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School of Archaeology & Ancient History


Course AR3015

SAMPLE Essay Prompt (2003)




Photograph of Midmar recumbent stone circle, Aberdeenshire Copyright © Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester.

Essay title and information


The four essay titles are:

  1. A good deal of work in archaeoastronomy concentrates on astronomical alignments in architecture. To what extent does the broader archaeological and historical evidence support this prepossession?
  2. In what different ways can the celestial cycles affect the timing of human activities and how this can be reflected in the material record?
  3. How does the general appearance of the sky differ between polar, temperate, and tropical latitudes? In what ways can the general appearance of the sky influence the development and nature of creation myths, calendars and cosmologies?
  4. "Hierophanies" involving interplays of shadow and light at sacred places sometimes produce special effects visible on only very rare occasions. They have aroused the interest of archaeoastronomers for decades and have often created enormous public interest, forming an essential part of the "popular" image of archaeoastronomy. What can they tell the archaeologist?

The word limit is 3000 words and the deadline for submission of the essay is Tuesday May 6 (by 5.00 p.m.).



Each question covers a very broad topic and could be elaborated upon in many different ways. Whichever question you choose, you will be expected to invoke a wide range of case studies from different chronological periods and geographical areas, avoiding those that have been covered in some detail in lectures.

In the first seminar session we concentrated on some case studies that have appeared recently in the mainstream archaeological literature. In your background research for the essays you will need to look particularly at the archaeoastronomy literature. In addition to the two journals

Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture, published by the University of Texas Press, and
the Archaeoastronomy supplement to the Journal for the History of Astronomy, published by Science History Publications in the UK,

both of which are available in the library, there are several volumes of conference proceedings that provide a good range of source material, including those listed amongst the core texts. Some of the most useful ones are:

Astronomies and cultures, edited by Clive Ruggles and Nicholas Saunders (University Press of Colorado, 1993) and Archaeoastronomy in the 1990s, edited by Clive Ruggles (Group D, 1993). These two volumes form the proceedings of the 3rd "Oxford" international symposium on archaeoastronomy held in St Andrews, Scotland, in 1990. World Archaeoastronomy, edited by Anthony Aveni (Cambridge University Press 1999), the proceedings of the 2nd "Oxford" international symposium on archaeoastronomy, held in Mérida, Mexico, in 1986. Astronomy, Cosmology and Landscape, edited by Clive Ruggles, Frank Prendergast and Tom Ray (Ocarina Books, 2001), the proceedings of the 1998 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Dublin, Ireland. Astronomy and cultural diversity : proceedings of the International Conference "Oxford VI & SEAC 99", edited by César Esteban and Juan Antonio Belmonte (Organismo Autónomo de Museos del Cabildo de Tenerife, 2000). This is the proceedings of the 6th "Oxford" international symposium on archaeoastronomy, jointly with the SEAC99 (European archaeoastronomy) meeting, held in La Laguna, Tenerife, in 1999. Астрономия Древний Обшесть (Astronomy of Ancient Societies), edited by T.M. Potyomkina and V.N. Obridko (Nauka, 2002), the proceedings of the SEAC 2000 conference held in Moscow. Papers are either in Russian with extended abstracts in English, or vice versa. Actes de la Vème Conférence Annuelle de la SEAC, edited by Arnold Lebeuf, Marius S. Ziolkowski and Arkadiusz Soltysiak (University of Warsaw, 1997), the proceedings of the 1997 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Warsaw, Poland. Actas del IV Congreso de la SEAC "Astronomia en la cultura", edited by Carlos Jaschek and Fernando Atrio (University of Salamanca, 1997), the proceedings of the 1996 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Salamanca, Spain. Ancient times, modern methods : proceedings of the third Annual General Meeting of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture (SEAC), Sibiu, 31 August-2 September 1995, edited by Florin Stanescu (Lucian Blaga University, Sibiu, 1999), the proceedings of the 1995 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Sibiu, Romania. Proceedings of the second SEAC Conference, Bochum, 29-31 August 1994, edited by Wolfhard Schlosser (Ruhr-Universität, 1996), the proceedings of the 1994 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Bochum, Germany. Astronomical traditions in past cultures: proceedings of the first Annual General Meeting of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture (SEAC), Smolyan, Bulgaria, 31 August-2 September 1993, edited by Vesselina Koleva and Dimiter Kolev (Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, 1996), the proceedings of the 1993 SEAC (European archaeoastronomy) conference held in Smolyan, Bulgaria. All of these are available in the library.

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