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Space Archaeology » Theory

What is Astropalaeontology?

Most commonly the term has been used by authors such as John Armitage (‘The prospect of astro-palaeontology’) to describe the study of prehistoric extraterrestrial life. Astropalaeontology in this sense is a sub-discipline of astrobiology, and in fact as Armitage argued it may be more likely that we will discover the remains of extinct extraterrestrial life before we discover a living example. Exopalaeontology and astropalaeobiology are synonyms, and I’ve also seen palaeoastrobiology. Xenopalaeontology doesn’t seem to have caught on in serious circles. It’s worth noting again that astropalaeontology is a separate discipline from xenoarchaeology, as terrestrial palaeontology is from archaeology (although in both cases the fields share a blurry boundary). Archaeological fields are more concerned with cultural remains, which are created by sophonts. Secondly the term has been used to describe the study of … Read entire article »

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Heritage Listing Worlds

I mentioned in my last post some thoughts about the cultural heritage value of the planet Venus. To recap, I argued that Venus has been noted throughout history as one of the brightest objects in the night sky, prompting names such as the Morning or Evening Star. This distinguishing brightness has furthermore given Venus a special place in the mythology of many human cultures. According to Wikipedia, Carl Sagan was the first person to propose terraforming Venus in 1961. Terraforming is, of course, the process of altering a planet to make it earthlike. There are other reasons to think twice about undertaking such a project, but here I’ll consider the cultural side of things. I’d argue that the cultural significance of Venus for much of human history arose from its brightness in … Read entire article »

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Xenoarchaeology and the Hierarchy of Exclusion

Xenoarchaeology is the study of past alien cultures from their physical remains.  The prefix xeno- is from the Greek xenos, ‘stranger’. Alien, in this instance, refers to members of any species other than that of the hypothetical xenoarchaeologist.  A human studying martian ruins is a xenoarchaeologist, as is a martian studying human ruins. The term ‘alien’ always sounds a little pejorative to me (how about non-human person?), but I use it here instead of ‘extraterrestrial’ which could be taken as a spatial designation, and because in the future there could conceivably be terrestrial nonhuman cultures (say, from uplifted animals or artificial intelligences). Despite its connotations, the word ‘alien’ conveys the otherness of the culture to be studied. … Read entire article »

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Genomic SETI

Anthropologist John Hawks has an interesting post on genomic SETI, responding to a Wall Street Journal essay by Paul Davies promoting The Eerie Silence.   The rationale for genomic SETI is that terrestrial organisms might have been genetically modified or created from scratch by ancient extraterrestrials, and that evidence of this, even deliberate messages, might be found in their genomes. … Read entire article »

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Space Archaeology: Definitions 2

Alun Salt has written a thoughtful response to my previous post about space archaeology theory … so here’s my thoughts on his thoughts My prior post featured a Venn diagram illustrating the conceptual space of the field and the interrelationships of its subfields of aerospace, xeno- and exo- archaeology. Alun asks whether this definition adds anything, and whether it’s necessary to draw boundaries around the field. Should a definition add anything or should it describe and clarify? I think the diagram adequately encapsulates the subject, even though I wasn’t sure how to visually convey the way that space heritage and exogarbology permeate the subfields (perhaps some kind of hatching?). Is the definition limiting? Perhaps I’m wrong, but the diagram seems to encompass all possible fields that could be considered space archaeology, … Read entire article »

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Space Archaeology: Definitions

I’m beginning the wonderful Handbook of Space Engineering, Archaeology and Heritage and thinking about the definition of space archaeology. In the introduction to the book, Ann Darrin and Beth O’Leary define it as: …the archaeological study of material culture relevant to space exploration that is found on earth and in outer space (i.e., exoatmospheric material) and that is clearly the result of human behavior. This is problematic in the use of the term ‘exoatmospheric’ to encompass the entirety of human material culture off-planet (I would have used extraterrestrial, or extra-terrestrial). The second concern is that it limits the purview of the field to human behaviours when in fact the book itself contains articles dedicated to nonhuman archaeology. … Read entire article »

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Space Archaeology turns 400!

Astronomy recently celebrated the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s first observations with a telescope.  His discoveries, including four moons of Jupiter, were published in a sensational treatise, Sidereus Nuncius (The Sidereal Messenger), in 1610. German astronomer Johannes Kepler received a copy of the Sidereal Messenger in early April that year.  His response, the ‘Conversation with the Sidereal Messenger’, was completed and sent to Galileo on 19th – 400 years ago next month. A slightly revised version was published on May 3. In it, Kepler made the first observation of extraterrestrial artificial structures – circular fortresses on the moon!  Galileo had remarked upon these features, but it was left to Kepler to argue that because of their geometrical perfection, they must be artificial. … Read entire article »

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