University of Leicester Logo

School of Archaeology & Ancient History

Frequently Asked Questions

What are archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy?
Archaeoastronomy is the study of beliefs and practices concerning the sky in the past, and especially in prehistory, and the uses to which people's knowledge of the skies were put. It uses archaeological and historical methods to investigate past astronomies. Ethnoastronomy is similar to archaoastronomy, except that it focuses upon more modern societies through the methods of anthropology, ethnography and sociology. Since there is no clear dividing line between the two fields, the term "cultural astronomy" has emerged which encompasses both. Astronomical alignments at Stonehenge, Mayan tables of eclipses and the motions of Venus, and why modern people still believe in astrology are among the topics covered in current research in these fields.

Is it for real?
Yes. Archaeoastronomy is one of the many developing interdisciplinary fields of academic research, such as forensic science, biophysics or astrobiology. A great many genuine scientists -- specialists in the "hard" sciences as well as in the arts, humanities and social sciences -- exist around the world who publish professional works every year in peer-reviewed academic journals on topics within the field of archaeoastronomy. Because it combines two subjects of immense public appeal, archaeology and astronomy, archaeoastronomy has suffered all too often from popular publications making extraordinary claims that have not been peer-reviewed by experts in the field, and do not stand up to scrutiny.

Are there professional archaeoastronomy organizations?
Yes, there are two.
ISAAC is the International Society of Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture. It was established in 1996 to promote the academic development of archaeoastronomy and ethnoastronomy. The goal of this society is to enhance the professional status of fields of research by forming ties with existing international, regional and national academic bodies, organizing meetings, and assisting in the development of interdisciplinary projects in cultural astronomy in its widest sense. Membership is limited to researchers who have published in professional, peer-reviewed journals.
SEAC is the Société Européenne pour l'Astronomie dans la Culture (European Society for Astronomy in Culture). The aims of the Society are: 1) to promote the interdisciplinary study of astronomical practice in its cultural context as a topic of considerable importance within the general study of human societies and their relationship to their environment; and 2) to promote research seeking to develop our understanding of the cultural significance of astronomical knowledge through the integration of techniques and methods within the humanities and social sciences, astronomy, and methodological disciplines. Any person who supports the aims of the Society may become an Ordinary member provided that he or she is nominated by two members, is approved by the Executive Committee (EC), accepts the statutes and pays the membership fee.

Are there professional academic conferences in archaeoastronomy or cultural astronomy?
Yes. SEAC meets usually once a year to share current research projects and news with members.
The 'Oxford' Conferences on Archaeoastronomy are a series of international meetings, normally held every three to five years, that cover all aspects of cultural astronomy and are world-wide in scope. Numerous "one-off" and national meetings are held from time to time, as are sessions on archaeoastronomy at wider archaeological or astronomical congresses.
The triennial INSAP (Inspiration of Astronomical Phenomena) conferences have a broader remit covering the many and various cultural impacts of human perceptions about the day- and night-time sky.
The talks and poster sessions of the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting have an Archaeoastronomy category.

How do I find professional publications on archaeoastronomy?
The Center for Archaeoastronomy in Maryland, USA collects, reviews and edits professional articles in archaeoastronomy for publication in ARCHAEOASTRONOMY: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture. It also provides a perpetual used book sale and additional conference proceedings' publications.
Ocarina Books specialises in archaeoastronomy publications including the proceedings of SEAC conferences.

Are there any universities that offer archaeoastronomy or cultural astronomy courses and degrees?
Yes, but the situation is constantly changing. A list of courses (accurate as of 1999) has many leads to check out, but watch the SEAC web pages, where an up-to-date list of teaching and learning resources (either the actual resources or links to them) is due to appear soon. At Leicester, plans for a stand-alone Masters course within the School of Archaeology and Ancient History, and a fourth-year track in the i-Science MSci degree, have been shelved for the foreseeable future, but it is hoped that archaeoastronomy modules will eventually form part of new Masters degrees available by Distance Learning.

Can I use the images in the database for my lectures/dissertation/publication?
It depends. The image database was created primarily for students and staff at the University of Leicester to use during their coursework and academic research. We made the database available online, because it is useful to the community of archaeoastronomers and archaeologists. However, images that will be used in publications that will be purchased (novels, textbooks, non-fiction references and books, and slide or CD-ROM sets) must be licensed and purchased by the publisher/author of said publication. Educational use of the images for slide shows, PowerPoint, websites, and free publications is free.

In all cases, a legible copyright line "Copyright (c) Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester" MUST be included with the image in all occurrences of the image. On web pages this must be accompanied by a link to

Back to Top