Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Manhattan, Stonhenge, Newgrange: same thing

One thing that has always annoyed me about tour guides at megaliths, dolmens, and stone circles is their obsession with describing these as "astronomical observatories." Yes, such structures might be aligned with stars or the movement of the sun. They might even do special festive things at the equinox, like suddenly brighten at their dark interiors. But it isn't as if their designers were mapping the galaxy through neolithic telescopes. Newgrange isn't an instrument of science so much as an architecture that harnessed knowledge of the skies to the rituals of fertility and grieving that were the fabric of its creators lives.

Anyway, some day in the future when a buried Manhattan is unearthed by archeologists, tour guides will solemnly declare that the city was built as an astronomical observatory.

4 comments:

anhaga said...

And wouldn't it be wonderful if they figured we'd screwed it up too, since the days we get special sun effects are May 28 and June 12 rather than the equinoxes. "They were a civilization that wished to study the heavens, but their technology was not equal to the task."

Or, alternatively, they might give us the benefit of the doubt and think the Earth used to be situated differently in space...

Karl Steel said...

I loved this book in 1980. While some of the jokes are late-70s specific, your elder kid might get a kick out of it. Certainly you would JJC.

J J Cohen said...

Motel of the Mysteries was in fact one of my favorite books as well, Karl. I loved how it applied archeological seriousness to contemporary fluff and came to such grave, wrongheaded, and hilarious conclusions. It may also have been the first time I really realized that people do things in motel rooms other than sleep.

Karl Steel said...

I loved how it applied archeological seriousness to contemporary fluff and came to such grave, wrongheaded, and hilarious conclusions

Certainly should give us pause as medievalists!