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 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.
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
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
reconstructing the recent history of
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