In the latest of his contributions to archaeoastronomy, the study of the astronomy of ancient cultures, Krupp (director,...


"SKYWATCHERS, SHAMANS, AND KINGS: Astronomy and the Archaeology of Power"

In the latest of his contributions to archaeoastronomy, the study of the astronomy of ancient cultures, Krupp (director, Griffith Observatory; Echoes of the Ancient Sky, 1983, etc.) conducts a compelling survey of sky worship in ancient Egypt, China, Tibet, Mongolia, Anatolia, Africa, and the Americas. While the details vary, often fascinatingly, from culture to culture, Krupp argues that interest in the night sky always displayed certain themes: Ancient peoples turned to the sky in order to create calendars, read omens for the future, placate the gods, derive power for their chiefs, and obtain insights for their religious, economic, and governmental affairs. Pueblo ruins in New Mexico and petroglyphs in Central America reveal a preoccupation with the sky that probably had to do with a desire to obtain precious rain. At a more sophisticated level, the Chinese emperor claimed his right to rule as a mandate from heaven, and astronomers anxiously studied the movements of planetary bodies to evaluate the emperor's adherence to the celestial will. While touching on such issues as the astronomical significance of pyramids, stone carvings, and monuments in ancient societies, Krupp's survey also includes more complex cosmological topics. For instance, he discusses how the religious beliefs of ancient peoples, which usually put their own landscape at the center of the world, often shaped their astronomy. Also, Krupp describes how kings and shamans sought power by directly communicating with such powerful agents as the sun, the moon, and the stars, and how societies developed special classes that derived their power from their supposed intimate relationship with celestial beings and their superior astronomical knowledge. Though often straying from a discussion of astronomy in its sociological and anthropological analysis of vanished societies, Krupp's survey is evocative, absorbing, and informative.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 1996


Page Count: 384

Publisher: Wiley

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1996

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