Cultural Astronomy

Astronomy is the oldest of the sciences, playing a critically important and central role in the history of science and in the traditions and Knowledge Systems of cultures around the world, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures of Australia. Research in the Astrophysics group focuses on Cultural Astronomy, History and Philosophy of Science, Astronomical Heritage, Social Studies of Space, and Dark Sky Studies. This interdisciplinary work draws upon methods and frameworks in the social sciences, physical and natural sciences, and the humanities.

Mair (Shooting Star) Dance
Meriam dancers on the island of Mer in the eastern Torres Strait prepare for the Maier (meteor) dance, filmed for the Werner Herzog film “Fireball”. This dance connects bright meteors to death rites. Image: D.W. Hamacher.

Our work in Cultural Astronomy focuses on collaborating with elders and knowledge custodians to document their astronomical Knowledge Systems and cultural traditions relating to the stars. This involves learning first-hand from elders, collating and re-analysing archival records, and studying material culture and archaeological sites. We work closely with communities Australia, the Pacific, Southeast Asia, Central and Mesoamerica, and Basque Country of Europe. Our work highlights myriad ways that observations of the positions and characteristics of celestial objects are used for a range of things, including seasonal calendars, predicting time, forecasting weather, and informing social structure.

Sitting with Warren Williams, an Arrernte custodian of Tnorala, to learn about the site’s significance for the NatGeo documentary “The Story of God with Morgan Freeman”. Tnorala (Gosse’s Bluff Crater), is a giant impact structure in the Central Desert that was formed when a cosmic baby fell from the Milky Way and struck the ground. Image: D.W. Hamacher.

Research in the History and Philosophy of Science examines the role of science in the cultural contexts of groups around the world, how it is developed and utilised, and how the Cultural Interface of these Knowledge Systems can provide solutions to emerging social and environmental issues. Our emerging work in Dark Sky Studies focuses on examining ways that we can preserve intangible astronomical heritage through the reduction and management of light pollution.

Brittany Tumulus
Measuring the solar alignments of standing stones to burial mounds in Brittany, France. Image: D.W. Hamacher.

Projects exist for students interested in pursuing research topics in these areas, ranging from undergraduate to PhD studies.


A/Prof Duane Hamacher

  • Cultural Astronomy (incl. Indigenous Astronomy)
  • Archaeoastronomy
  • Historical Astronomy
  • History & Philosophy of Science
  • Dark Sky Studies
  • Social Studies of Space
  • Astronomy Education