Long cultural tradition of sky watching
“The earliest known depiction of the constellation Orion,
according to Rappenglueck was carved on a piece of mammoth tusk”.
The following needs to be read according to a revised context (necessitating far lower BC dates) for Aurignacian Paleolithic as according to the sort of model pioneered by Dr. John Osgood, at: https://creation.com/a-better-model-for-the-stone-age
A Better Model for the Stone Age
In the previous post we discussed the “cultural explosion” of the Upper Paleolithic which brought the beginnings of art, religion, and magic, as well as technological advances. Along with these innovations came the earliest forms of observational astronomy, the calendar and astro-ceremonialism–mythology, religious beliefs and rituals associated with the heavenly bodies.
The Hall of the Bulls
Lascaux caves, France
photo: http://www.lascaux culture.fr
French paleo-astronomer Chantal Jegues-Wolkiewiez insists there was a long cultural tradition of skywatching among the people of the Cro-Magnon Age of Europe (30,000-10,000 BCE).
She proposes that the famous cave paintings of Lascaux in France record the constellations of a prehistoric version of the zodiac which included solstice points and major stars. Her theory is based on the discovery of numerous dots and tracings superimposed on the paintings of bulls, aurochs and horses on the walls of Lascaux. She claims these correspond to the patterns of constellations–most notably the constellations of Taurus and Pleiades and the stars Aldeberan and Antares. She proposes most of the constellations are represented by paintings of animals, accurately depicting their coloring and coats during the corresponding seasons of the year. Jegues-Wolkiewiez visited 130 cave sites in France over a period of seven years, identifying solar alignments throughout the seasons, and found that 122 of the sites had optimal orientations to the setting of the sun during the solstices. She concludes that these sites were mainly selected because their interiors were illuminated by the setting sun on the day of the winter solstice. She also determined through computer modeling that the sun’s setting rays during the summer solstice illuminated the painting of the Red Bull on the back wall of the Hall of Bulls in Lascaux 17,000 years ago.
Bull painting from Lascaux with dots possibly indicating stars of Taurus, Orion and Pleiades
German researcher Dr. Michael Rappenglueck has arrived at similar conclusions, pointing to the markings juxtaposed on the painting of a bull at Lascaux, which he claims delineate the constellation Taurus. The Pleiades constellation is also accurately represented in its relative position in the sky over the bull’s shoulder. The Pleiades have been used as seasonal markers in ancient cultures worldwide and were possibly used to mark the autumn and spring equinoxes at the time the artwork of Lascaux was created.
Constellations of Orion, Taurus and Pleiades juxtaposed on bull paintingPainting from Shaft of the Dead Man–Lascaux
Rappenglueck believes the paintings of Lascaux not only represent the constellations, but also the cosmology of Paleolithic shamans. He points to the area of the caves known as the “Shaft of the Dead Man” where the enigmatic painting of a prone man, a bull, and bird perched on a staff can be found. It has been interpreted as a shaman lying in trance next to a sacrificed bull, watched over by his bird helping spirit.
Summer Triangle superimposed on painting from Shaft of the Dead Man.
According to Rappenglueck these figures form a map of the sky with the eyes of the bull, man, and bird representing the three prominent stars of Vega, Deneb and Altair. These three bright stars form the “Summer Triangle” which can be seen overhead during the summer months in the northern hemisphere.
Around 17,000 years ago they would have never set in the sky and would have been prominent during the early spring, in fact Deneb was close to the Pole Star at the time. Rappenglueck notes: “It is a map of the prehistoric cosmos…It was their sky, full of animals and spirit guides.”
Orion carving with calendar on reverse
The earliest known depiction of the constellation Orion, according to Rappenglueck was carved on a piece of mammoth tusk. This 32,000 year old artifact of the Aurignacian people of the Upper Paleolithic represents a male figure with arms and legs outstretched in the same pose as the constellation. The tablet also has 86 markings on its sides and back. Rappenglueck notes these are the number of days which when subtracted from a year equal the average number of days of human gestation. That number also matches the days that one of Orion’s brightest stars–Betelgeuse–is visible yearly, suggesting early skywatchers may have connected women’s pregnancy with the cycles of the celestial gods.
Paleolithic lunar calendar sservi.nasa.gov
Another researcher, Alexander Marshack, found what appears to be the worlds oldest calendars— small bone plates dated around 30,000- 32,000 years old— which are engraved or painted with dots or lines. After extensive analysis he concluded these correspond to lunar or solar motions. One tablet from Dordogne, France apparently represents the waxing and waning lunar positions in serpentine form.
These discoveries suggest that Upper Paleolithic peoples were sophisticated observers of the sky who tracked the motions of the sun, moon, and stars—and recorded their observations in cave paintings and calendars. Undoubtedly this knowledge would have enhanced their chances of survival, allowing them to predict seasonal animal migrations and weather changes. The research also sheds light on their religious beliefs and practices as well. The spectacular paintings of bulls in Lascaux, embellished with the markings of the constellations, imply these people may have possessed their own celestial myths, and even performed religious ceremonies associated with the solstices and changing of the seasons in the caves.
Egyptian sky-goddess Nut as cow.
E.A. Wallis Budge 1904
These findings raise the intriguing possibility that Paleolithic sky-lore may have been passed down to the early historical civilizations of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Neolithic Europe. Is it any coincidence that in some Egyptian myths the heavens were imagined as a star-spangled cow, or the Sumerians called the constellation Taurus “the bull of heaven”? The Greeks borrowed the constellation from the Babylonians, and as a bull it has remained since first painted on cave walls 17,000 years ago.
Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
Did Australian Aborigines
know of star Betelgeuse?
“The variation in Betelgeuse’s brightness was believed to have been observed with a telescope in 1836 by Sir John Herschel, when he published his observations in
Outlines of Astronomy. However, the latest study suggests the Australian Aboriginals
knew of its variability long before this time, according to a report in ABC Science”.
According to this article by April Holloway, the aboriginals did know about the star:
New research published in the Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage suggests that an ancient Aboriginal love story written in the sky reveals knowledge of variability in the star Betelgeuse, the ninth brightest star in the night sky and second brightest in the constellation of Orion.
Betelgeuse, also known as Alpha Orionis, is a variable star whose magnitude varies between 0.2 and 1.2. This means that the star brightens and fades over a period of about 400 days. The variation in Betelgeuse’s brightness was believed to have been observed with a telescope in 1836 by Sir John Herschel, when he published his observations in Outlines of Astronomy. However, the latest study suggests the Australian Aboriginals knew of its variability long before this time, according to a report in ABC Science.
Early last century, famous anthropologist Daisy Bates spent 16 years living among the Aboriginal people of South Australia’s Great Victoria Desert, recording their daily lives, lore, and oral traditions. Among her archived notes are stories regarding the Aboriginal astronomical traditions of this region.
One story, now referred to as “The Orion Story” involves the stars making up the constellations of Orion and Taurus. According to the legend, the story tells how the constellation Orion (called ‘Nyeeruna’), which is often portrayed as a male hunter, chases after the Pleiades star cluster, usually portrayed as a group of seven sisters (‘Yugarila’). Standing between Nyeeruna (Orion) and Yugarilya (Pleiades cluster), is their eldest sister Kambugudha, represented by the Hyades star cluster. Kambugudha taunts Nyeeruna by standing before him. The club in Nyeeruna’s right hand, which is the star Betelgeuse, fills with ‘fire magic’ ready to throw at Kambugudha. However, she defensively lifts her foot, which is the star Aldebaran and also full of fire magic, causing Nyeeruna great humiliation and putting out his fire.
A detailed analysis of the complete story has led researchers from the University of New South Wales to suggest that the reference to the ‘fire magic’ of Betelgeuse is an observation of the star in its bright phase, while reference to ‘putting out his fire’ is an observation of the fading of Betelgeuse.
“This is very interesting because this ancient story accurately describes the variability of Betelgeuse, which brightens and fades over a period of about 400 days,” said one of the study authors, Dr Duane Hamacher.
Hamacher explains that other parts of the Orion Story refer to sparks coming from Nyeeruna’s body, when he’s filled with lust for the seven sisters. “The sparks coming from Nyeeruna, match the radiant of the annual Orionids meteor shower produced by Earth’s passage through the debris trail of the comet Halley, which typically peaks over the last two weeks of October,” said Hamacher.
Hamacher, and co-author Trevor Leaman, suggest that the Orion story is similar to myths and legends found in many other cultures around the world, including Greek mythology and legends from cultures across Asia, South America, and Africa.
In the Greek myth of the Pleiades, a group of seven sisters were transformed into a cluster of stars, and were chased by a man seen in the Orion stars. Photo source: Wikipedia.
“There’s always a debate about why these stories are so similar from different places around the world,” says Hamacher. “It could be contamination from one culture to another, but I think it’s simply that as humans we perceive natural phenomena in certain similar ways”.
[End of quotes]
Mackey’s comment: Or it could be that we are all descendants of the one human family which was already in possession of this astronomical knowledge.
Skilled Aboriginal encoding of knowledge
“It was evident to Kelly that Aboriginal people catalogued huge scores of information
about animals – including species types, physical features, behaviour, links to food and plants – and wondered how they do it”.
The following is a brief review of Lynne Kelly’s intriguing book, The Memory Code (2016):
Ancient Celtic bards were famous for the sheer quantity of information they could memorise. This included thousands of songs, stories, chants and poems that could take hours to recite in full.
Today we are pretty spoiled. Practically the whole of human knowledge is conveniently available at our fingertips. Why worry about memorising something when we can simply Google it?
The answer seems pretty evident when we go into a panic after losing our smartphones!
Long before the ancient Celts, Aboriginal Australians were recording vast scores of knowledge to memory and passing it to successive generations.
Aboriginal people demonstrate that their oral traditions are not only highly detailed and complex, but they can survive – accurately – for thousands, even tens of thousands [sic?], of years.
Yet I struggle to remember what I did last Tuesday. So how did they do it?
Researcher Lynne Kelly was drawn to this question while investigating Aboriginal knowledge about animals for her PhD.
It was evident to Kelly that Aboriginal people catalogued huge scores of information about animals – including species types, physical features, behaviour, links to food and plants – and wondered how they do it.
A memorable thing
Aboriginal elders explained to her how they encode knowledge in song, dance, story and place. This led to a theory that may revolutionise archaeology.
It has long been known that the human brain has evolved [sic] to associate memory with place, referred to as the method of loci. This means that we associate memory with a location. How often do memories come flooding back to us when we visit our childhood haunt?
Loci (Latin for “place”), can refer to landscape features, ceremonial sites, abstract designs – anything with distinct features where information can be linked to memory.
Stonehenge evolved from a simpler structure to the complex megalith we see today over the course of thousands of years. Was it an evolving memory space? Duane Hamacher, Author provided
Kelly developed this into a framework that may explain the purpose of famous sites such as Stonehenge, the Nasca lines and the Moai of Easter Island.
The meanings of these sites have been a topic of controversy for decades. What Kelly proposes in her new book The Memory Code is that sites such as Stonehenge and the Nasca lines are actually memory spaces.
Knowledge is power
In oral cultures, knowledge is power. It is imperative that the most important knowledge be maintained and preserved by a few select custodians who have proven their worth.
In Indigenous cultures, elders who have passed the highest levels of initiation hold the deepest levels of knowledge.
This is reflected in ceremonial sites where knowledge is passed down. Aboriginal initiation sites include a secret area where the most sacred knowledge is discussed.
We also see this at Stonehenge, where the perimeter of standing stones shields the centre of the ring, where the most important aspects knowledge are passed on through ceremony.
These sites include features that are unique in shape and form. At Uluru, the Anangu elders associate every crevice, bump, and notch around the perimeter of the mountain with knowledge that is stored to memory.
Uluru close up reveals a very textured environment. Shutterstock/Peter Zurek
Star maps and memory
But loci is not only linked to places you can touch or visit. Indigenous people also use the stars as memory spaces.
For example, groups of stars can represent features on the landscape. Aboriginal Law Man Ghillar Michael Anderson explains how the Euahlayi people were able to travel long distances for trade and ceremony.
The Euahlayi would memorise star maps at night and learn the songs that talk about their relationship to the land. Each star was associated with a landscape feature, such as a waterhole.
Later in the year, they would sing the song as they travelled across country by day. These songline routes became the foundation of some of our highway networks that criss-cross the country.
Rather than navigating by the stars, the stars themselves serve as a memory space.
Landscape features and songlines represented by stars in the Milky Way also correspond to modern highways. Robert Fuller and Google Maps, Author provided
In The Memory Code, Kelly provides new insights into how oral societies are able to store vast quantities of knowledge to memory without it degrading over time.
It may explain how Aboriginal memories of land that existed before it was flooded by rising sea levels during the last Ice Age survived in oral tradition for more than 7,000 years [sic].
To test it herself, Kelly used the technique to memorise all of the world’s countries in order of population by linking them with features around her neighbourhood, including buildings and gardens – making up her own stories for each one. And she can now recite them flawlessly.
You might be surprised how easy it is to do yourself.
[End of quote]