September 17, 2010
Early Astronomy Evidence From Australia
A study conducted by an Australian science agency has discovered signs that the country's ancient Aborigines may have been the world's first astronomers, pre-dating Stonehenge by more than a thousand years.
Professor Ray Norris, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO), said detailed knowledge of the stars through songs and stories had been passed down through generations by the Aboriginal people, whose history dates back tens of thousands of years.
"We know there's lots of stories about the sky: songs, legends, myths to mark out the seasons, so it's very practical," Norris told the AFP news agency.
"People were nomadic so when Pleiades (the Seven Sisters star cluster) was up they would move to where the nuts and berries are. Another sign and it would be time to move to the rivers to fish for barramundi, and so on," he told AFP.
Norris, who has studied Aboriginal culture extensively, and has made several journeys to Arnhem Land in Australia's Outback, said the research also revealed more detailed astronomical thought.
"Clearly some thinker in the past has been sitting down in the bush, watching an eclipse and trying to figure out how it works," he said. "Those thoughts are then encoded in the songs and ceremonies. If you take a lunar eclipse, the story in Arnhem Land is it's the Sun Woman and Moon Man making love, and when they make love the body of one covers the other."
Norris is now looking for evidence that might date the earliest signs of Aboriginal astronomy, such as a stone carving of a meteor strike or comet.
Norris is confident that the Aborigines pre-dated European astronomers, including Stonehenge and Egypt's great pyramid Giza, both of which are estimated at around 3100 BC.
Although he established there was astronomy around the times of the ancient Aborigines, he said he was not sure how far back it goes. "If it goes back 10,000 or 20,000 years, that makes (Aborigines) the world's first astronomers," he said.
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