School of Archaeology and Ancient History

Seminar session 1

Photograph of Skara Brae, Orkney, Scotland Copyright © Clive Ruggles, University of Leicester.


Aims of the session

The main aim of the session is to have a broad-based discussion focussing on issues of interpretation and explanation. The central question is: how best do we go about formulating sensible theories about the social context of astronomy in later prehistoric Britain and Ireland? The three groups of people will lead the discussion with short presentations in a format of their choosing, but there will be plenty of time for a debate to lead on from there. I hope to be feeding in and clarifying issues, but primarily I want to get you all thinking, so the floor is yours rather than mine and I aim to be doing as little talking as possible!

Groups and topics

Groups and topics for this session are as follows:

Group 1

Pete, Sara H, Vicky G

How might concerns with the sky have affected the location of dwellings and monuments in later prehistoric Britain and Ireland? How might this be reflected in the material record?

Group 2

Rufus, Rebecca, Sarah W

How might astronomy have affected the timing of human activities and how might this be reflected in the material record?

Group 3

Adam K, Brian, David

Why might there be astronomical alignments at dwellings and monuments in later prehistoric Britain and Ireland?

Words of advice

These are all very general questions which you could tackle in a number of ways in order to raise key issues.

Chapter 4 from Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland provides useful background reading for each of these topics. Chapters 9 and 10 may also be helpful.

In addition, you may find the following to be useful starting points for further reading while preparing your presentations:

  1. Richard Bradley, An Archaeology of Natural Places (Routledge, 2000).
    Chapter 7 from Astronomy in Prehistoric Britain and Ireland.
  2. "Cosmology, calendars and society in Neolithic Orkney: a rejoinder to Euan MacKie" in Antiquity, 74 (2000), 62–74.
    Ruggles and Burl, "A new study of the Aberdeenshire Recumbent Stone Circles, 2: Interpretation", Archaeoastronomy no. 8 (supplement to Journal for the History of Astronomy 16)(1985), S25-60.
  3. Richard Bradley, Altering the Earth (Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, 1993).
    Richard Bradley, The Significance of Monuments (Routledge, 1998).
    Tim Darvill's chapter in Science and Stonehenge (ed. Barry Cunliffe and Colin Renfrew, Oxford U.P., 1997).
    Joshua Pollard and Clive Ruggles, "Shifting perceptions: spatial order, cosmology, and patterns of deposition at Stonehenge", Cambridge Archaeological Journal, 11(1) (2001), 69–90.


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Last updated: 10 May 2002 13:26
Prof C.L.N. Ruggles
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