Sunday, September 28, 2014

Archeoastronomy: Sundials

As societies became more complex, people had to organize their timekeeping into smaller increments, especially during the daylight hours. Whether they had to establish a meeting time for a council session or a starting time for a religious ritual, people needed to devise a way to coordinate their time. Beyond “morning”, “noon,” and “evening,” they needed a finer division of time such as “hours.”

 Sundials were invented to solve this problem. Because they measure small intervals of time using cosmic activity, sundials were considered to be one of the earliest scientific instruments. The Egyptians were the first people recorded in the West to use the sundial. Their sundial consisted of the gnomon (a crossbar) and a flat base divided into six “hours.” In the morning, the gnomon faced east, and the afternoon west. The shadow cast by the gnomon on the base determined the hour.

 Using their knowledge of geometry, the Greeks refined the sun dial of the Egyptians. They invented the hemicyclium (hemispherium), which is a block of stone with a hemisphere cut into it. The gnomon was placed on top. The half-sphere created a circular arc that determined time more accurately. The hemicyclium resembled a hollowed out bowl with a stick on top.

 Sundials used in Europe were adapted from the Greeks and the Egyptians. These instruments featured twelve “hour” days and nights. However, the Norse and Saxons based theirs on the ebb and flow of tides. They marked two high and two low tides, which were further divided into halves and quarters for a total of sixteen “hours.”

One major problem with ancient sundials is that they measured “unequal” (“temporary”) “hours.” Summer, which has longer days, produces longer “hours,” than winter. Moreover, the further north (or south) from the Equator, the location of the sundial is, the more pronounced the difference between summer and winter “hours” are.

 In the 1300s, Abu’l-Hasan (Ibn al-Shatir), an Arab Muslim astronomer and religious timekeeper, invented “equal” (“equinoctial”) “hours” based on trigonometry. He reasoned that a gnomon parallel to the Earth’s axis (i.e. polar axis) would produce “equal hours.” “Equal hours” are measured from the passing of the low meridian (12 Midnight) until the next low meridian, and then divided into twenty-four hours. Once sundials were adjusted to the latitude of where they were, they kept accurate time. People, then, used sundials to set mechanical clocks.

 Sundials are divided into two groups – Altitude and Azimuth. The Altitude sundials determine time by the sun’s altitude. These Altitude sundials were either aligned with either the sun or the cardinal directions. Azimuth sundials determine the time from the “hour angle of the sun.” (Azimuth refers to direction of the sun’s angle.) These sundials are oriented by a compass.

 Example of an Altitude sundial is the pole (pillar) dial, which is a pole with a gnomon at the top. Meanwhile Azimuth sundials are often found in gardens. These are the tilted horizontal ones with the gnomon inclined at the latitude of the garden.

 As society became more complex, instruments to tract time in finer increments were invented. Though seemingly simple, sundials are actually intricate devices for keeping time. Because of their importance, people, over the centuries, worked to improve sundials. In fact, sundials were still being used in the 19th Century to set mechanical clocks.

 Works Used:
 Ling Liew Huay and Yee, Lim Siew, “The Mathematics of Sundials,” National University of Singapore, 2001,
 Marie, Niclas, “When Time Began: The History and Science of Sundials,” TimeCenter, 2014, .

 Nordoff, Helena, “Fun in the Sun: A Sundial Tutorial,” 21 August, 2003,

 “Unit 6: Sundials,” Polaris Project, Iowa State University, 2001,
 Ward, John and Margaret Folkard, “Sundials Part 2: Definitions and Basic Types,” Royal New Zealand Institute of Horticulture, 1997,

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lore: Threshold Guardians

Threshold Guardians
Thresholds are
Between places of
Not coming or going.

Crossing Thresholds is
For Transformation

Not all at Thresholds

Some must

But Heroes must
But Guardians must

Guardians have
Sacred duty
Ritual obligation
To keep in and to keep out.
Doors keep
Worlds apart
Before from after
In between secure

Doors have Gods
Janus of Two Heads guards the Out and the In
Cardea of the Door stands firm
Limentius of the Threshold stands firm
Portunus of the Portal holds the key

Each demands
A reason for opening
A reason for closing
An answer

Heroes must
Cross over
But how?
Forculus of the Passage
Guides through
The Threshold

Many Guard
Few enter
Fewer exit
Only One Transforms.

Works Used.
 Goodin, Melinda, “Archetypes in the Hero’s Journey,” Crossing the Threshold, March 2004, web,

Peterson, Deb, “The Archetypes of the Hero’s Journey,” About Education, 2014, web, .

---, “Threshold Guardians,” Television Tropes and Idioms, web,

Vega, Debra, "Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian,” Moon in Gemini, web blog, 5 January 2014,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


A close relative to Komodo Dragon, Goanna lives mainly in Australia and Papua New Guinea. (Goanna is also the Australian name for the Monitor Lizards that live there.) In Australia, She fills the niche of predatory and scavenging Mammals. Not fussy, Goanna makes her home in monsoon woodlands, urban brush lands, and even cemeteries.

Noted for her well-developed limbs and deeply forked tongue that flicker in and out like a Snake's, Goanna is a distinctive looking Lizard. Long and stout, She has a tail that strikes out at her enemies. An active forager, Goanna digs out other Lizards, Insects, and small Mammals to eat.

This fierce looking Lizard is shy and timid but can be quite territorial and agressive when confronted. An excellent tree climber, Goanna will scoot up a tree trunk when danger threatens. Her reckless speed in escaping is legendary among Australians. They joke about scared Goannas racing up people’s legs thinking that they are trees. Australians advise to lie down when Goanna runs at you, and remember get treated for her bite. (It is not poisonous but can cause sickness.)

Among native Australians, Goanna is considered to be lazy. They tell stories of how ingenious Goanna was in climbing trees to get bark to make a canoe for sailing to Australia. However, when industrious Goanna arrived, She became lazy. She stopped farming and started stealing food from Echidna instead.

However, when She is confronted, Goanna races out of danger. Her most noteworthy characteristic is her speed, which serves Goanna well. Like Goanna, we can explore but be prepared to race away when danger threatens.

Goanna’s Teachings Include:
"Curiosity killed the cat but information brought the Goanna back." Goanna is forever looking into what is going on around it. Using its powerful body and legs, it climbs trees and rocks to find out what’s going on over there! Goanna’s tongue flashes back and forth from his mouth, as he tastes the air to find out who’s about. He calmly saunters along poking his nose into all manner of mischief but, forget not, that should Goanna feel the need for speed, there is nothing to see after the dust has cleared. Copyright: “Wisdom of Australian Animals,” Ann Williams-Fitzgerald.

Saturday, September 06, 2014

MONITOR LIZARD SUB-FAMILY: Firing the Imagination

Nile Monitor
Called Goannas in Australia and Leguaans in Africa, Monitor Lizards (Varanidae) are well known to people. Living in urban areas, Monitor Lizards have a long history with the peoples of Africa, Asia, and Australia.   In fact, Ancient Egyptians call Them “Monitors”, since They warned people of the presence of Crocodiles.

Ranging from shy reclusive Goannas to nasty and aggressive Komodo Dragons, Monitor Lizards often fill the niche of predatory and scavenging Mammals. Active foragers, Monitor Lizards will swallow their prey whole. What distinguish this Family of Lizards are their well-developed limbs and forked tongues.

Extremely hardy, Monitor Lizards have aggressive temperaments, a powerful bite, and a lashing tail. At the slightest provocation, They lash out with their tails. Although their tails produce a stinging lash, Monitor Lizards do not lose their tails like other Lizards.
A crocodile monitor lizard
Crocodile Monitor (WhoZoo)
Monitor Lizards have inspired much of people’s mythology such as dragons, which often resemble these Lizards. Because of Monitor Lizards’ aggressive natures, peoples of Borneo put images of Them on their shields to strike dread in the hearts of their opponents. In Thailand during the full moon, some unfortunate people became “were-monitors” prowling about for victims. Ancient Egyptians excluded Monitor Lizards from their after life since They preyed on young Crocodiles, who represented the Egyptians’s beloved god, Sobek. Meanwhile in Australia, stories abound of industrious Goannas inventing bark canoes for traveling.

Monitor Lizards fire people’s imagination. Dragons are their big brothers. Believing Them to be poisonous, People have thought of Monitor Lizards as “were-lizards”. Australians tell stories of how Goannas learned to climb trees to make boats. Let Monitor Lizards feed your imagination. Just remember not to be anti-social and lash out.

Note: Alligator Lizards (Anguids) are close relatives of Monitor Lizards. Scientists think that Snakes are related to Monitor Lizards as well.

Conservation Note: Monitor Lizards are threatened and endangered in part of their range from the pet trade and leather trade. Komodo Dragons are protected in Indonesia.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Building Stonehenge: The Beginning (2 of 2)

 In the 1960’s, when builders were excavating a parking lot near the Stonehenge site, they found four post holes that was believed to hold large pine logs. (These holes are said to be about 10,000 years old.) Ancient peoples traveling the Salisbury Plain would see these posts from miles around. Set east to west, these post holes were considered to be the first evidence of the area’s great importance. 

 Starting about 3100 BCE, the Windmill Hill People took the existing post holes and expanded the site. Using various tools such as deer antlers and digging stones, they dug a ditch and formed a bank, with an opening in the northeast. Call the Great Cursus, this ditch was white from the chalk underneath the grass. Outside this ditch, these people dug fifty-six pits named Aubrey Holes (after their discoverer James Aubrey). In these holes, archeologists have found cremated remains of people. One theory is that the Windmill Hill People was commemorating their Dead and their Ancestors.

 Many people have assumed that the Aubrey Holes had an astronomical use. Following the phases of the moon has been important to peoples in ancient times. One theory is that these holes marked lunar eclipses. Another theory is that the Windmill Hill People were marking particular phases of the moon. Other archeologists have noticed that the Aubrey Holes were aligned north-east and south-west. These holes then lined up with the sun at the solstices and equinoxes. This has lead to another working theory that the Aubrey holes are a calendar of equinoxes, solstices, lunar eclipses, and solar events. The underlying assumption to this theory is that many early peoples followed lunar-solar cycles for practical and religious reasons.

From the beginning of Stonehenge, numerous ancient peoples have added their particular visions to the site. Each succeeding generation built on the previous one’s efforts. We modern people will never know what the original purpose to Stonehenge was, but we can stand in awe of these early peoples who built it. Whatever Stonehenge was originally intended to be, it became a monument to the vision and tenacity of the Ancestors of Europe.
Works Used:
Aveni, Anthony, “People and the Sky,” Thames & Hudson: N.Y, 2008.

 Bradshaw Foundation, “Stonehenge: The Age of the Megaliths,” 2011,, .

 M, Richard, “Stonehenge,” MEgALiThiA, 06 Jan. 2006,, .

 Magli, Giulio, “Mysteries and Discoveries of Archaeoastronomy,” Copernicus Books: N.Y., 2009.

 Richards, Colin, “Rethinking the Great Stone Circles of Northwest Britain,” Orkney Archaelogical Trust, 2004,, .

 Smagala, Suzzanne, “Stonehenge,” August 2007,, .

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Building Stonehenge, the Beginning (1 of 2)

During the Neolithic Period (5000 – 1000 BCE), along the Atlantic coast of Europe and in the British Isles, local peoples built and maintained great stone circles and megaliths. This activity started about 5000 BCE and continued on to about 2500 BCE. One of the last monuments to be built, Stonehenge was constructed in three distinct phases over a 1,500 year period, starting in 3000 BCE. The process of building this monument included digging large ditches as well as erecting the more famous stones. In the case of Stonehenge, three different cultures added their particular refinements to this monument.

When discussing Stonehenge, people often forget to place this monument in a greater cultural context. Nearby Stonehenge is a similar stone monument at Avebury, which was built around 2500 BCE. Meanwhile, there are signs of a similar circle at Durrington Walls, which was believed to be built before Avebury.  These megaliths, built by Neolithic peoples, had multiple uses. The purposes that archeologists believed that Stonehenge was used for included: worshipping the Ancestors, watching the heavens, and marking the cycles of the sun and other astronomical occurrences.

The building of Stonehenge can be regarded in the same light as the building of a Gothic cathedral. From the beginning of the project, the entire community is dedicated to seeing the building finished. Everyone involved understood that this construction project would take several generations to complete. Therefore, the entire community dedicated themselves to the process, and organized themselves accordingly. Some people regarded it as a fulfilling of their religious duties, while for others it was their community obligations. Though the specific vision may have been altered through the years, the newer residents of the community resolved to finish the original project.

The first group to shape Stonehenge into what we know today was the Windmill Hill People. Thought to be semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers, these people also grew some crops. What archeologists noted about these people was their propensity to orient their burials and monuments in the east-west axis. These directions were important to them, perhaps because of the rising and setting of the sun.

Saturday, August 23, 2014


Native to Asia and the Congo Region of Africa, Peacock (Blue Peafowl) is a relative of the Pheasants. (The difference between the Two is their plumage–red and gold for Pheasants, green and blue for Peafowls.) As India’s National Bird, Peacock (AKA Male Blue Peafowl) is known the world over for his bright train of feathers. Because of this, Peacock has been introduced to other places, starting in Mesopotamia about 4,000 years ago.

Displaying his train is part of Peacock’s courtship with the Peahens. The longer his train, the more impressed will Peahen be. Unlike her male counterpart, Peahen is chestnut brown and bronze green but has the same crest as Peacock.

Blue Peafowl are Birds of habit, eating and sleeping in the same area all their lives. Peacock even displays his train in the same chosen place. During the day, Blue Peafowl sit in thickets. At dusk, They return to the same watering hole before roosting for the night. As They go to their tree roosts, Blue Peafowl screech to each other.

Known for their screeching, Blue Peafowl hoot loud alarm calls when They see a Tiger. During the monsoon season in India, people hear loud meowing calls from Blue Peafowl. Indians claim that Blue Peafowl are predicting the next rainstorm with their calls.

Blue Peafowl teaches the love of home. They emerge from their area of the dense forest in early dawn to feed at their regular spot and find water. Then They go about feeding on Insects or Mice. At dusk, They return home. To Blue Peafowl, there is something comforting about being a homebody. (Just remember to have a little adventure in your life once in a while.)
Male Peafowl are Peacocks; Females Peahens; Chicks Peachicks.