05 November 2016

Echoes of Archaeoastronomy: 3/4 My Backyard is the Center of the Universe. Ancient observation techniques at my own Astronomical Observatory in Kustavi, Finland.

In my last article on Echoes of Archaeoastronomy, I wrote about my 1 year research on the interconnection between Astronomy and the ancient rock art site i visited in Morocco, called Ait Ouazik. Between Dec. 2014 and Jan. 2016 I visited twice the site of Ait Ouazik to prove a connection with the rock art found at the site and astronomy. This gave me the idea to start my own "ancient observatory" in my own backyard here in Finland. I figured that if they did it in a remote past in Ait Ouazik, I surely could do it today in my own backyard. So i Did. Here is a short version of my experiences with my own ancient observatory in my own backyard.

Mimicking ancient observatory in my own backyard. Yellow lines define my observatory limits
3 observation points (Central, Western and Eastern). On this chart you find 4 alignments 1) Meridian (South) 2) Winter Solstice rising Sun 3) Winter Solstice setting Sun 4) Venus (evening star) corridor.
This observatory is located in Kustavi, Finland.

On my property on a small island in Western Finland I run an Astronomy club since 2010. This Astro-Club is basically based in my backyard. I have the shed, I have the steady pillar, which sits the mount, which sits the telescopes. I have the eye pieces and the gadgets to help me glimpse celestial objects in the night sky, but what I really was missing was an naked eye Observatory. A naked eye observatory, like the prehistoric people would have had.

My backyard's dimensions are approximately 100x100 square meters. The observatory engulf it all. The grounds surrounding our place is full with markers to remind us of something astronomical. It has a central viewing point, which is my front balcony. It has seasonal alignments, cardinal alignments, astronomical alignments with buildings, Pole alignments, stone alignments and remote alignments in the form of distant locations align with our central observation point to create a larger area of observation, as would our ancient ancestors would have done. This created a sort of play ground to try out how ancient people could have seen the night sky around them.

Kustavi's observatory map.
Equinoxes (top picture), Summer Solstice (middle picture), Winter Solstice (bottom picture).
Using Suncalc (  

I trained my self to recognize the night sky patterns in my surroundings. Many hours of thinking outside the box trying to imitate ancient astronomers. Aligning my property buildings with events in the heavens. Try first hand methods ancient people might have used to study the heavens. I even replicated the boulder featuring Petroglyph no.2 in my backyard to test astronomical techniques i am associating it to. (Read Echoesof Archaeoastronomy: 2/4 Village of Ait Ouazik, Southern Morocco andvillage of Oukaimeden, Atlas Mountains, Morocco.) This boulder is the center of my research on a connection to astronomy, so clearly i had to test it in a familiar environment, hence my backyard.

Replica of the Bowl carving and the spoke wheel no.2 petroglyph inside of it.

On this boulder you find a bowl shape carving with a petroglyph at the bottom of this bowl. By doing a replica of this boulder in my backyard, it gave me time to study it more carefully within my observation place in my backyard.

Many challenges were ahead. The motion and movement of the Moon monthly. The positioning of the Sun on the solstices and equinoxes in comparision to the horizon I have in my backyard. The heliacal risings of specific stars. Keeping track of planets and establishing the ecliptic they follow. Predicting the position of Venus. Following the planet Venus through it's synodic cycle of 583 Earth days or even the pentagram of Venus, a interaction between the Sun, Venus and Earth of 8 years, yet to be completed for us anyway. The use of the Horizon to observe stars and planets popping up the horizon line. I have to admit, where we live, forest invade our view of the horizon, but we make the point still to investigate this technique, that the ancient people surely have used.

Watergazing through a soup bowl on my balcony.
The right side picture is a bowl with  the reflection of the Moon (with Flash).
The left side picture is without Flash. You can see the reflection of the Moon very well.
Click on picture to enlarge.

Watergazing (Observing celestial bodies as the moon, the planets and the stars in a puddle of water) I tried to look at the night sky not directly up, but rather down on the ground,through shallow puddles of water. The reflexion of the Moon, the planet Jupiter and Venus and certain stars were reflected clearly. The shallower the puddle, the better the reflection was.

Venus in the Western sky. I small window where I  see it setting (alignment no.4 in my observatory chart).

To be at home, a place i spend everyday gave me easy access to observe the everyday motion of the night sky in a familiar surrounding. I challenged myself to get acquainted with the Constellations, the planets, the Moon and the stars for a long periods of time. To mimic the ancient people looking at the night sky i committed to long periods of time for observations as they would have done, writing down my observations. Even though i have all the information necessary on astronomy at my finger tip with books and the Internet, i tried to really start from the beginning. Wondered how the cycles were slowly understood. How to gain the knowledge of astronomy in my backyard with familiar, every day, easy surroundings.

1 years of intense observing and mind setting on an ”ancient observatory” i finally got the hang of it. I really enjoyed my experience, I even got better in recognizing the whole night sky in relation with my surroundings in a glimpse. My whole backyard had in a sense became important to me. I made a connection with the night sky and my surroundings.

”The Stable observing of one reinforced his understanding of familiar sights of the celestial motions. By observing always at the same place, one can establish a permanent position in relation to the apparent rotation of the night sky. A foundation on which to rely on.
The creation of an observatory is essential to the study of Astronomy. The beginning of understanding the clockwork motion of the night sky around one, can only be achieved when one stop moving.” - My own thoughts really!

Me and the Sunset at horizon with clouds above. producing these dramatic Sun rays on the picture.   

My experience with my naked eye observatory back at home, really connected me with the rock art site of Ait Ouazik I was studying. It reinforced my confidence that it could have been really like that. That ancient people would have been connected to astronomy every day and benefit from it.

I write in the past tense, but I have to say that i have used my observatory, i use it now and I don't see why I wouldn't not use it in the future. To be able to incorporate my surroundings and the sky above is simply magical. I am glad that I took the time to invest in this project. It has brought me further knowledge of the night sky and a shared feeling with ancient civilizations through archaeoastronomy. Even more so in my own backyard!