Top 5 Wonders of the Archaeoastronomical World

-“Wonders of Archaeoastronomical World” written by Srishti Sharma, edited by Muskan Agarwal

Earth has forever been enclosed by the shell we call the sky. So, when humans looked up to this ever-present bubble that is always overhead, we began to wonder about it. We observed this dark cape cloaking the Earth each passing day and noticed some patterns and similarities overtime. We studied the movement of the ball of fire called the Sun and noticed the changes it brought. We observed how the sky changed as the weather grew colder, then warmer, then colder again. And based on these observations of the sky, we made some structures – concrete mementos upon the land we lived on – which entwined the skies to our lives, cultures, legends and myths, and even sciences. Archaeoastronomy is the science that probes into this relation established since antiquity.

Here are the top 5 archaeoastronomical sites all round the world:

1. Angkor Wat:

Situated in Cambodia, Angkor Wat is the largest religious monument and temple complex in the world. Dedicated to Lord Vishnu, this temple was built by King Suryavarman II or Khmer in the early 12th century. Today, the temple is admired not only for its grandeur but also because of the cosmological themes encoded in its architecture. During the summer solstice, the sun is aligned between Angkor Wat and a nearby mountaintop shrine. At the summer equinox, the rising sun, observed from the southwestern corner of Angkor Thom (another nearby shrine), appears through the eastern gates of Angkor Wat. Six months later, during the winter solstice, the setting sun is positioned directly overhead Angkor Wat, as observed from Pre Rup (6 km northwest of Angkor Wat).

Angkor Wat
Frontal View of Angkor Wat (cc – Kheng Vungvuthy)

2. Stonehenge:

Estimated to have been built around 3100 B.C. and located in Wiltshire, U.K., the Stonehenge is one of the oldest archaeoastronomical sites in the world.

cc – Andrew Dunn


During the midsummer solstice, the sun can be observed rising over the Heel Stone (an outlying pillar in the structure), when viewed from the middle of the circle.

© Historic England Archive


Whereas, during the midwinter solstice, the sun is observed setting past the huge stone arches, when viewed from the Heel Stone.

3. Nabta Playa

Discovered in 1973, Nabta Playa is the oldest known archaeoastronomical site on Earth – dating back around 7000 years. It was discovered by archaeologists amidst plans of constructing a dam along the Nile-river to prevent flooding on major archaeological sites. This ancient stone circle was used to track the summer solstice as well as the arrival of monsoon season in the hot desert. Experts have concluded that this structure was constructed by aligning with three prominent stars in the night sky, namely – Arcturus, Sirius and Alpha Centauri.


4. Chaco Canyon

Located in Southwest America, the Chaco Canyon was the core of civilisation in the pre-Columbian era. An astonishing observation is how the architecture of the entire civilization is heavily interlocked with astronomical phenomena, making this one of the most elaborate archaeoastronomical sites worldwide. Investigations have shown that some of the largest structures are built to align precisely to the cardinal directions and to the cyclical solar and lunar positions. It is also speculated that the Great North Road – a 35-mile manmade road – was not actually built for the purpose of transportation, but to connect the centre of the civilisation to the northern direction. Another interesting piece of architecture is three stone slabs arranged such that the light passing through them cast peculiar shadow marks on the opposing cliff wall on solstices, equinoxes and the lunar standstills which occur in the moon’s 18.6-year cycle.

The Great Kiva at Chaco Canyon

5. Newgrange

Built around 3200 BC, Newgrange is a tomb located in Ireland. Every year, on winter solstice, the otherwise dark passageway is illuminated for exactly 17 minutes. What is more interesting is that the light does not enter the tomb through the main entrance, but instead, through a roof-box built above the door which is an indicative of how the tomb was constructed keeping in mind an archaeoastronomical aspect.


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