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Politecnico di Milano


Politecnico di Milano via Coursera


Archaeoastronomy is the “science of stars and stones”. It is an interdisciplinary science in between architecture, archaeology, and astronomy. It studies the relationships between the ancient monuments and the sky, in order to gain a better understanding of the ideas of the architects of the past and of their religious and symbolic world. The course provides the first complete, easy introduction to this fascinating discipline.
During the course, many spectacular ancient sites of archaeology – such as Stonehenge in England, Giza and Karnak in Egypt, Chichen Itzá in the Yucatan, Macchu Picchu in Peru and the Pantheon in Rome – will be visited and the fascinating events occurring there in special days of the year (such as solstices, equinoxes, or the day of the foundation of Rome) will be shown and explained. The course also provides the necessary background on Astronomy with the naked eye and a general introduction to the role of Astronomy in religion and in the management of power among ancient cultures.


  • Week 1
    • In this week we shall learn the basic tools which are needed for studying Archaeoastronomy. Essentially, this means learning Astronomy with the naked eye, since the ancients did not have telescopes, and becoming acquainted with a simple instrument - the magnetic compass - and amazing softwares: virtual globes and digital planetariums.
  • Week 2
    • The core of the course: understanding how astronomy, religion, and the management of power were connected in ancient cultures, and the way in which these connections are reflected in architecture and landscape since the Neolithic. At the end of the week we shall thus visit the places where Archaeoastronomy was born: Stonehenge and Newgrange.
  • Week 3
    • An archaeoastronomical tour in a wonderful land: Egypt of the Pharaohs. We shall visit Khufu's (Cheops) Great Pyramid and assist to the spectacular hierophany which occurs every year at Giza at the summer solstice. Then, we shall move to the huge temple of Karnak at the winter solstice, to finally encounter the "heretic" king Akhenaten and the astronomy-related project of his new capital.
  • Week 4
    • An introduction to pre-Columbian Archaeoastronomy, with key topics such as the Maya Calendar, the role of astronomy in Maya architecture, and the sacred space of the Incas at Cusco and Macchu Picchu.
  • Week 5
    • An archaeo-astronomical visit to fascinating places of ancient Asia: the Xian area, with the Terracotta Warriors and the pyramids of the Chinese Emperors of the Han Dynasty, and Angkor (Cambodia) with Angkor Wat and the other state-temples of the Khmer Kings.
  • Week 6
    • A fascinating travel in Greek and Roman Italy, in search of astronomy in the project of some of the masterpieces of the classical age, from the Greek temples of Sicily to the Pantheon in Rome.
  • Astronomy insights
    • Archaeoastronomy is not only "speaking about the Sun and the other stars". Interest in the cumbersome, apparent motion of the Moon and in the alternating behaviour of Venus as morning star/evening star is also present in ancient architecture, for instance in the Americas. This section provides the tools needed to investigate in such cases, as well as insights on the physical effects affecting measures in Archaeoastronomy.

Taught by

Giulio Magli


4.7 rating, based on 6 Class Central reviews

4.5 rating at Coursera based on 1225 ratings

Start your review of Archaeoastronomy

  • Sylvia Amar completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be very easy.

    It's a short (7 hours), but very interesting course about the relationships between the astronomy and the ancients monuments around all the word. We can learn about hierophanies, mayas, ancients egyptians, celts and roman monuments.
  • Kristina Šekrst completed this course and found the course difficulty to be easy.

    This is a nice and short course, giving you an overview of what the ancient people thought about the skies, and what kind of connections they had. You'll learn about hierophany, ways of building so that it is a certain manifestation of sacred, for example, sun rays will penetrate the building once a year only and lighten up something. There will be talk about Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, Mayas, Inkas etc., and historical events will be described. It is not a thorough course, but it gives a nice motivation for further research. I'd like to see possible sequels with specific topics, such as Egyptian archaeoastronomy, Mayan archaeoastronomy etc. - I'm sure I'd learn a lot.
  • Melissa R

    Melissa R completed this course, spending 1 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    This was a very good introductory course with great photos on the videos. The first week might be a little technical, but it's very important to pay attention, and find other resources if needed, in order to be able to answer all the quizzes. The following weeks were really fun as they covered many archaeological sites all over the world.

    This course is also available in the university's MOOC portal (POK POLIMI), but the one in Coursera has an additional week about various celestial bodies other than the sun. I really enjoyed this course.
  • Anonymous

    Anonymous is taking this course right now.

    It's amazing and increase my knowledge day by day... These online classes are very useful for us .. thanks to these owner able person who teaches us. I hope I will able to complete the course.
  • Nicole Fares completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    Fun interdisciplinary look at the combination of archeology and astronomy and the much overlooked interconnectedness of the two. Fantastic correlations to our earliest historical landmarks and their relationship to the stars. Fun and interesting from an inspiring instructor who makes the topic sound even more real.
  • John Quincy completed this course, spending 2 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    I feel this is one of the best courses I've taken in the MOOC format. My sincere thanks to those responsible for organizing and presenting this course. I did enjoy taking it.

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