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Archaeology & History

Tombs in Portugal used as ancient telescopes

By T.K. Randall
July 3, 2016 · Comment icon 5 comments

Passage graves like this have been found across Europe. Image Credit: PD - Sandpiper
Special structures enabled early Europeans to view the stars long before the invention of the telescope.
Researchers recently made the discovery while studying 6,000-year-old tombs in Portugal which featured long dark chambers known as 'passage graves'.

Looking up at the sky from inside these passages would have made it possible for early astronomers to view the stars earlier in the evening than if they were standing outside.

"The key thing is that a passage grave with its long corridor acts like a telescope that does not have a lens – it is a long tube from which you are looking at the sky," said astronomer Fabio Silva.
The stars and constellations would have held special significance for the people of the time and in Portugal the rising of the star Aldebaran would have signalled that it was time to begin moving their herds and flocks to the summer grazing areas each year.

"This kind of 'archaeoastronomy' highlights the fact that human beings have always been fascinated by the stars," said astronomer Marek Kukula of the Royal Observatory Greenwich in London.

"Sky-watching has had an important role in human society for millennia."

Source: Christian Science Monitor | Comments (5)

Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by PersonFromPorlock 7 years ago
Assuming dolmens were built to limit the field of view to a small area of the sky, wouldn't it have been a lot easier to build them of, say, vegetation? Amerindian long houses were produced from wood with stone tools, after all. Even if the wood part needed replacing over time, a stone 'doorframe' and a rock to position the observer's eye is all that a 'permanent' observatory would need. Well, maybe they thought the extra effort pleased the gods.
Comment icon #2 Posted by Ozfactor 7 years ago
I thought the same, but maybe these dolmens were constructed to have multiple purposes, they would have been perfect for also taking shelter in from the weather and for storing things .
Comment icon #3 Posted by Hanslune 7 years ago
Hmmm why would you us a tomb for 'observations'. I think they might be stretching this one a bit. The sky is full of dots - anything pointed towards said sky will always point to certain number of dots.
Comment icon #4 Posted by lightly 7 years ago
      ok,  not exactly a "telescope"   but they're saying the structures function as optical aids in star gazing.  That is interesting. Researchers are focusing on the alignment of the stars with megalithic tombs—stone structures known as dolmens that feature long narrow entrances that act as apertures, essentially zooming in on stars and planets that wouldn’t always be visible from the outside. “These structures could therefore have been the first astronomical tools to support the watching of the skies, millennia before telescopes were invented,” the Royal Astronomical Society wrote in an sta... [More]
Comment icon #5 Posted by questionmark 7 years ago
That would neither be new nor a revolutionary discovery but a fact established at least a century ago.  

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