The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy

Rated 3 out of 5 by from It wasn't what I was expecting It wasn't what I was expecting--------------------
Date published: 2019-07-12
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course This is a great course if you like history the way I do. It covers ancient beliefs and explains away some myths about ancient beliefs. It also cover the progression of from ancient beliefs to start of modern astronomy. I really enjoyed it.
Date published: 2019-06-23
Rated 1 out of 5 by from The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy Clearly not up to the quality of Teaching Company greats such as Philip Cary, William Kloss and Michael Starbird. The staging was glitzy, the presentation style of the professor was unpleasant and the course seemed to be stuck on denouncing the evil popularizers of ancient astronomy. Providing viewers with an understanding of the basic celestial mechanics that ancient astronomers must have understood would have been good starting point.
Date published: 2019-05-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Extremely welldone Very interesting as well as informative. I have gone through much of it twice nad will review it again in the future
Date published: 2019-05-03
Rated 5 out of 5 by from exceeded my expectations I was amazed to learn how far the ancients had gone in the observation and analysis of astronomical phenomena. Also I had no idea of the diversity of the various calendars used by the various ancient cultures. The explanation of the concepts involved were easy to follow thanks to the excellent presentation and graphics.
Date published: 2019-04-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I found this course to be mildly interesting, it would be more so if I were a history buff. If the student is studying ancient history, related topics in ancient astronomy, and the ancient world in general, this course is for you. If you are studying current topics in astronomy you also might find this course useful. It can be a useful companion piece to other courses offered by the Teaching Company such as A Visual Guide to the Universe, and Our Night Sky. misconceptions.
Date published: 2019-02-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Excellent intro & Reference A great book. More interesting than I thought it would be. Excited to finish the book so that I can apply it to my astronomy knowledge base.
Date published: 2018-12-28
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Condescending This lecture series could be mostly summed up with “Silly ancients, so superstitious” with some “Silly moderns, still superstitious” thrown in from time to time. The lecturer does allow the Greek natural philosophers some credit for their work, but points out they were all wrong anyway once he covers the discoveries of the renaissance. I imagine the lecturer has gotten tired of some of the more out-there ideas about ancient astronomy that circle the internet but when the course is titled “The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy” I would think that some recognition of the work done was in order no matter how misguided the reasoning behind it was considered. The final lecture was the first time the lecturer show any signs of acknowledging the remarkableness that the course was supposed to be about. However, if you can get past the condescension there are some very interesting pieces of information to be gleaned that make it mostly worth it – just make sure you buy it on sale.
Date published: 2018-11-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great course I have now taken 3 great courses from this company. I rank this course tied for second, with Prof. Leo Damrosch's "Gibbons' Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire." Prof. Bradley Schaeffer gives a very wide ranging, world-class presentation, with special emphasis on the Greeks, late in the course.. I can't think of anything not to like. You might feel a bit bogged down by some of the first dozen lectures (maybe) but when he gets to the Greeks and Europeans he really shines. He also covers the early astronomy,( actually mostly astrology), of China, the Mayans, the early Brits, the Australian Aborigines, the Hindus, and the Middle East, the Europeans, and the Polynesians as well, so every episode brings something different and he proceeds at a fast pace. He also puts extra emphasis on a new book's interpretation of the Bible's "Star In the East" seen by the 3 wise men.
Date published: 2018-11-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good content and reasonably good presentation I hesitated about buying this lecture series because a couple of other reviews said the instructor's presentation was bad. I disagree. He's no master showman, but his presentation is perfectly all right. The subject is interesting but not terribly visual, so he mostly has to stand and talk. That's not easy to do without seeming a little dry. If you're interested in the content and don't need lots of gee-whiz graphical entertainment to hold your attention, this is a fine lecture series. I recommend it.
Date published: 2018-04-21
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Save your money Notwithstanding the title of this course, there is very little "science" and lots of supposition and speculation. Given the subject matter, I guess that is to be expected. But the presentation is sorely lacking, as Prof. Schaeffer has TERRIBLE cadence; he struggles with reading the teleprompter in a conversational manner, and often adds phrases and clauses after he has already ended a sentence (or so a listener would assume). Plus, the ONLY correct pronunciation of the word "height" is "hite," not "hithe" -- there is only one "h," and it is at the beginning, not the end.
Date published: 2018-04-01
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I am a history buff and lately have moved more into astronomy courses. This is my 3rd one. Also when we travel we try to visit observatories around the country. This helps my understanding of the wonders of the universe. Also, it gives insights into the development of "science" over the centuries.
Date published: 2018-03-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ancient Astronomy -- Great Course I must admit I am biased -- Ancient astronomy is one of my favorite subjects and this one did not let me down. Professor did a fine job.
Date published: 2018-02-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from interesting topics enjoying the content but find the lecturer annoying.
Date published: 2018-02-06
Rated 2 out of 5 by from Archaeoastronomy - NOT! In a word - disappointing. I chose this course based on a lifelong interest in astronomy and his mentions of archaeoastronomy by Professor Edwin Barnhart in his GC Lost Worlds of South America and Maya to Aztec: Ancient Mesoamerica Revealed courses. But, I quickly discovered I got tricked by the course description in the catalog (and, admittedly, the courses 'giveaway' price which I now understand). I concur with BGZRedux that this course might be better titled How The Ancient WESTERN World Saw the Stars. Or, better yet, Astrohistory of Ancient Mesopotamia and the Eastern Mediterranean. It's certainly not a world view. Just as problematic for me was the mish-mash nature of the presentation. I'm the proud owner of over thirty GC DVD courses focused primarily on ancient history. Only once despite a variety of 'unique' presentation styles and approaches have I returned a course for 'unwatchability'; this was a close call on that count. Two of my basic criteria are that each lecture should, at least, address the subject of its title and NOT subject me to more repetition than necessary to provide a transition from the previous lecture. This course fails on both counts. Then, there is Professor Schaefer himself. I get that he's a recognized history of astronomy expert. I also now get that he's NOT an ancient historian (one example - calling the Lydians and the Medes (he calls them 'Medees') Greeks). He's also a very difficult to watch, perpatetic speaker/presenter with distracting gestures, too many mispronunciations, and a seeming inability to read back words that he, presumably, wrote with the proper inflection and pacing from a teleprompter. Additionally - as noted by other reviewers - he assumes too much innate knowledge of his audience regarding technical terms and references such as to the pin-and-slot gear. At times, he's bewilderingly technical and at others almost insultingly simplistic. In the interest of fairness, I have to give Professor Schaefer credit for the most comprehensive explanation of the Antikythera Mechanism I've ever heard and for enlightening me on the importance of astrology to the ancients. Would that there'd been more to praise. Pretty hard to believe that neither the Chinese, Mayans, Asian Indians, or Aztecs didn't merit more than about five minutes mention in only two of the lectures. Far less than Professor Schaefer allotted to pat himself on the back for his own research.
Date published: 2018-01-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course for learning what amazing things the "ancients" knew about astronomy. I had often wondered how they obtained their knowledge, and this course helped to show me. Excellent professor, as usual for The Great Courses!
Date published: 2018-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Nice general introduction I bought this a couple of weeks ago. I am most of the way through and have enjoyed the course. The instructor does a good job making complicated, and sometimes convoluted clear. He separates good science from bad and explains the differences. I enjoyed hearing him talk about his own research, as well. I especially appreciated his visuals. I've taken several of these courses and sometimes I feel there are not enough visual aids or that the aids were more like illustrations than actual teaching tools. That was not the case with these.
Date published: 2017-12-06
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good title I enjoy history so this fit the bill. I am an amateur star gazer and this was everything I hoped it to be.
Date published: 2017-11-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Truly Remarkable I came to this course with little knowledge of astronomy, let alone how it developed in the ancient world. Professor Schaefer does an excellent job in making the advances easily understandable. I am impressed with his fine and measured delivery and the many graphics and illustrations he employs. While this course takes in a considerable time-period and geographical extent, I especially appreciate Professor Schaefer’s discussion of astronomy’s relationship to astrology, the lectures on the Christian Star of Bethlehem and the Islamic calendar, and astronomical developments in non-Western settings. Most of all, however, I came away with an even greater appreciation of the Greeks’ achievement. An example is that though I had been familiar with the name of Ptolemy, until this course I had only a hazy idea about his significance. Now I know a great deal more, not only about his preeminence, but also about several other very significant ancient Greek astronomers. Even more fascinating are Professor Schaefer’s two lectures on the ancient Greeks’ Antikythera mechanism. This is an analogue computer that could predict astronomical positions, eclipses, etc., the “…highest pinnacle of ancient astronomy” (Course Guidebook, Page 184), and which has come to be better understood in only in recent years through such advances as X-Ray Tomography. For one who has a keen interest in ancient Greece, this course deepens my understanding and appreciation. While one might assume that these lectures about astronomy in the ancient world are just so much dead and gone ancient history, Professor Schaefer ends the course showing how the transition to modern astronomy took place, and how the observations of ancient astronomers contributed to modern astrophysics. This makes a very interesting and informative course. The 266-page course guide is one of the best I have seen thus far in all the TC courses I have taken. The lecture summaries are great and include many illustrations from the video, a list of constellations, a timeline, and an extensive annotated bibliography
Date published: 2017-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Fills in Gaps I teach introductory astronomy at the university level. This course fills in many gaps in the history of astronomy left out of modern astronomy textbooks. I greatly appreciate the depth to which these lectures went into the subject. I think it is important to know how our current understanding came about. This course does just that. It will help me teach my astronomy course in the future.
Date published: 2017-10-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very enjoyable!!! This course is very educational, professionally done and I am thoroughly enjoying it!
Date published: 2017-08-23
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Unusual content, visually disappointing I recommend this course for those interested in the ancient world, calendars, the New Testament, Hajj, astrology, astronomy, or history of science. The content is unusual, sound and informative. It explodes common misconceptions. Like many Teaching Company courses, however, this one is tedious visually. It simulates a classroom (not a great idea in itself) and focuses the camera much too often, and much too long, on the professor who is reading from a teleprompter system while trying to make the hands move right. It's unnatural. I would much prefer to watch slides and film clips while listening to smart narration. The professor should be seen briefly, perhaps at transition points in the lecture as well as in the introduction and summation. Specialists in classroom visuals should be consulted to refresh the presentation style. However, one must appreciate the value for the cost. The Teaching Company brings courses rich in content to market at bargain prices.
Date published: 2017-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Information I'm not through all the discs yet, but am enjoying learning all this new information!
Date published: 2017-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good Historical Review A good review of a topic which is of interest to most astronomy "fans".
Date published: 2017-07-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Parts of this course were very interesting but the discussion of some of the technical details - on the astrolabe, and some of the astronomical models could have used some more graphics to make it clearer how these were supposed to work.
Date published: 2017-06-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from good but slanted overview I am a professional astronomer. I would say that this course is a good overview of many of the important topics in ancient astronomy, including navigation, calendars, alignments with the solstices (at Stonehenge and other places, and the theory he presents about Stonehenge is up-to-date), etc.. Schaefer's delivery is sometimes stilted, but it's fine once you get used to him, and he even gets in a few good jokes and annecdotes (love the story about the Red River meteorite). The visualizations done by the Teaching Company are generally very good and illustrative. I haven't looked at the course guide yet. I think the greatest value added in this course is hearing about Schaefer's practical naked eye tests of ancient astronomy, such as testing the visibility of constellations described in MUL.APIN or coming up with a model for the young crescent moon visibility. Real world tests like this are extremely valuable in archeology, and not many have been done in archeoastronomy by someone with chops in science and statistics like this. Indeed, I would have liked to have seen more evidence for some of theories he supports or dismisses (such as the Kate Spence Pyramids dating) without much comment. However, Schaefer's bias as a Christian is apparent when he talks about attempting to date the crucifixion or in his full lecture on the Michael Molnar astrological explanation for the Star of Bethlehem (which is *not* the most widely accepted explanation for the story). If this is the right explanation, then this would seem to provide strong evidence that astrology works! The Chaldeans saw the signs for the birth of a great king in Judeah, headed out, and they found Jesus! So either astrology works, or that was a meaningless coincidence, included in Matthew because... ? (For a better SOB explanation, I recommend the new book by Aaron Michael Adair.)
Date published: 2017-06-22
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story teller This is basically a history course telling how astronomy evolved from its earliest days. Dr. Schaeffer does a sterling job. He gives an update (2012) on the research of the Antikythera Mechanism plus he devotes 2 whole lectures to it which was the high point for me.
Date published: 2017-06-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Arcchioastronomy Thrilled to have the opportunity to learn this way.
Date published: 2017-06-12
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Good Intro to Ancient Astronomy This is a fine general introduction to the topic, though you may already be familiar with much of this material if you watch science and history shows on TV. Dr. Schaefer misses no opportunity to disparage astrology, which I'll admit made me flinch. I did post-graduate research in South Asian culture, and was actually astonished at the sophistication of ancient Indian astrological traditions, for example how myths are used to code astronomical information (each Vedic deity is associated with a particular star, such as Vishnu with Altair). In Hindu cosmology, sidereal astrology makes a certain amount of sense as all events in time and space are bound together in consciousness. I learned to be less quick to mock non-Western traditions, and to be more to respectful of the perspectives of other cultures.
Date published: 2017-05-27
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Obvious questions left unaddressed I'm only through the first disk but there are some major issues that I'm surprised were not discussed. The lesson on the astronomy of the great pyramids did not discuss the alignment of pyramids with those in Orion's belt, which is discussed at length in nearly all Discovery Channel-type shows. There is also a huge block of evidence the pyramids were built over 12,000 years ago and celestial evidence is used as the proof - this discussion was also conspicuously absent. Perhaps the rest of the lessons will be more enjoyable but so far it feels like the book "The Golden Ratio" which basically says we modern people are smart and those old people didn't know much.
Date published: 2017-05-19
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The Remarkable Science of Ancient Astronomy
Course Trailer
Stonehenge and Archaeoastronomy
1: Stonehenge and Archaeoastronomy

Why were the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars so important to ancient people? Investigate key astronomical directions noticed by all cultures. Then embark on your study of Stonehenge, seeing how it gave birth to the field of archaeoastronomy and to some very curious modern theories....

31 min
The Real Stonehenge
2: The Real Stonehenge

In the popular mind, Stonehenge was built as a sophisticated astronomical calculator presided over by priestly astronomers called Druids. But is this view dating from the mid-1960s correct? Address the evidence, and survey the archaeological record to discover the most probable function of Stonehenge....

30 min
Alignments at Maes Howe and Newgrange
3: Alignments at Maes Howe and Newgrange

Explore Neolithic tombs and monuments across Europe, discovering an array of alignments toward astronomical events. Start with two sites that are similar to Stonehenge in their clear orientation to the winter solstice: Maes Howe in the Orkney Islands, and Newgrange in Ireland....

29 min
Astronomy of Egypt's Great Pyramid
4: Astronomy of Egypt's Great Pyramid

Study the astronomical significance of Egypt's Great Pyramid. How did its builders achieve such phenomenal accuracy in the pyramid's alignment to the cardinal directions? Were its air shafts intended to point at stars of special importance? Also evaluate modern claims for the mystical power of pyramids....

29 min
Chaco Canyon and Anasazi Astronomy
5: Chaco Canyon and Anasazi Astronomy

Travel to Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, where the Anasazi culture practiced sky-centered rituals a thousand years ago. Look for evidence of their astronomical knowledge, examine their many "sun daggers," and probe the controversial pictograph thought to depict the Crab Nebula supernova explosion in 1054 AD....

28 min
Ancient Cosmologies and Worldviews
6: Ancient Cosmologies and Worldviews

Consider the astronomy-based world views of different ancient cultures and how they answered the three big questions: Where did the world come from? What is the nature of the universe? What is its fate? Survey the beliefs of the Greeks, Chinese, Australian aborigines, and other groups, seeking common elements....

29 min
Meteorite Worship and Start of the Iron Age
7: Meteorite Worship and Start of the Iron Age

Witnessing a meteor fall must have been a strange and awe-inspiring experience for people long ago. Travel around the world to places where meteorites were worshiped and also used as a source of iron, which was rarer than gold before the smelting technology of the Iron Age....

30 min
Eclipses, Comets, and Omens
8: Eclipses, Comets, and Omens

Since no human can touch the sky, any unexpected celestial event must be a divine omen. Reenter this primordial state of mind, seeing eclipses and comets the way they were perceived before the advent of modern science. In the course of this investigation, discover why comets became more feared than eclipses....

29 min
The Star of Bethlehem
9: The Star of Bethlehem

For centuries, astronomers have struggled to find an explanation for the Star of Bethlehem, recounted in the Gospel of Matthew. Professor Schaefer focuses on a recent theory that has taken scientists and biblical scholars by surprise, due to its success at solving problems that plagued all previous proposals....

29 min
Origins of Western Constellations
10: Origins of Western Constellations

The human propensity for pattern recognition and storytelling has led every culture to invent constellations. Trace the birth of the star groups known in the West, many of which originated in ancient Mesopotamia. At least one constellation is almost certainly more than 14,000 years old and may be humanity's oldest surviving creative work....

32 min
Chinese and Other Non-Western Constellations
11: Chinese and Other Non-Western Constellations

Study the constellation patterns of ancient China, which influenced those of India and Arabia. Professor Schaefer dates the origin of the Chinese star groups called lunar lodges, and he samples southern constellations conceived by cultures in South America, and Australia....

30 min
Origins and Influence of Astrology
12: Origins and Influence of Astrology

Astrology grew up hand in hand with astronomy. Focus on the different astrological traditions in Mesopotamia, China, India, and Mexico. Also trace the spread of astrology through the Mediterranean world. As an example, study the auspicious horoscope of Octavian, who became Emperor Augustus....

31 min
Tracking Planet Positions and Conjunctions
13: Tracking Planet Positions and Conjunctions

Until the invention of the telescope in 1610, astronomy was mostly the study of the sky positions of the Sun, Moon, and planets. Learn the extraordinary precision attained by ancient astronomers in their observations. Discover why they prized this knowledge, and also uncover a lost great discovery of the Babylonians....

31 min
Ancient Timekeeping and Calendars
14: Ancient Timekeeping and Calendars

For ancient people, keeping track of the time of day and year required a detailed understanding of the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars. See how different cultures solved this problem. Also learn how to use a handy astronomical measuring device called the astrolabe....

31 min
The Lunar Crescent and the Islamic Calendar
15: The Lunar Crescent and the Islamic Calendar

Delve into the surprisingly tricky problem of deciding when a lunar month begins-usually determined by the first sighting of a crescent Moon after new Moon. Professor Schaefer describes his algorithm for calculating this event and then applies it to dating the crucifixion of Jesus....

29 min
Ancient Navigation: Polynesian to Viking
16: Ancient Navigation: Polynesian to Viking

In the era before compasses and GPS, precise direction-finding was possible only through knowledge of the sky. Learn how the Polynesians found islands across thousands of miles of open ocean, and how the Vikings solved the very different challenge of navigating the North Atlantic....

29 min
Breakthroughs of Early Greek Astronomy
17: Breakthroughs of Early Greek Astronomy

Between 600 and 200 BC, Greek astronomers went from being flat-Earthers to full proto-scientists with reasonable models and distances for the Solar System. How and why did this revolution happen? Focus on the achievements of Thales, Aristarchus, Eratosthenes, and Aristotle....

31 min
The Genius of Hipparchus
18: The Genius of Hipparchus

Considered the greatest astronomer of the ancient world, Hipparchus created a thousand-star catalog and discovered precession, the eons-slow rotation of the fixed stars around the ecliptic. Did this remarkable discovery give birth to the Mithraic religion, which rivaled Christianity?...

31 min
Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism
19: Revealing the Antikythera Mechanism

In 1901, divers off a Greek island discovered a corroded bronze artifact composed of interlocking gears. Later analysis and X-ray imaging show it is an astonishingly versatile astronomical computer. Professor Schaefer identifies a probable date when it was built and two likely candidates for its brilliant designer....

29 min
How the Antikythera Mechanism Worked
20: How the Antikythera Mechanism Worked

Learn to operate the Antikythera mechanism, the glory of ancient astronomy. Modern models show how a simple turn of the crank could reveal the day of the year, phase of the Moon, possible eclipse dates, the cycles of ancient games, and other information. Probe the historical impact of this device....

28 min
Achievements and Legacy of Ptolemy
21: Achievements and Legacy of Ptolemy

Ptolemy has been called the greatest astronomer of antiquity. But was he? Evaluate his reputation by focusing on his star catalog, celestial coordinate system, and magnitude scale. Then gauge the extent of his influence over later astronomers, which lasted over a thousand years....

30 min
Star Catalogs from around the World
22: Star Catalogs from around the World

The genius of Greek astronomy is epitomized by the star catalogs of Hipparchus and Ptolemy. Professor Schaefer recounts his exciting discovery of a star chart apparently influenced by Hipparchus's lost catalog. Close by comparing Greek star catalogs with those of China and the Arab world....

30 min
How Ancient Astronomy Ended
23: How Ancient Astronomy Ended

Review the state of astronomy in 1500. Then chart the revolution sparked by Copernicus's heliocentric theory of the Sun and planets. Learn how Copernicus was the last of the ancient astronomers, succeeded by the founders of modern science, including Tycho, Kepler, and Galileo....

30 min
Ancient Astronomy and Modern Astrophysics
24: Ancient Astronomy and Modern Astrophysics

Finish the course by seeing how ancient records of eclipses and supernova explosions have refined our modern understanding of Earth-Moon dynamics and stellar processes-proving that today's cutting-edge astrophysicists owe a great debt to astronomers who watched the skies long ago....

32 min
Bradley E. Schaefer

In olden times, everyone lived in close contact with the skies, so the kings and common folk would appreciate the many practical, symbolic, and philosophical applications of ancient astronomy.


Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Louisiana State University

About Bradley E. Schaefer

Bradley E. Schaefer is Distinguished Professor and Alumni Professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University (LSU). He earned his undergraduate and Ph.D. degrees in Physics, both from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a research astrophysicist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center and a professor at Yale University, before joining LSU, where his teaching has earned him the Alumni Professorship and the Distinguished Faculty Award. He has over 200 publications in refereed journals. Starting in the mid-1990s, Professor Schaefer joined the Supernova Cosmology Project, led by Saul Perlmutter. This group found that the expansion rate of the universe is accelerating, propelled by an unknown dark energy. As one of the discoverers of dark energy, Professor Schaefer received a share of the Gruber Cosmology Prize in 2007 as well as a share of the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in 2015. In 2011, Perlmutter was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics for leading this work. In addition to his cosmology research, Professor Schaefer has written numerous articles on the history of astronomy, including frequent pieces for Sky & Telescope. He is on the editorial boards of both Archaeoastronomy and the Journal for the History of Astronomy, and he has served on the editorial board for Culture and Cosmos.

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