http://www.engineeringnews.co.za
  SEARCH
Login
R/€ = 13.08Change: 0.09
R/$ = 11.60Change: -0.02
Au 1283.00 $/ozChange: -2.95
Pt 1255.50 $/ozChange: -4.00
 
 
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
 
Agriculture   Automotive   Chemicals   Competition Policy   Construction   Defence   Economy   Electricity   Energy   Environment   ICT   Metals   Mining   Science and Technology   Services   Trade   Transport & Logistics   Water  
What's On Press Office Tenders Suppliers Directory Research Jobs Announcements Letters Contact Us
 
 
 
RSS Feed
Article   Comments   Other News   Research   Magazine  
 
 
Apr 26, 2002

Archaeo-astronomy of Southern Africa

Back
Construction|Pretoria|Africa|Africa|Republic Of Zimbabwe|South Africa|United Kingdom|Nkwe Ridge Observatory|Stonehenge|Autumnal Equinox|Vernal Equinox Day|Winter Solstice|Richard Wade|British Columbia
Construction||Africa|Africa|||||
construction|pretoria|africa-company|africa|republic-of-zimbabwe|south-africa|united-kingdom|nkwe-ridge-observatory|stonehenge|autumnal-equinox|vernal-equinox-day|winter-solstice|richard-wade|british-columbia
© 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 (150 word limit)
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Other Science and Technology News
The international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – which is to be jointly hosted by South Africa and Australia with, later, outstations in other countries – may not yet exist, but international scientific working groups are already deciding what...
Petrochemicals giant Sasol, which typically incinerates its waste sludge streams or sends them to hazardous waste sites, is increasing its use of composting to treat these streams at its Secunda plant, in Mpumalanga, reducing transportation and disposal costs, as...
South Africa is, in key respects, an ideal country to deploy the latest generation Integrated (coal) Gasification Combined Cycle (IGCC) technology for electricity generation. This is the view of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems (MHPS) Africa. “This technology needs...
Article contains comments
More
 
 
Latest News
Updated 12 minutes ago US energy firm Chevron will shut down its 100 000 bl/d South African oil refinery in Cape Town from February 13 to March 31 for routine maintenance and safety inspections, the company said on Friday. "Chevron has made contingency plans to mitigate potential...
Updated 36 minutes ago Days of rolling blackouts this week have blighted South African society and business, and they face an increasing number of outages in years to come. But the alternative, a grid collapse, could be catastrophic. Bordered by tiny, war-scarred or impoverished states...
Updated 1 hour 26 minutes ago Petrochemicals giant Sasol, which typically incinerates its waste sludge streams or sends them to hazardous waste sites, is increasing its use of composting to treat these streams at its Secunda plant, in Mpumalanga, reducing transportation and disposal costs, as...
More
 
 
Recent Research Reports
 
 
 
 
This Week's Magazine
The international Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope – which is to be jointly hosted by South Africa and Australia with, later, outstations in other countries – may not yet exist, but international scientific working groups are already deciding what...
A free Web-based solar power plant capacity-planning tool offers project planners and developers, as well as governments, a means to assess the solar energy potential of thin-film solar PV power over an area of land. The tool was developed by thin-film solar...
As yet, no specific methodology, timeline or costs have been finalised to remedy the water ingress, excessive to contractual specifications, into the Gautrain tunnel between emergency shaft two (E2) and Park Station, says Bombela Concession Company technical and...
ASTRAPAK The group highlighted that executive strategic interventions and other group-wide business improvement imperatives were progressing favourably
The “seriously disruptive” electricity outages in South Africa have cost packaging group Astrapak more than R2-million in “irrecoverable downtime costs”, the company said on Monday, adding that the power cuts were negating some of the benefit of energy saving...
Bakkies and more affordable cars dominated South Africa’s new vehicle market in 2014. Unaudited data from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) shows that South Africa’s most popular vehicle in 2014 was the Toyota Hilux, selling 37 562 units.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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