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Friday, February 12 • 12:00pm - 1:00pm
Mapping the Sky

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Chair Andrew Quintman

Di Luo, "Carto: Mapping the Silk Road of Buddhist Architecture"
Two wooden ceilings, one in a fifteenth-century Buddhist monastery in Beijing and the other in a twelfth-century Norman chapel in Sicily, bear the same geometric pattern of the “eight-pointed star.” Despite the fact that the two examples--the Zhihuasi in China and the Cappella Palatina in Italy--lie at the two ends of the historical Silk Road, the intriguing similarity found in the wooden ceilings suggests the “mobility” of certain architectural forms across long distances.
This project focuses on the “mobility” of specific types of ceilings in Buddhist Asia. A particular case is the so-called “dome of heaven,” which was a prevalent motif not only in Buddhist but Christian and Islamic sacred architecture. However, the geographical range in which this motif is found and how the geolocations illuminate the transmission of the motif in history has not been adequately studied. As this study aims to demonstrate, a group of material objects acted as agents in the process of transmission. Portable items such as textiles, miniature shrines, votive stupas, reliquaries, and certain architectural models and sketches have facilitated the spread of the dome of heaven motif and the related celestial iconography across and beyond Buddhist Asia since at least 200 CE when China formally established a trading route to Central Asia.
An important component of this project is the mapping of the material evidence of the dome. I use Carto, a free online digital mapping tool, for this purpose. So far, the map shows the geolocations of immovable, full-scale domes in one layer (“dome of heaven”) and those of the portable examples in a different layer (“Asokan Stupa”). Juxtaposing the two layers allows for an inspection into the pattern of distribution of both architecture and the miniature, thus shedding light on the issue of mobility.

Luna Zagorac, "In Search of Lost Time: An Astronomical View of Ancient Egyptian Star Clocks"
Though the Ancient Egyptians clearly had a relationship to the heavens, the observational data behind the relationship remains shrouded in mystery.  One of the most enigmatic elements of their supposed timekeeping were star clocks, lists of stars and constellations – called decans – which marked the passing of the hours of the night.  The decans performed mysterious actions during the night, which the most prolific work in Egyptian Astronomy equates with heliacally rising (rising at sunset).  This theory is not without tension, however, and leaves the vast majority of the decans unidentified. As a Fellow of Yale’s Franke Program in the Humanities and Natural sciences, I have been working on comparing these lists and tables to a reproduction of the Ancient Egyptian sky at different dates. My aim it to create a correlation of the Egyptian sky with the Greek names we use today, thus creating a diagram of the Egyptian heavens. I have begun creating my Python own code for this purpose, called Decan-O.py, which relies on the core python package AstroPy. Decan-O.py takes in a named star and returns its coordinates in the night sky for a given year BCE, and then uses that information to generate plots of the star’s altitude and location on the horizon over the year—information that I hope to use to constrain the actions of the Egyptian decans. Furthermore, I am experimenting with using the raw data to create custom star charts in ArcGIS Story Maps, thereby getting a different view of the data and a better visualization of the so-called “decanal belt”. My hope is that this can serve to recreate the experience of stargazing in Ancient Egypt as an experimental archaeology practice even a little bit, particularly while planetariums remain closed and travel is risky due to COVID.


Friday February 12, 2021 12:00pm - 1:00pm EST

Attendees (6)