#WorldSpaceWeek | How Study of Ancient World Can Shed Light on Beginning of Astronomy



(📸: Srikumar Menon)
#Astronomy is regarded as the oldest of all sciences.

The ‘study’ of astronomy started when our predecessors realised that sunrise happens in one direction and sunset in the other, and that the Moon has a different shape (phase) each day.

-In that way, the sense of astronomy may even predate the invention of the wheel or control over fire.

Astronomy may even be older than the idea of language itself. The figure below shows a beautiful image, possibly of the Sun God, with indications of four seasons...
...Winter, Spring, Summer, and Autumn—from Chillas, Kashmir.
#WorldSpaceWeek | How do we then gain any insights about the astronomy of these men and women which predate civilisation itself?

It turns out, these primitive groups knew how to draw pictures, and since they did not possess slates, paper or canvasses, they drew on...
...the cave walls or carved on the stones around them. We have found thousands of such rock paintings/carvings from Kashmir in North India, to all the way in the south.

A word of caution though: All drawings of early humans, at this stage of development, are very rudimentary.
They can be interpreted in multiple ways, none of which can claim 100% certainty. The quality of those interpretations may differ based on what would be cognitively plausible for humans at that time and what supporting evidence is presented with the interpretation.
-Another way to explore those ancestors would be to learn from the present-day cultures that have not mingled enough with modern society.

Our group also conducted a study with Gonds of Central India and some of the Nicobar tribes, which indicated tantalising possibilities...
...about the seafaring practices of Nicobar tribes and the antiquity of migration of Gonds in central India. Depending on the culture, the same objects may look very different from different cultures.
In the figure below, we have reproduced the perception of the Pleiades cluster in different cultures.
-Another interesting aspect of some of these cultures is their use of large stones in their social practices. We refer to them as “megalithic cultures” (mega = large, lithos = stone).
-They built stone burial chambers for their dead, sometimes made stone circles around their burials, while also creating large stone circles or erecting large stones in the middle of nowhere for no apparent reason.

-The Stonehenge in the UK is a famous example.
-We know more than 200 megalithic sites south of Vindhyas, which include all varieties like burial chambers and stone circles.

Similar challenges are faced while studying astronomical beliefs of more advanced cultures like the Harappan culture, as even in those cases...
...the language remains unknown and we can only interpret their motives based on our limited knowledge of those civilisations.

But again, all such interpretations are ‘informed guesses’ that may evolve as we find out more about our past.

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