Archaeoastronomy in Georgia

Posted by Bill Andrews
on Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Many of my American friends seem slightly startled to recall that there’s another Georgia in the world besides the “Peach State.” Some of my astronomy friends, though, might be surprised to learn about a discipline related to their field now taking root in the southeast European country. Professor Irakli Simonia of Ilia State University wrote us this guest blog explaining a little bit about his school’s program in archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy, which he developed and now leads:

Ilia State University in Tbilisi, Georgia, just started its doctoral program in archaeoastronomy and cultural astronomy, the first such program in the world. Credit: Gordon Houston photo
The Republic of Georgia is an ancient country. It was host to the discovery of the oldest known fibers, Bronze Age artifacts, and two of the oldest human fossils outside of Africa, not to mention the legendary Golden Fleece sought by Jason and the Argonauts. Located on the eastern shore of the Black Sea, it’s bounded by the Caucasus Mountains to the north. The capital, Tbilisi, lies on the Mt’k’vari River in east central Georgia, and it is the home of Ilia State University.

In 2006, several universities and institutions of higher learning combined to form Ilia State, and it is now the leading research university in Georgia, with 8,000 students and 200 professors. We have partnership arrangements with leading universities around the world, and offer undergraduate, graduate, and Ph.D. programs in many disciplines.

One of our newest doctoral programs is in Archaeoastronomy and Cultural Astronomy, the first in the world dedicated specifically to this area of research. The program is free and will prepare researchers in the use of astronomy within ancient cultures, and how they incorporated it into their societies, rituals, and landscapes. It features an extensive research program, a graduate-assistance portion providing service to the program and the university, and a fascinating curriculum that incorporates the latest research techniques, instruments, and other resources to investigate the cosmology of ancient cultures.

The program admitted three students its first year, one a local Georgian student, and two from the United States: Carlos Trenary, who came with a master’s degree in anthropology, and Gordon Houston with a master’s in astronomy. The program will admit two to three new students each year, with a call for students each spring and the new year beginning in October.

It’s a busy time at Ilia State because, in addition to this burgeoning program, the university has begun creating a research lab specifically for astrophysics and archaeoastronomy students alike. It will be an ideal space for another currently doctoral program in the Physics and Chemistry of Cosmic Dust and Ice, which I will also head beginning in 2012.

We will be glad to cooperate with partners and accept applications to this program. Please send questions, comments, and other inquiries to irakli_simonia@iliauni.edu.ge or Gordon.Houston.1@iliauni.edu.ge.

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