Do mycenaean tholos tombs encode astronomical alignments?


Beginning in 1998, Victor Reijs (Reijs, 1998) made numerous observations of the sun’s passage into the Treasury of Atreus through the relieving triangle near the times of the equinoxes. He suggested that this solar orientation was intentional in the design of the tomb and that the relieving triangle was, at least for a time, open to provide observations of these events. This paper takes a different approach regarding the orientation of these Mycenaean Tholoi, based on architectural and topographic considerations. Como (2009) and others describe in detail the construction methodology used in Mycenaean Tholoi and in particular that of the Treasury of Atreus. Numerous researchers have analyzed and discussed the complex forces involved in this structure, which explain the stability of the monument. As an alternative to tholoi orientations based on astronomical considerations, we argue that topographical characteristics of these sites dictate the orientation and to a large extent the construction of the tomb (Maravelia, 2002). The methods of archaeoastronomy must include all aspects of the site: its topology, the architectural practice of the period, artistic expression, and the cultural aspects of the monument, not just the correlations of the site with respect to astronomical phenomena. The nine tholoi in the general area of Mycenae are examined with respect to their topological siting and relative to possible astronomical phenomena. We find that none of the tomb entrances was intentionally built to observe astronomical events such as the equinoxes.

Publication Title

Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry

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