Estimating the Reliability of Digital Data Acquisition in Cultural Astronomy

The Case of Roman North Africa


  • Andrea Rodríguez-Antón Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias
  • A. César González-García Instituto de Ciencias del Patrimonio, Incipit – CSIC
  • Juan Antonio Belmonte Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias



Astronomy, Africa, methods, Roman, towns, urban


Digital tools are increasingly used in cultural astronomy, so that it is now more important than ever to assess their precision and reliability, and to identify what uncertainties they may introduce. The present work aims to address these issues by comparing a dataset of orientations of Roman cities in the Iberian Peninsula measured in situ with measurements of the same structures obtained through different digital tools. By this, it is possible to estimate the errors that using these techniques introduce and to establish precision limits to data in future work. The results of this preliminary study are then implemented in an archaeoastronomical research project in North Africa, where some on-site measurements had been made in previous fieldwork campaigns by members of the group prior to the current political unrest that now prevents work at some sites in the region. In these instances, Google Earth Pro (2017) and HeyWhatsThat (Kosowsky 2012) have been key tools that have allowed us to complete a survey stretching from present-day Morocco to Libya, as well as to extract a preliminary outline of orientation trends in Roman Africa.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biographies

Andrea Rodríguez-Antón, Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias

Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias

A. César González-García, Instituto de Ciencias del Patrimonio, Incipit – CSIC

Instituto de Ciencias del Patrimonio, Incipit – CSIC

Juan Antonio Belmonte, Instituto de Astrofisica de Canarias

Juan Antonio Belmonte is an astronomer at the Instituto de Astrofísica de Canarias (Tenerife, Spain) where he has lectured history of astronomy and archaeoastronomy and investigates in exoplanets, stellar physics and cultural astronomy. He has published or edited a dozen books and authored nearly 200 publications on those subjects. He has been the Director of the Science and Cosmos Museum of Tenerife from 1995 to 2000, President of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture (SEAC) from 2005 to 2011 and of the Spanish Time Allocation Committee (CAT) of the Canarian observatories, included the new generation 10 m GTC, from 2003 to 2012. He has received in 2012 the "Carlos Jaschek" award of the European Society for Astronomy in Culture for his contributions to the discipline. He is now advisory editor of the Journal for the History of Astronomy and co-editor of Archaeoastronomy: the Journal for Astronomy in Culture. In the last years he has been performing extensive research on the astronomical traditions of ancient civilizations, concentrating in the ancient Mediterranean cultures, notably in Egypt. Born in Murcia (Spain) in 1962, he studied physics and got his master-thesis in 1986 at Barcelona University and obtained his PhD on Astrophysics at La Laguna University in 1989.


Bayet, J., 1984. La religión romana: Historia política y psicológica. Madrid: Ediciones cristiandad.

Belmonte, J. A., C. Esteban, M. A. P. Betancort and R. Marrero, 2002. “Archaeoastronomy in the Sahara: The Tombs of the Garamantes at Wadi el Agial (Fezzan, Libya)”. Archaeoastronomy: Supplement to Journal for the History of Astronomy 23: 1–19.

Belmonte, J. A., C. Esteban, L. Cuesta, M. A. P. Betancort and J. J. Jiménez González, 1999. “Pre-Islamic Burial Monuments in Northern and Saharan Morocco”. Archaeoastronomy: Supplement to Journal for the History of Astronomy 24: 21–34.

Belmonte, J. A., A. T. Gaspar, M. A. P. Betancort and R. Marrero, 2007. “On the Orientation of Pre-Islamic Temples of North-west Africa: A Re-appraisal (New Data in Africa Proconsularis)”. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 6 (3): 73–81.

Belmonte, J. A. and M. Hoskin, 2002. “África del Norte antes del Islam”. In Reflejo del cosmos: atlas del Mediterráneo Antiguo, edited by J. A. Belmonte and M. Hoskin, 279–283. Madrid: Equipo Sirius.

Chausa Sáez, A., 1997. Veteranos en el África Romana. Barcelona: Publicaciones de la Universidad de Barcelona.

Esteban, C., 2002. “Elementos astronómicos en el mundo religioso y funerario ibérico”. Trabajos de prehistoria 59 (2): 81–100.

Esteban, C., J. A. Belmonte, M. A. P. Betancort, R. Marrero and J. J. Jiménez González, 2001. “Orientation of Pre-Islamic Temples of the North-west of Africa”. Archaeoastronomy 26: 65–84.

Esteban, C. and J. L. Escacena, 2013. “Arqueología del cielo: Orientaciones astronómicas en edificios protohistóricos del sur de la Península Ibérica”. Trabajos de Prehistoria 70 (1): 114–139.

Gillings, M., D. Mattingly and J. van Dalen, 1999. Geographical Information Systems and Landscape Archaeology. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Google Earth Pro v.7.3.0. Accessed 21 August 2017.

González-García, A. C., J. M. N. Celdrán, J. A. Belmonte Avilés, A. Rodríguez-Antón, E. R. Valderas, M. J. M. Balanza, E. Zamora and J. B. Casciaro, 2015. “Orientatio ad sidera: Astronomía y paisaje urbano en Qart Hadašt/Carthago Nova”. Zephyrus 55: 141–162.

González-García, A. C., L. C. Ferrer, M. Zedda and J. A. Belmonte, 2017. “La Orientación de los santuarios de Ibiza y los hipogeos púnicos del Mediterráneo occidental”. In Entre el Cielo y la Tierra: Arqueoastronomía del Mundo Fenicio-Púnico. XXX Jornadas de Arqueología Fenicio-Púnica, edited by A. C. González-García and B. Costa. Ibiza: Treballs del Museu de Eivissa, in press.

González-García, A. C., A. Rodríguez-Antón and J. A. Belmonte, 2014. “The Orientation of Roman Towns in Hispania: Preliminary Results”. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 14 (3): 107–119.

Herodotus, 1997 [1862]. The Histories, trans. G. Rawlinson. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Infraestructura de Datos Espaciales de España, 2016 [online]. Accessed December 2016,

Instituto Geográfico Nacional, 2016. [online]. Accessed December 2016.

King, D. A., 1995. “The Orientation of Medieval Islamic Religious Architecture and Cities”. Journal for the History of Astronomy 26: 253–274.

Kosowsky, M., 2012. HeyWhatsThat Testbed [online]. Accessed December 2016.

Laurence, R., S. E. Cleary and G. Sears, 2011. The City in the Roman West c. 250 BC – c. AD 250. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monroe, J. C., 2013. “The Archaeology of the Precolonial State in Africa”. In The Oxford Handbook of African Archaeology, edited by P. Mitchell and P. Lane, 705–722. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olivier, J. P. L., 1972. “Notes on the Ugaritic Month Names II”. Journal of Northwest Semitic Languages 2: 53–59.

Plan Nacional de Ortofotografía Aérea, 2016 [online]. Accessed December 2016

QGIS (Quantum GIS) v.2.12.3

Reijs, V., 2017. “Skyline Tools and Theodolite Apps for Archaeoastronomy” [online]. Accessed March 2017.

Rodríguez-Antón, A., J. A. Belmonte and A. C. González-García, 2016. “Romans in the Near East: The Orientation of Roman Settlements in Present-day Jordan”. Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry 16 (4): 153–160.

Rodríguez-Antón, A., A. C. González-García and J. A. Belmonte, 2016. “Orientation of Roman Camps and Forts in Britannia: Reconsidering Alan Richardson’s Work”. In The Materiality of the Sky, edited by F. Silva, K. Malville, T. Lomsdalen and F. Ventura, 135–143. Ceredigion, Wales: Sophia Centre Press.

Smith, A., 2014. Horizon v.0.11b [online]. Accessed October 2017,



How to Cite

Rodríguez-Antón, A., González-García, A. C., & Belmonte, J. A. (2018). Estimating the Reliability of Digital Data Acquisition in Cultural Astronomy: The Case of Roman North Africa. Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, 3(2), 191–206.



Theory & Method

Most read articles by the same author(s)