Friday, April 3, 2009

April 3: Heinrich Nissen

Heinrich Nissen
April 3, 1839 - February 29, 1912 

Heinrich Nissen was a German Ancient Historian and archaeoastronomer.

Heinrich Nissen studied in Kiel and Berlin under August Boeckh and Theodor Mommsen. After graduating, he travelled in Italy between 1863 and 1867. This research was later published as the major work Italischen Landeskunde (1883 and 1902). 

Nissen first taught as a professor in Strasbourg. In 1884 he was elected as successor to Arnold Schaefers at University of Bonn. There, unlike his predecessor, he exclusively taught Ancient History. He also pioneered Epigraphic research - based upon his study during his years in Italy - and was dedicated to Roman provincial archaeology. 

The term archaeoastronomy was first used by Elizabeth Chesley Baity (at the suggestion of Euan MacKie) in 1973, but as a topic of study it may be much older, depending on how archaeoastronomy is defined. 

Clive Ruggles says that
Heinrich Nissen, working in the mid-nineteenth century was arguably the first archaeoastronomer.
Rolf Sinclair says that Norman Lockyer, working in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, could be called the 'father of archaeoastronomy.' Euan MacKie would place the origin even later, stating: "...the genesis and modern flowering of archaeoastronomy must surely lie in the work of Alexander Thom in Britain between the 1930s and the 1970s.

Archaeoastronomy (also spelled archeoastronomy) is the study of how past people "have understood the phenomena in the sky, how they used phenomena in the sky and what role the sky played in their cultures." Clive Ruggles argues it specifically is not the study of ancient astronomy, as astronomy is a culturally specific concept and ancient peoples may have related to the sky in a different way.

Archaeoastronomy uses a variety of methods to uncover evidence of past practices including archaeology, anthropology, astronomy, statistics and probability, and history. Because these methods are diverse and use data from such different sources, the problem of integrating them into a coherent argument has been a long-term issue for archaeoastronomers.

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