, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 149-191

Archaeoastronomy in the Ancient Americas

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Abstract

Since its popular resurgence in the 1960s, the interdisciplinary field of archaeoastronomy, which seeks evidence from the written as well as the unwritten record to shed light on the nature and practice of astronomy and timekeeping in ancient civilizations, has made ever-increasing significant use of the archaeological record. This essay briefly touches on the origin and history of these developments, discusses the methodology of archaeoastronomy, and assesses its contributions via the discussion of selected case studies at sites in North, South, and Mesoamerica. Specifically, archaeology contributes significantly to clarifying the role of sky events in site planning. The rigorous repetition of axial alignments of sites and individual oddly shaped and/or oriented structures can be related to alterations in the calendar often initiated by cross-cultural contact.Together with evidence acquired from other forms of the ancient record, archaeology also helps clarify the relationship between functional and symbolic astronomical knowledge. In state-level societies, it offers graphic evidence that structures that served as chronographic markers also functioned as performative stages for seasonally timed rituals mandated by cosmic connections claimed by the rulership.