Skyscape Archaeology Keynote Lecture series – Part 6
In the sixth part of this series, the Journal of Skyscape Archaeology and the Sophia Centre present two Zoom lectures:
Elders from cultures around the world explain that everything on the land is reflected in the sky. The stars serve as a map, a scientific text, a law book, and a memory space. Emerging research in collaboration with Indigenous and First Nations communities is revealing a wealth of knowledge about the movements of the stars and the myriad ways changes in stellar properties are “read” to interpret seasonal change, atmospheric conditions and much more. Western science is also realising that many of the “discoveries” attributed to European thinkers had been observed, understood and encoded to traditional knowledge long ago but was never given proper recognition or credit due to the casual dismissal of non-Western ways of thinking as “myth and legend”. But our connection to the stars, and the foundations of these ancient knowledge systems, are under constant threat. The advent of rapidly growing satellite networks overlapping the rapidly decreasing numbers of stars we can see due to light pollution is actively erasing this connection. This talk will discuss some of the ways the stars are a celestial map of the terrestrial world and why preserving the visibility of the cosmos is at the core of the human experience and is critical for our future survival.
Frank Prendergast: Light and Shadows in Antiquity—inferring meaning expressed in past materiality and practices
Our visual awareness of the universe relies on light acting on the eye to perceive materiality and colour. Post-medieval thought and understanding wrestled to articulate its nature. The notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci, for example, included descriptions to define light and comparisons to differentiate between light and shadow. His focus was on the illumination of surfaces from the perspective of a painter. He perceived shadows as ‘the diminution of light by the intervention of an opaque body’ and being ‘the counterpart of luminous rays’. In his mind, a shadow ‘stood between light and darkness’, with darkness being ‘the absence of light’. The anthropological record provides another gateway to such enquiry, providing oral or textual evidence on the meaning of light and cast shadows in the belief systems of some cultures. In one such example recorded in the late nineteenth century, an observed reflection of self in water was regarded as the person’s spirit and, significantly, the shadow cast by the body was imagined as the person’s soul. But how might such phenomena have been comprehended and used in the prehistoric past? Without ethnographic evidence the answer is unknowable and any conclusions are potentially conjecture. Researchers strive to overcome such hurdles using a suite of scientific tools and reasoning, applied to a wide diversity of ancient architecture and constructs. This talk will use selected archaeological case studies of solar illumination and shadow casting to explore the qualitative duality of both phenomena.
Information and booking: Sophia Centre