Question Sheet: Unearthing Ancient Astronomy


Before reading:

  1. What do archaeologists study? 
  2. Why would ancient civilizations care about the movement of the sun and the


During reading:

  1. Why does the Buena Vista archaeological site look like a pile of dirt and


  2. What makes the Menacing Disk more than just a piece of art? How did

    scientists figure out what its purpose was? 

  3. Why were solstices important to the people of Buena Vista? 
  4. How did scientists determine that the Temple of the Fox was in use in 2200


  5. How could El Niño have affected the crops that ancient people grew? How

    could the people have used the sun to predict each El Niño year? 

  6. Why did the ancient people of Buena Vista bury their own temple?

After reading:

  1. How might an ancient civilization have figured out where the sun rises and

    sets on the summer and winter solstices? 

  2. The Menacing Disk is an example of a work of art that has scientific value.

    Come up with two other examples of works of art that have scientific value, or

    come up with two examples of scientific instruments that are also works of art. 

  3. Why did scientists hide Buena Vista’s ancient buildings and artifacts?

    Consider the need to protect these artifacts, and also consider the importance

    of people learning about ancient civilizations. Should scientists allow everyone

    to visit Buena Vista? 

  4. How is carbon used to test the age of temples and other ancient objects?

    Research and write a short report about “carbon dating.”


  1. What is the country of Peru like today? Write a one-page report on modern

    life in Peru. 

  2. Should people still care about the longest and shortest days of the year?

    What celebrations do some of today’s cultures have on or near the dates of the



  1. You have read about the mural of a fox inside a llama that archaeologists

    found at Buena Vista. Describe (in words) or draw a picture of a mural that you

    would use on a similar building. 

  2. Write a short story describing the ways that the people of Buena Vista might

    have celebrated the summer solstice.


Imagine that you are the chief astronomer of an ancient culture. You want to learn to predict when El Niño will occur. At first, your predictions are only correct one-fifth of the time. But each time an El Niño year occurs, your skill in predicting the next El Niño gets 50% better.

If El Niño occurs every five years, beginning in the fifth year, how many years will pass before your predictions are correct at least two-thirds of the time?