Archaeoastronomy studies the correlation between ancient building’s orientation and celestial phenomena. On the shoulders of astrophysics and history, it tries to uncover truths long forgotten. The valley of Argimusco, in the province of Messina, holds a great deal of relevance to the discipline and may become an UNESCO World Heritage Site. Andrea Orlando, a pioneer of the field in Sicily, tells us all about it.
Think of it as a marriage between nuclear physics and archaelogy». Andrea Orlando, Sicily’s first archaeoastronomist, believes the island is leading the nation in the field. Despite some setbacks, new exciting discoveries hold the promise of a bright future.
When did astronomy meet archaeology in your career?
«I’ve been very passionate about ancient civilizations since I was a kid. As soon as I finished my PhD in astrophysics, I got the chance to work at the LANDIS laboratories of the INFN (national institution for nuclear physics research). The lab’s main focus is on arcaeometry, applying nuclear physics to cultural assets. This is when I came up with the idea to create the first Institute of archaeoastronomy in Sicily. A common interest in cultural astronomy brought together a variety of experts like anthropologists, geologists, archaeologists, astronomers: that is how I got into the science of rocks and stars».
What is the role of Sicily in the Italian archaeoastronomical landscape?
«In Italy, archaeoastronomy is just starting to develop: there is still only one chair at the Politecnico of Milan. I founded the Institute to fill this gap and in the last years a few superintences, of Catania and Siracusa for instance, have brought us in on several research projects: first and foremost the study of the bronze age necropolis of Thapsos, in Priolo Gargallo, or an inquiry into the orientation of the Greek temples in Agrigento. Sicily is under the spotlight since, aside from Lombardy, not much is happening in Italy and our team is really competent».
Can Argimusco be called the Italian Stonehenge?
«It usually does, but it is not a proper denomination. Unlike Sardinia, Sicily does not really have a megalithic culture, because the layout of the rock formation occurred naturally, without human intervention. However, we have other examples of natural formations affected by men, like the small cromleth of Maletto, which is comprised of a dozen of basalt stones arranged in a spiral pattern. It is quite a unique example in Sicily because his azimuth (270°) points towards the direction where the sun sets during an equinox. This leads us to believe of a possible religious purpose for the site, even though we are unsure about which kind. Unlike the Greek and the Roman eras, we know very little of Sicilian prehistoric and protostoric past. Archaeoastronomy tries to dig up this forgotten past and restore a memory passed on by our ancestors».
Translated in English by Francesco Raciti.