Skyscapes as landscapes: the uses of astrology and astronomy in material culture

Dr Nicholas Campion

Recent scholarship, emerging from new disciplines such as archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy, has argued that a complete understanding of the human environment and culture must include the sky as well as the land and sea/water. There is no culture which has not included the sky as a measuring and meaning system in its religion, politics and built environment. In many pre-modern cultures no firm distinction was made between land, sea and sky in that, for example, deities might inhabit all three, the sky itself might be solid and contain water, and in Greek physics the four elements moved between earth, air and water.  Such ideas are typical of most pre-modern cultures and therefore to an understanding of, for example, classical temples, medieval cathedrals, or Renaissance political theory. The same principles apply to other cultures, including East Asia, India, sub-Saharan Africa and Mesoamerica. In the modernity other issues arise associated with the sky as an experience through air travel, new visual phenomena  such as planes and vapour trails, or aerial battle sites as heritage sites.

I have a record of engagement with the cultural history of astrology and astronomy back to 1994, including publication and conference organisation. However it was only in 2012 that, together with my colleagues in the Sophia Centre, I began to develop the notion of ‘Skyscapes’ as a concept in which the sky is treated as a totality, as is the land in the study of landscapes. Within the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture we manage one peer-reviewed journal, Culture and Cosmos, and an annual conference series.


2013: ‘Celtic Myth: Land, Sea and Sky-scapes’ (Myth Celtaidd: Tir, Mor ac Awyr’, Lampeter, 30 November 2013 (Co-Chair and Organiser with Dr Jemma Bezant).

Conference Track

2012: ‘Skyscapes’ (co-organised with Fabio Silva), track at the Theoretical Archaeology Conference, Liverpool, December

Conference Paper

2012: ‘Locating Archaeoastronomy within Academia’, Theoretical Archaeology Conference, Liverpool, December


2014:  N Campion,  Pimenta, N. Ribeiro, F. Silva, A. Joaquinito and L. Tirapicos), Stars and Stones: Voyages in Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy – a Meeting of Different Worlds (Oxford: British Archaeology Reports).

2014: Nicholas Campion and Fabio Silva, SkyscapesThe Role and Importance of the Sky in Archaeology (Oxford: Oxbow).

2014: ‘Sky, Land and Seascapes’, papers from the 2013 Theoretical Archaeology Conference, Culture and Cosmos,  Vol. 18 no 1 (ed. Dr Fabio Silva)

In preparation

2015: Nicholas Campion and Jemma Bezant (eds) Celtic Myth: Landscapes, Seascapes and Skyscapes (forthcoming).

2015: Launch of new academic journal: The Journal of Skyscape Archaeology.

Through the work in this research area the School has active research links and collaborations with researchers and practitioners in:

Through the European Society for the Study of Astronomy in Culture and the International Society for the study of Astronomy and Archaeastronomy in Culture,  we are collaboration with scholars across Europe and North America.

Sophia Trust

2014 ‘Skyscapes: locating Archaeoastronomy within Academia’ in Nicholas Campion and Fabio Silva, Skyscapes – The Role and Importance of the Sky in Archaeology (Oxford: Oxbow).

This paper will introduce the history of the discipline of archaeoastronomy, consider the cultural pressures to which it is subject, and discuss some of the methodological difficulties which may have prevented its wider acceptance. The paper will suggest that the skyscape may be as important to the understanding of ancient societies as the landscape.

2014 ;Astronomy and the State: time, space, power and the foundation of Baghdad’ in Nicholas Campion, Barbara Rappenglück, Michael Rappenglück and Fabio Silva, Astronomy and Power: How Worlds are Structured, (Oxford: British Archaeology Reports).

This paper considers the application of the heavens to the organisation of the ‘human polity modelled on the assumption of a close relationship between society on the one hand, and planetary and stellar patterns on the other through examination of accounts of the astrological foundation of Baghdad within the tradition of celestial town planning.

2014: ‘Astrology as Cultural Astronomy’, Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy (ed. Juan Antonio Belmonte) Springer-Verlag.

This article explores the place of the history of astrology as a pre-modern, celestial meaning-system, within the wider field of cultural astronomy and hence the emerging concept of ‘skyscapes’.