http://www.engineeringnews.co.za
  SEARCH
Login
R/€ = 14.50Change: 0.09
R/$ = 10.50Change: 0.05
Au 1294.90 $/ozChange: -0.67
Pt 1413.00 $/ozChange: -15.50
 
 
Note: Search is limited to the most recent 250 articles. Set date range to access earlier articles.
Where? With... When?








Start
 
End
 
 
And must exclude these words...
Close Main Search
Close Main Login
My Profile News Alerts Newsletters Logout Close Main Profile
 
Nelson Mandela 1918 - 2013   Agriculture   Automotive   Chemicals   Competition Policy   Construction   Defence   Economy   Electricity   Energy   Environment   ICT   Metals   Mining   Science & Technology   Services   Trade   Transport & Logistics   Water  
What's On Press Office Suppliers Directory Research Jobs Announcements Contact Us
 
 
 
RSS Feed
Article   Comments   Other News   Research   Magazine  
 
 
Apr 26, 2002

Archaeo-astronomy of Southern Africa

Back
Pretoria|Republic Of Zimbabwe|South Africa|United Kingdom|Nkwe Ridge Observatory|Stonehenge|Autumnal Equinox|Vernal Equinox Day|Winter Solstice|Richard Wade|British Columbia
pretoria|republic-of-zimbabwe|south-africa|united-kingdom|nkwe-ridge-observatory|stonehenge|autumnal-equinox|vernal-equinox-day|winter-solstice|richard-wade|british-columbia
More Insight
© Reuse this The heavens have always fascinated humanity, and evidence of quite sophisticated understanding of the movements of stars and planets, including the alignment of sacred sites with particular heavenly bodies or astronomical events, and dating back millenia, have been found on every inhabited continent.

Of course, such observations and analyses were not undertaken for anything remotely like modern science, but for religious and ritual purposes, and determining the change of seasons. These activities were often centred on 'complexes' or monuments of wood or stone, of varying degrees of sophistication, which were probably both 'temples' and 'observatories'. The classic, and unusually complex, example is Stonehenge in England, constructed in three phases between 3000 BC and 1500 BC, the main axis of which is aligned with the midsummer sunrise, and an observer in the centre of the complex can determine both when summer is at it height and winter is at its deepest.

Simpler equivalents to Stonehenge have been found all over the world – so, are there any in South Africa? We don't yet know.

Oddly, hardly any work has been done on this field, known as archaeo-astronomy, in Southern Africa.

A local pioneer in this discipline is Richard Wade who has established the Nkwe Ridge Observatory to the east of Pretoria, and he has so far focused his researches on Great Zimbabwe, although, as he points out, there was a cultural unity linking what is now the Republic of Zimbabwe with the Limpopo, Gauteng, Mpumalanga and perhaps even Free State provinces of South Africa.

Before the advent of modern light and air pollution, the night skies over the South African highveld gave, particularly in winter, a superbly clear view of the stars and planets, and this brilliant display must surely have impressed the indigenous African peoples who saw it nearly every night.

Concerning Great Zimbabwe, Wade points out that a number of small monoliths are embedded in the top of the eastern arc – that is, facing sunrise, moonrise and star rise – of the main enclosing wall, but none are found on the rest of circumference.

Furthermore, standing atop the platform found at the eastern end of the Great Enclosure, as it is called, one can see over the wall to the horizon.

To someone standing on that platform, three of the monoliths clearly align with the three stars of the constellation Orion, namely Saiph, Alnilam and Bellatrix, when they rise heliacally (that is, just before sunrise) on the winter solstice (that is, the shortest day of the year). The central of these three monoliths also marks the central belt star of Orion, the start and end point of the Venus synodic period, as well as the equinoxes.

(The equinoxes are those two days each year when day and night are of equal length; the vernal equinox occurs on September 23 in the Southern Hemisphere, and so can be regarded as marking the end of winter, or the dry season, and the arrival of summer, or the rainy season, while the autumnal equinox occurs on March 20.

The Venus synodic period lasts 583,9 days, divided into four phases – appearance, which lasts 263 days, disappearance, 50 days, apearance, 260 days, and disappearance, 8 days.) Furthermore, the tip of the small conical tower found within the Great Enclosure of Great Zimbabwe, when viewed from the platform, also aligns with the vernal equinox sun at sunrise.

In fact, Wade has determined that there are 35 alignments of heavenly bodies with the perimeter wall monoliths when viewed from the platform, and he suggests that the platform originally had emplaced, at its centre, a single monolith that could have been two metres high, providing more precise alignments.

Most striking, however, is Wade's discovery that the large conical tower in Great Zimbabwe, which dates from the 14th century, is, when seen from the platform, in alignment with the supernova remnant RX J0852.0-4622 in the constellation Vela. The point is that RX J0852.0-4622 is now believed to have gone supernova some time between AD 1300 and 1340, and would have been clearly visible in the Southern Hemisphere. There is thus a most suggestive correlation between the construction of the large tower and what would have been a spectacular event in the heavens.

Clearly, archaeo-astronomy is a discipline in its infancy in South Africa, but what is already obvious is that, when South Africans look upwards to study the night sky, they are following in a tradition that runs deep into the country's and region's past.
Edited by: Keith Campbell
© Reuse this Comment Guidelines
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other News This Week News
Updated 3 hours ago The Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University is strongly reaffirming its position as one of South Africa’s leading centres for satellite technology and expertise. It is currently...
MORE IN SA Phase 2 should see local content on the mainline locomotive increase from 65% to 80% by the end of 2014
Updated 3 hours ago The world’s lowest-cost diesel-electric locomotive is not made in China, but in Pretoria, at RRL Grindrod Locomotives’ newly upgraded 30 000 m2 plant. The company’s locomotive pricing is “more competitive than any other original-equipment manufacturer (OEM)...
Updated 3 hours ago The South African Defence Review 2012, released to the public at the end of last month (despite the year given in its title) recommends the creation of the post of Chief Defence Scientist. This official would be responsible for the management of defence technology...
More
 
 
Latest News
Renewable-energy projects, such as this Northern Cape solar farm, seen as key to low‐carbon energy supply.
Upfront investment costs will and should remain a critical consideration as South Africa moves to upscale and accelerate its infrastructure programmes. But one of the lead authors of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) argues that the...
The barrier to efficient water service delivery in South Africa was not of a technological nature but rather related to legal and Constitutional challenges, Water Research Commission (WRC) CEO Dhesigen Naidoo said on Thursday. Opening a WRC debate under the theme...
ANC SG Gwede Mantashe (L), chairperson Baleka Mbete (C) and President Jacob Zuma (R)
The creation of a small and medium enterprises department is very likely, African National Congress national chairwoman Baleka Mbete said on Thursday. "We are talking about a focused department looking at small and medium businesses because the departments must be...
More
 
 
Recent Research Reports
Steel 2014: A review of South Africa's steel sector (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Steel 2014 report provides an overview of the global steel industry and particularly of South Africa’s steel sector over the past year, including details of production and consumption, as well as the country's primary carbon steel and stainless...
Projects in Progress 2014 - First Edition (PDF Report)
This publication contains insight into progress at the delayed Medupi and Kusile coal-fired projects, in Mpumalanga and Limpopo respectively, as well as at the Ingula pumped-storage scheme, which is under construction on the border between the Free State and...
Automotive 2014: A review of South Africa's automotive sector (PDF Report)
The report provides insight into the business environment, the key participants in the sector, local construction demand, geographic diversification, competition within the sector, corporate activity, skills, safety, environmental considerations and the challenges...
Construction 2014: A review of South Africa's construction sector (PDF Report)
Construction data released during 2013 hints at a halt to the decline in the industry during the last few years, with some commentators averring that the industry could be poised for recovery. However, others have urged caution, noting that the prospects for a...
Electricity 2014: A Review of South Africa's Electricity Sector (PDF Report)
This report provides an overview of the state of electricity generation and transmission in South Africa and examines electricity planning, investment in generation capacity, electricity tariffs, the role of independent power producers and demand-focused initiatives,...
Defence 2013: A review of South Africa's defence industry (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2013 Defence Report examines South Africa’s defence industry, with particular focus on the key players in the sector, the innovations that have come out of the defence sector, local and export demand, South Africa’s controversial...
 
 
 
 
 
This Week's Magazine
Updated 3 hours ago The Electronic Systems Laboratory (ESL) of the Department of Electrical and Electronic Engineering at Stellenbosch University is strongly reaffirming its position as one of South Africa’s leading centres for satellite technology and expertise. It is currently...
MORE IN SA Phase 2 should see local content on the mainline locomotive increase from 65% to 80% by the end of 2014
Updated 3 hours ago The world’s lowest-cost diesel-electric locomotive is not made in China, but in Pretoria, at RRL Grindrod Locomotives’ newly upgraded 30 000 m2 plant. The company’s locomotive pricing is “more competitive than any other original-equipment manufacturer (OEM)...
Updated 3 hours ago The South African Defence Review 2012, released to the public at the end of last month (despite the year given in its title) recommends the creation of the post of Chief Defence Scientist. This official would be responsible for the management of defence technology...
Updated 3 hours ago AltX-listed engineering technology company Ansys has been awarded an R188-million contract by Transnet to supply integrated dashboard display systems to the freight rail utility’s locomotives. Black-owned and controlled Ansys developed the bespoke integrated system...
Updated 3 hours ago South Africa’s sole nuclear power station Koeberg, which is located in the Western Cape, breached a major operations milestone on April 4, which marked the thirtieth anniversary of Unit 1 having been connected to the grid. Eskom, which operates the two-unit plant,...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Alert Close
Embed Code Close
content
Research Reports Close
Research Reports are a product of the
Research Channel Africa. Reports can be bought individually or you can gain full access to all reports as part of a Research Channel Africa subscription.
Find Out More Buy Report
 
 
Close
Engineering News
Completely Re-Engineered
Experience it now. Click here
*website to launch in a few weeks