Press Releases 2014-2015

Archaeo-Astronomy Steps Out from the Shadows of the Past


The work of University of Wales Trinity Saint David (UWTSD) graduates and staff has been highlighted at the prestigious National Astronomy Meeting (NAM) 2014 in Portsmouth recently.

The meeting explored a developing field of research that merges astronomical techniques with the study of ancient man-made features and the surrounding landscapes. From the 'Crystal Pathway' that links stone circles on Cornwall's Bodmin Moor to star-aligned megaliths in central Portugal, archaeo-astronomers are finding evidence that Neolithic and Bronze Age people were acute observers of the Sun, as well as the Moon and stars, and that they embedded astronomical references within their local landscapes.

Archaeo-astronomy expert Dr Fabio Silva, from the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology at UWTSD, presented his ground-breaking research on European megaliths which focus on 6000-year-old winter occupation sites and megalithic structures in the Mondego valley in central Portugal.

He said: “We have found that the entrance corridors of all passage graves in a given necropolisare aligned with the seasonal rising over nearby mountains of the star Aldebaran, the brightest star of Taurus. This link between the appearance of the star in springtime and the mountains where the dolmen builders would have spent their summers has echoes in local folklore about how the Serra da Estrela or 'Mountain Range of the Star' received its name from a Mondego valley shepherd and his dog following a star.

Former journalist and British television personality Pamela Armstrong, a recent graduate in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology at UWTSD, integrates the idea of skyscape in her work on the finest stone chambered tombs in Britain, located in the north Cotswolds.

She said: “Neoltihic people buried their dead in these earthen mounds, but they may also have oriented their tombs toward significant points of lunar, solar and stellar rise and set on their local horizons. This sheds light upon whether these Neolithic settlers practiced a different astronomy to that of the Mesolithic hunter gatherers who preceded them on this landscape.”

Other researchers presenting in the session include UWTSD’s Liz Henty who reported on Tomnaverie Recumbent Stone Circle in Scotland and Dr Frank Pendergast of Dublin Institute of Technology discussing a passage tomb at Knockroe in County Kilkenny, Ireland.

Note to Editor

  1. Dr Fabio Silva holds the MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology, holds a PhD in Cosmology, and is a part-time tutor in the School of Archaeology, History and Anthropology, managing the MA’s Archaeo-astronomy module.
  2. Pamela Armstrong recently graduated with a MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology and received a distinction for her dissertation on astronomical alignments in burial chambers in the southern England.
  3. The University of Wales Trinity Saint David was established in 2010 through the merger of the University of Wales Lampeter and Trinity University College, Carmarthen. On 1 August 2013 the Swansea Metropolitan University merged with the University.
  4. The University’s Royal Charter 1828 is the oldest in Wales, and it is third behind Oxford and Cambridge in Wales and England. HRH Prince of Wales is the Patron of the University.

Further Information

Steven Stokes
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