Universiteit Leiden

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From Stone Age to Space Age

  • Discussing Common Grounds in Archaeology & Astronomy
Wednesday 24 February 2016 - Friday 26 February 2016
Van Steenis
Einsteinweg 2
2333 CC Leiden

Archaeology and Astronomy have fascinated societies through many ages. Both disciplines address fundamental research questions about human life. In recent studies on science and society, space sciences and archaeology rank as some of the most popular topics; represented only by a fraction of all research, both subjects punch way above their weight in the field of public awareness. Of the many interdisciplinary research projects, the Archaeology and Astronomy interconnect the philosophical questions we ask in Humanities with physical studies that the Natural Sciences can provide. Researchers in both fields use similar research techniques, e.g. image processing, pattern recognition, and big data techniques, to answer the big questions, which can be reduced to questions like: Where are we from? Where are we going? The cosmos has captivated the imagination of civilisations throughout the ages. The desire to understand or interpret the sky is often reflected in societal and other cultural representations and represented by built heritage, such as stone circles and observatories. The importance of the sky in human heritage was recognised by UNESCO when it established its Astronomy and World Heritage Thematic Initiative in 2003.

With Leiden University’s long tradition in both fields, the time has come for a closer collaboration between the two departments to discuss the many questions that connect humans around the globe. The seminar shall serve as a platform to exchange scientific research and teaching methodologies, astronomical heritage, the outcome of successful awareness programmes, participation of the public through different projects, and exhibitions. The recent move of the Faculty of Archaeology to the van Steenis Building, now closer to the Faculty of Science, presents the potential to form closer ties regarding common research interests. The seminar intends to start a joined discussion and lecture forum which will provide the base for a more permanent relationship between archaeology, astronomy and other humanities specialisations (such as Mediaeval Europe, Asian studies etc.) that have a common denominator, with regular seminars to discuss potential collaborations e.g. joined research proposals of the different disciplines.

Expected outcomes

  • Identify connections and potential research areas between the two fields 
  • Build a common platform between astronomy/space and archaeology and other interdisciplinary fields at Leiden University
  • Possibilities to publish presented papers in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage
  • Draft a long-term vision document for potential collaborations, in research, teaching and grant proposals.

Common grounds in archaeology & astronomy

The workshop’s main goal is to start an open discourse on cooperation between researchers of the two institutes. For this reason, the Topics of the workshop will be broad, covering the whole range of potential interaction. The topics are:

  1. Science and Technology,
  2. Education and Public Outreach,
  3. Astronomical Heritage and
  4. Academic Teaching

to discuss common grounds in subjects taught at the departments.

The Common Areas are ideas for specific overlapping issues in which common ground can be found between the disciplines, but are non-exclusive. Particular research techniques (e.g.: remote sensing, image analysis, data mining) are cross-disciplinary in approach and methodology.

The physics and engineering expertise of many space scientists and the  technical advances in these fields can spike new ideas on how to target problems in archaeology, and may be particularly interesting to the upcoming Master in Archaeological Computing. Similarly, Archaeologists’ study of past cultures and their astronomical heritage gives students an idea of the advances of astronomy and the understanding of the universe through history. In outreach and public education the two departments could well work closer together as comprehensive philosophical questions to, e.g. origin and global citizenship, searching their answers in both disciplines.

Common Areas




Remote Sensing

Science & Technology

Identification, analysis and monitoring of landscapes through various electromagnetic frequencies (visible, radio, infrared)

Geomorphology of planetary surfaces, other solar systems and galaxies in a variety of electromagnetic frequencies

Image Processing

Science & Technology

Photogrammetry and multispectral data analysis to identify “anomalies”

Software tools developed to process large data sets and identify “anomalies”

Mass spectrometers

Science & Technology

Isotope analysis for provenance studies and dating methods

Isotope analysis through Remote MS on board of space crafts

“Big Data”

Science & Technology

Data mining techniques for DNA and networks, GIS data sets.

Data mining techniques to exploit existing data archives

In-situ measurements

Science & Technology

Soil studies and analysis of archaeological finds by archaeometric and geophysical means.

Surface and atmospheric studies of the Moon, Mars, Titan and Comet 67P/Churyumov–Gerasimenko), using geophysical and electromagnetic techniques.

Global Citizenship

Education And Public Outreach

The understanding of different cultures, their connection and influence through contemporary global interaction and their knowledge of the universe in the past and today to help broaden the mind and stimulate a sense of global citizenship.

Involvement of Citizen Researchers

Education And Public Outreach

Several initiatives engage citizen in the archaeology, such as “desktop archaeologist” (e.g. Google Earth, www.ancientlives.org) as well as on site.

Astronomy has been working with non-expert citizens (e.g. amateur astronomers) or citizen-science programmes (e.g. GalaxyZoo.)

Material Heritage

Astronomical Heritage

UNESCO World Heritage Programme  & the International Astronomical Union:  Astronomy & World Heritage Initiative, including archaeoastronomical research

Intangible Heritage

Astronomical Heritage

Study of Indigenous and Ancient Knowledge Systems of the Universe.

Calculation of past night skies to verify potential astronomical observatories and historic events.

Historic Events

Academic Teaching

Identify common interests that transformed the history of both disciplines that may  both bachelor and master programs

History & Philosophy of Science

Academic Teaching

Identify common denominators that transformed the philosophy, methodology of both disciplines could interest students in both bachelor and master programs

Research Communication

Academic Teaching

Strengthen the outreach of the university disciplines by discussing the various approaches to address the public in both disciplines.

Terminology & Methodology

Academic Teaching

Similarities and disparities in the curriculum, methodologies and scientific language in research, teaching and outreach.


Keynote Speakers

Juan Antonio Belmonte

Dr. Juan Antonio Belmonte is an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Tenerife, Spain) where he has lectured history of astronomy and archaeoastronomy and investigates in exoplanets, stellar physics and cultural astronomy. He has published or edited a dozen books and authored nearly 200 publications on those subjects.



Francesca Cigna

Dr. Francesca Cigna holds a PhD in Earth Sciences and Remote Sensing, an MEng and BEng in Environment and Territory Engineering, and works as Senior Remote Sensing Geoscientist at the British Geological Survey (BGS), Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in the United Kingdom. She is BGS lead radar image acquisition and processing expert, specialised in using radar interferometry (InSAR) and change detection methods to map geological hazards and landscape changes.



Dirk van Delft

Dr. Dirk van Delft is the Director of Museum Boerhaave, the Dutch National Museum for the History of Science and Medicine, and associate professor of History of Sciences at Leiden Observatory.




Fred Spier

Dr. Fred Spier is Senior Lecturer in Big History at the University of Amsterdam. He has organized and taught the annual 'Big History Course' at the University of Amsterdam since 1994; the annual 'Big History Lecture Series' at Eindhoven University of Technology since 2003; and the 'Big History Course' at Amsterdam University College since 2009.



Mathieu Isidro

Mathieu Isidro is Deputy Communications Manager for the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) – the world’s largest radio telescope due to start operating in 2020. In his capacity, Mathieu deals with science communication, outreach and education initiatives developed by the SKA in collaboration with partners around the world, including Shared Sky, the SKA’s indigenous astronomy art exhibition. Working in astronomy outreach and having experienced the native cultures of the Pacific, Australia, South Africa and Chile, Mathieu has a keen interest in astronomy and its relationship with indigenous art.

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