India, Africa, the Americas, Australasia and Polynesia, and China, Japan and Korea, the book contains numerous articles on astronomy in the ancient and classical near and middle eastern and European worlds, including the megalithic cultures of NW Europe, Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Etruria and Rome, Byzantium, the Islamic world, and Medieval and Renaissance Europe. In each case the writer considers, where appropriate, the technology available to the observers of the period, the concepts and mathematics which underpinned the cosmic view which emerged from their observations, the scientific texts produced as a result and the impact of the knowledge itself on the society which produced it. As well as the hows and whats, the essays consider the whys of the development of astronomical science, ie the reasons which drove its development and purposes for which it was eventually used.
What emerges is a fascinating account of the progressive and painstaking build up of an extensive body of knowledge which had a profound influence on ideas of sacred space and the measuring and keeping of time, particularly for ritual or religious reasons in earlier societies and cultures. It is astonishing what was achieved by perceptive and observant people over considerable periods of time, working entirely with the naked eye and whatever devices they could rig up for themselves to measure, record or model what they saw in the heavens.
For pagans with an interest in science and the history of science this is in the “must have” category. Nick it if you have to!