Journal of Skyscape Archaeology, Vol 4, No 1 (2018)

Stars and Cultural Astronomy

Bernadette Brady
Issued Date: 3 Aug 2018

Abstract


Stars are ubiquitous; the Sun and Moon are singletons. The Sun and the Moon visually dominate the sky. They change in the amount of light they produce, either monthly or yearly. They also rhythmically change how they embrace the horizon, creating a measure of time and seasons. In contrast, the stars are many and their light is small. Their place in the sky is fixed and, ignoring precession, their relationship to the horizon is constant, always rising or setting at the same point. They are different in almost every way to the luminaries, in their multiplicity, light, fixed spatial relationship to each other and fixity in a landscape. These distinct characteristics mean that the stars are a catalyst for sky narratives quite different from those of the luminaries. The most easily recognisable stellar sky narratives are the constellation stories. The multiplicity of the stars produces a scattering of lights across the night sky according to a fixed pattern which, to the human mind - with its apophenia, the tendency to see patterns - results in the heavens becoming a vast storyboard of constellations and clusters. These stories are placed on bright stars, dim stars, coloured stars, dark gaps or voids, and milky hazes. Every spot of the dome of the heavens holds some culture's myth, some culture's cosmic narrative, and every visible place in the dome of the heavens has been claimed by most cultures. Their consistency of movement and fixedness in orientation to each other, however, also offer humanity something quite unique: a view of eternity.

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DOI: 10.1558/jsa.36095

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