transient events
  'the age of myth'

My research interests are very diverse, but the dominant theme is the history of cosmology, in which 'cosmology' is defined in the widest sense as knowledge about the structure, workings and origins of the natural world on all levels, including astronomy, geology and biology. Of special interest to me are the earlier or more archaic sources, such as 'ancient' astronomy and global mythology, and more unusual occurrences, such as transient natural events. These may range from relatively mundane earthquakes and solar eclipses to worldwide testimony of a time when the sky looked vastly different than it does today.

One long-term project, in association with ancient historian Peter James, concerns the emergence of planetary astronomy, primarily in the ancient Near East and the Graeco-Roman world. Another is the reconstruction of a global template of 'creation mythology', with physical explanations for its origins.

historical sources

These subjects are of an interdisciplinary character, combining aspects of the history of science, the history of religions, art history, comparative mythology, archaeology, anthropology and several other fields on the humanities side with geology, astronomy and physics on the scientific side.

The term 'historical information' is a broad category including a great variety of materials. 'Traditional information' refers to any ideas or practices that were passed on collectively within one or more societies, often imbued with a sense of sacrality and veridicality. Myths and legends, rituals, religious and metaphysical notions, artefacts and iconography (such as petroglyphs, geoglyphs, designs on pottery and religious statuary), costume, architecture, ranging from stone circles and pyramids to stūpas and cathedrals, and 'proto-scientific' cosmologies are replete with references to the natural world and its past. A second repository of data consists of historical records concerning observations of the sky, the atmosphere or the landscape, or historical events.

As far as the celestial aspect of nature is concerned, such historical sources have been the subject of disciplines variously labelled archaeoastronomy, cultural astronomy, the history of astronomy and the history of ideas or of religion, depending on geographical and chronological scope.

reconstructing the recent history of the earth

The study of historical information about the natural world is useful in a variety of ways. It is of interest in its own right, facilitating our understanding of past cultures and their outlook on the world. This is especially felt in cases where recent discoveries shed fresh light on historical data that had previously been inscrutable. On a deeper level, a study of historical information about the realm of nature also helps to clarify the nature and origin of religion as a whole.

Conversely, historical sources have much to contribute to modern science, as they can complement the scientific reconstruction of the past, specifically the recent history of planet Earth. Areas which stand to gain much from historical input include reconstructions of the sunspot cycle and other aspects of solar activity, the earth's rotational properties, climate changes following the Last Glacial Maximum, past earthquakes and volcanic eruptions and changes in biodiversity.


Marinus Anthony van der Sluijs