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Did I say cosmology? On modern cosmologies and ancient world-views
Stanislaw Iwaniszewski


The modern cosmology that emerged from observational astronomy in 16th century Europe was not a natural continuation of ancient world-views, as is often ascertained, but meant a radical break-away from earlier conceptions of the world. While modern cosmologies espouse a dehumanized, ethically indifferent and universally valid view of the world, all ancient and nonwestern worldviews refer to a multidimensional reality in which diverse environmental, economic, sociopolitical and ideological factors intersect.
Though the word “cosmology” is of recent origin (first used in 18th century) and usually applied to the study of the universe as a whole, this term is often used to depict ancient and nonwestern worldviews. Thus, on the one side stand scholars who observe striking similarities between nonwestern and western cosmological categories that transcend ethnic, ideological and cultural frameworks, on the other are those who see ancient worldviews as radically different from their modern counterparts. Yet, it is also important to recognize that correspondences and equivalences between different parts of ancient and/or nonwestern worldviews and modern cosmologies, which can especially be applied to the categories of space and time, tend to transfer modern conceptions of abstract space and time to the premodern world. Consequently, science-based scholars, who ignore ancient cultural contexts, risk imposing some of modern cosmological concepts on past worldview categories.
The role of modern preconceptions in forming an image of the ancient or nonwestern skywatching has rarely been discussed in archaeoastronomy. While we have to describe ancient astronomies in our own terms, our ultimate goal is to understand them on their own terms. Consequently, no longer can we conceive cosmologies or worldviews as bodies of some abstract knowledge; rather they should be seen as systems of knowledge embodied in social practices and organization of those ancient and/or nonwestern societies. After all, worldviews and cosmologies do not generate meanings in themselves, it is the social agents who assign and change the meanings attached to their objective reality in practice.