It is being said that some of the ancient mausoleums extant today may have served as astronomical observatories in their times.
Stargazing has been an ancient pursuit and passion of mankind. We have always had a wanderlust that entices us as a unique species to wonder at the starry sky and ask ourselves “Are we alone?”…
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Some ancient tombs may have served as observatories that were used to get a clearer view of the night sky. The age-old rituals connected with them may have helped in this process too.
The shadowy entry points in 6000 year old tombs in Portugal show that they were vantage points for stargazing. The passage that leads to the graves may have given a crystal clear view of Aldebaran, which is also known as the Red Star.
It is the most well-lit heavenly body in the constellation Taurus. It was a star that was crucial for ancient communities who took to the mountainsides in summers in order to allow their herds of cattle and flocks of sheep to graze on the verdant fields of grass. This yearly event may have been linked with the appearance of the star.
The star appeared in the twilight sky towards the end of April or the beginning of May. It was an ideal opportunity for the shepherds and cattle grazers to move to higher pastures on the foothills of the mountains.
The team of archaeologists involved in the study believe that the tombs played a key role in the spotting of the Red Star, according to Royal Astronomical Society (RAS). People were also left in the tombs with their buried ancestors.
Thus these tombs also served as a training ground for rites of passage. Also the rituals involved a revealing of certain closely-guarded secrets. Maybe one of the secrets was that the star was visible in the night well before its full exposure to the rest of the earthlings.
There is something about the passageways of the tomb that suggests that spaces in it showed a clear view of Aldebaran. The passages probably served the same function that telescopes do today.
Of course, the fact that there was no lens in this ancient telescopic arrangement remains an enigma to us modern city dwellers. The corridor pointed towards the distant horizon.
The walls eclipsed the early morning rays of the sun. Thus this contrast allowed the eyes of the ancient denizens of present-day Portugal to discern the stars more clearly in the sky.
All that was really required was pitch darkness in order to detect the star. Another tomb site not far off is also said to have been used for similar purposes. This is Stonehenge which is situated in the UK.
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The team of astronomers present their study at the National Astronomy Meeting, being held this week in Nottingham.