A methodology for testing horizon astronomy in Australian aboriginal cultural sites: A case study

Trevor M. Leaman, Duane W. Hamacher

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Aboriginal people connect landscape to the positions of the Sun and Moon throughout the year for time reckoning, seasonal calendars, and mythology as a memory aide. This can include the rising or setting of the Sun, Moon, and stars over significant landscape features. A significant corpus of Wiradjuri (Wiradyuri) astronomical knowledge has been fragmented, lost, or damaged due to colonisation. To aid in reconstructing this knowledge, we develop a novel methodology to examine potential links between the landscape and celestial movements. Our methodology, which we call Significant Horizons, ranks Aboriginal cultural sites according to their potential for astronomical utilisation. This is done by taking into consideration the cultural site‟s location and position within the environment and examines the surrounding horizon profile from that place. We rank each site on the number of solar and lunar alignments that occur on “notches” and “points” in these horizon profiles. To accomplish this, we utilize and combine the Horizon software package to generate these profiles and include the rising and setting positions of celestial bodies along it. We examine Aboriginal cultural sites within Wiradjuri country of central New South Wales as a case study. Our ranking system enables us to predict whether Wiradjuri cultural sites, such as ceremonial grounds, are likely to be astronom-ically-significant. We predict that ceremonial sites will have a higher ranking than subsistence sites, which hold a more utilitarian function. Our results are consistent with this prediction. We suggest further refinements to the methodology by including stars of cultural significance into the horizon analysis. Notice to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: This paper contains brief references to Aboriginal cultural sites, including sites that may have been used for initiations. Apart from inferred possible astronomical connections to these sites, other cultural use and practices are not discussed, as it is restricted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)431-438
Number of pages8
JournalMediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2018


  • Aboriginal astronomy
  • Aboriginal Australians
  • Aboriginal cultural sites
  • Horizon astronomy
  • Wiradjuri

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