Dr Anthony Aveni Anthony F. Aveni is the Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor
of Astronomy , Anthropology and Native American Studies, serving appointments in both Departments of Physics and Astronomy and Sociology and Anthropology at Colgate University, where he has taught
since 1963. Dr. Aveni helped develop the field of archaeoastronomy and now is considered one of the founders of Mesoamerican archaeoastronomy, in particular for his
research in the astronomical history of the Maya Indians of ancient Mexico. Dr. Aveni is a lecturer, speaker, and editor/author of three dozen books on ancient astronomy. Prof. Aveni has also lectured on astronomy related subjects on the Cunard & Crystal cruise lines.
In The Shadow of The Moon: The Culture and Science behind the Magic, Mystery, and Fear of Eclipses By Anthony Aveni
(Yale University Press 2017)
In the Shadow of the Moon explores the astronomy, history, and the worldwide cultural significance of solar eclipses. From a scientific perspective, Anthony Aveni explains what causes eclipses, what to look for, and the astronomical knowledge we acquire from studying them – like the slowdown in the earth’s rotation and the shrinking and expansion of the sun. Eclipses come in families and by analyzing their patterns astronomers can trace their genealogy, recovering each of their descendants.
Accounts of great American eclipses of the past – who saw them, what they thought and felt – provide snapshots of how our history has changed. When the 1806 New England eclipse darkened the day in the midst of one of early America’s religious revival movements there were widespread claims that God had orchestrated the sun’s sudden disappearance to punish the wicked. Three generations later, during a time of rapidly advancing American science, stories of the daring high-tech 1878 eclipse expedition to the wilds of Pike’s Peak read like an Apollo lunar mission. The total darkness that impinged on Central Park on a cold winter morning two generations later conjures up vignettes of urban life in the roaring twenties.
Originally trained as an astronomer, Aveni’s attraction to anthropology – what the sky means to cultures other than our own – stemmed from his studies of ancient Maya inscriptions and pyramids aligned to celestial phenomena. As a result, he helped establish the field of cultural astronomy. Concerned as much with people watching as eclipse watching, In the Shadow of the Moon takes readers beneath the veneer of reports of superstitious native eclipse witnesses who bang pans together at the darkening sun to shoo away demons, ignorant of what’s really going on. As he probes their accounts, readers acquire a deeper understanding of the meaning of eclipse customs and beliefs about family ties, relations among ancestors, gender role reversal, and incest taboos.
Are we so different? Aveni sees the odd mix of pleasure and fear expressed by contemporary eclipse chasers as a way of attempting to cope with the rarely encountered, vast forces of nature that lie beyond our control.