An Outline Sketch of the Origin and History of Constellations and Star-Names by Gary D. Thompson
Copyright © 2007-2015 by Gary D. Thompson
Return To Site Contents Page
An Outline Sketch of the Origin and History of Constellations and Star-Names
(1) The Nature of Constellations
Constellations are a means of organising the sky by dividing it into smaller segments. The majority of constellations, in any culture, were established and named in antiquity.
Largely on the basis of ancient Greek astronomy the Western European night sky is divided (somewhat arbitrarily) in sections called constellations. Within this scheme the constellations may be divided into 3 groups: (1) the 12 zodiacal constellations laying approximately along the vicinity of the ecliptic, (2) the northern constellation positioned 'above' the zodiacal constellations, and (3) the southern constellations positioned 'below' the zodiacal constellations. (Alternatively, (1) equatorial, northern never setting, and (3) southern (horizon).) The origin of constellations (star groupings) is one of the most discussed themes in the history of Western astronomy. Many questions concerning the origin of the constellations are likely to remain unanswered. It is possible that astronomy originated when early cultures began not only time-keeping practices but also began the practice of grouping individual stars into constellations. The establishment of constellations/asterisms was perhaps the earliest prelude to the origin of quantitative astronomy.
Constellations are named patterns of stars derived from the random placement of stars visible in the night sky. A constellation is an arbitrary collection of stars grouped together by a human observer to form a recognisable figure or design. Additionally, constellations are recognized not only by their star patterns/groupings, but also by the bright stars in them. To ancient observers the stars were scattered points of light that slowly moved across the sky (nightly and annually) and that returned to their same positions annually. The word constellation means a "set of stars." (An asterism is any grouping of stars, whether a constellation or not. The well-known "Big Dipper" is an asterism, not a constellation.) Constellations are arbitrary subjective/imagined flat groupings of stars (perceived as figures or patterns) among the stars visible in the sky. However, they are not always groupings of essentially random dots. Some groupings/patterns are 'objectively' suggested by the apparent placement of brighter stars in the sky. (Mostly, the 48 ancient Greek constellations single out only the bright patterns.) The three most obvious groupings of stars in the northern sky are (1) the Dipper, (2) Orion, and (3) the Pleiades. Outside of these stars constellations (star groupings)/constellation figures are not obvious. Stars in constellations are unrelated in space i.e., distance from earth. Gravitationally, the stars comprising constellation figures have nothing to do with each other. They are not groups of stars actually clustered together. They appear contiguous only because we view them in two dimensions. (Constellations, in reality, are 3 dimensional. The stars forming them are not at the same distance from the earth. The stars grouped in a constellation lie roughly in the same direction in space but are at greatly different distances from the sun. In contrast, the stars comprising the Big Dipper are actually close to each other. The other stars of Ursa Major have different distances. Also the stars in the Hyades open star cluster are travelling together (as a group) in the sky. The stars in the Hyades are travelling parallel to each other at the same velocity relative to the Sun.) The relative positions of the stars appear to remain fixed over time. The apparent patterns formed by the stars appear to be fixed. Because perceived patterns formed by the stars remain fixed over time the formation of specific groups of stars (constellations) is not surprising. Constellations are a natural means of dividing the sky into (arbitrary) areas. Within the same latitude different peoples see the same stars in the sky but discern different star patterns. Their interpretation of the sky also differs. The ancient Egyptians believed the sky was populated by gods/goddesses in the form of (large) constellations. The ancient Greeks, however, did not share this belief. Peoples in equatorial latitudes (Inca, Peru) and southern latitudes (Australian aborigines) discerned constellations not only in groups of stars but also in the prominent light and dark areas of the Milky Way. (In northern latitudes several "dark constellations" were also identified" "The Great rift" of the summer Milky Way, and "The Coalsack" in the Crux.) Exactly where and when the practice of creating constellations first occurred is not known but may have been as early as the Neolithic Period (or earlier).
Approximately 3000 stars are visible to a night sky observer. Readily apparent star patterns liable to grouping as constellations by any culture include (1) the Pleiades, (2) the Hyades, (3) the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major), (4) Orion, (5) Orion's Belt, (6) the Northern Cross (in Cygnus), (7) Cassiopeia, (8) Castor and Pollux, and (9) the Southern Cross. The 3 most obvious groupings of stars in the northern sky are (1) the Pleiades, (2) the Big Dipper, and (3) Orion. Another distinctive/obvious grouping of stars is the W shape of stars forming the circumpolar constellation of Cassiopeia. Constellations are recognised by their pattern and also by individual (bright) stars comprising the pattern. Different cultures used the same stars to create different constellations. In the Aratean scheme of constellations (ancient Greece) the 7 stars of the Big Dipper formed the core of the Great Bear constellation. In ancient China the Big Dipper was known as the "Bureaucrat's Cart."
Various cultures throughout history have grouped stars differently to form different constellations. The 88 officially recognized present-day constellations are based on mythological traditions from ancient Greek and Near Eastern (i.e., Babylonian) civilizations. The 48 constellation set of the classical Greeks, that covered the northern sky, were added to in the 17th- and 18th- centuries with another 40 constellations invented by European sailors who voyaged into the southern hemisphere. There were no clear-cut boundaries established for the Western constellations until the work of the Belgian-French astronomer Eugène Delporte in the early 20th-century for the International Astronomical Union.
Regarding the zodiac; a common misconception is to term the signs as "constellations." The 12 signs of the zodiac are not the same as the 12 constellations comprising the zodiac, or any of 88 constellations used in observational astronomy. The constellations are by definition a pattern of stars, and their sizes differ greatly. The 12 signs of the zodiac, on the other hand, are purely geometrical constructs.
In modern astronomy, a constellation is a specific area of the celestial sphere as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). These areas had their origins in both ancient (northern hemisphere) and more recent (southern hemisphere) star 'patterns' from which the constellations take their names.
(2) The Origin of Constellations, and Uranography
The constellating of the whole sky is termed “uranography.” Celestial cartography, uranography, or star cartography is at the periphery of astronomy and properly a branch of cartography concerned with mapping objects on the celestial sphere. Celestial cartography or uranography is the science of mapping or projecting representations of stars and other celestial bodies on to flat surfaces or onto spheres.
The earliest maps known are those of the sky. The subject of uranography occupied a prominent place in early Babylonian astronomy. It is evident that a natural process with early people was to name certain outstanding groups of stars after familiar forms of human beings, animals, or inanimate objects. For observer of the Northern sky the groups of stars comprising the Great Bear, Cassiopeia, and the Pleiades, and other, would have suggested a sense of unity. It was this that appears to have led to the idea of a “constellation.” The 3 most obvious groupings of stars in the northern sky are (1) the Dipper, (2) Orion, and (3) the Pleiades. (Readily apparent star patterns liable to grouping as constellations by any culture include (1) the Pleiades, (2) the Hyades, (3) the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major), (4) Orion, (5) Orion's Belt, (6) the Northern Cross (in Cygnus), (7) Cassiopeia, (8) Castor and Pollux, and (9) the Southern Cross.) A further step then consisted in identifying these star groupings with mythological persons and subjects; a phase of the astral mythology stage being reached when star groups and mythical figures are linked together as heavenly projections of mythological events.
The constellation figures were likely invented as a mnemonic device, that would make it easier to learn and recognize the irregular stars-patterns placed in the sky.
Because constellations serve as a reference system the major constellations/constellation sets that originated within a cultural region (or shared cultural region i.e., Latin Europe and Arab-Islamic empire) kept their basic configurations over time. The only changes were cultural artistic conventions.
(4) Methods for Investigating Constellation Origins
Theories concerning the origin of the constellations remain largely speculative. Analytical tools and methods able to be applied to the problem of the origin of the constellations ranked in order of approximate reliability and importance are: (1) Historical (extant astronomical texts), (2) Philological (analysis of constellation names), (3) Anthropological (anthropological analogy regarding the purpose of constellations), (4) Archaeological (iconography), (5) Statistical (statistical analysis of information and items), (6) Mythological (constellation myths), and (7) Precessional (past constellation positions).
(5) Early (Earliest) Constellations
The grouping of stars into asterisms or constellations is likely to be of great antiquity. The ethnographic evidence indicates that the big dipper asterism that presently forms part of our modern Ursa Major constellation was anciently identified as a bear constellation throughout many parts of the world. It is commonly held that the existence of certain parallels between Siberian/Asian star lore and North America star lore relating to the big dipper asterism establishes a pre-Columbian origin for the latter and also an Ice-Age antiquity for such. Proponents maintain that the big dipper bear constellation entered the American continent with a wave of immigrants circa 14,000 years ago. However, the part-time ethnologist Stansbury Hagar remarked in his 1900 article ("The Celestial Bear." (Journal of American Folk-Lore, Volume 13, Number 49, Apr.-Jun., Pages 92-103)) on the Native American bear constellation: "When we seek legends connected with the Bear, we find that in spite of the widespread knowledge of the name there is by no means a wealth of material."
Cultures world-wide appropriated 'standard' elements of the night sky. The three most obvious groupings of stars in the northern sky are (1) the Dipper, (2) Orion, and (3) the Pleiades. (Readily apparent star patterns liable to grouping as constellations by any culture include (1) the Pleiades, (2) the Hyades, (3) the Big Dipper (in Ursa Major), (4) Orion, (5) Orion's Belt, (6) the Northern Cross (in Cygnus), (7) Cassiopeia, (8) Castor and Pollux, and (9) the Southern Cross (southern hemisphere). Also, the Milky Way. Additional the Pole (or northern polar region of the celestial equator).)
A simple model of constellation development is not indicated as satisfactory. Attempting to decide in terms of universal diffusion (monogenesis) or independent invention (polygenesis) overlooks the evidence for both being at work to varying degrees and circumstances. There is also evidence of constellations and constellation sets being developed in considerable isolation. Five major constellation sets in the ancient world (and the classical period) involved Mesopotamia (Near East), Egypt (Mediterranean), India (Near East), China (Orient), and Greece (Mediterranean). The constellation set of Northern Europe was established late. (The geographic/cultural blocks, Orient, Near East, Mediterranean, and Northern Europe can be useful when considering the transmission of astronomical knowledge in the ancient world.) The Mesopotamian constellation patterns/set was - to a degree - influential on Greece and also India. However, it was not really influential in Egypt and China. Diffusion and independent invention were both at work with constellation usage and constellation myths (specific conceptualisations). Stars and constellations can be used in 1 or more ways, including time keeping, seasonal indicators, direction finding, and social metaphors/constellation lore. Because these functions are distinctive, conspicuous, and useful, they have an independent cultural value.
It is very probable that the Avestan Titar (Titrya) (Sirius) corresponds to the Vedic Tisya (Tishya). The Vedic Tisya appears as a vaguely astralised archer. In the Rig Veda the god Tisya is the celestial archer. Bernhard Forssman has proposed an entymological explanation showing it is most likely that the Vedic Tisya corresponds to the Avestan Titrya, and that Sirius has a direct and clear relationship with the three stars of Orions belt. In several mythological passages in Vedic literature the three stars comprising the asterism of Orions belt were represented as an arrow shot by Tisya. In the Avestan Yast 8.6-7 and 37-38 Titrya flies in the sky as the arrow shot by their Aryan hero archer. (The connection lies not in the Rig Veda but in later Indian literature.) Also, a Babylonian text dealing with the new year rituals states that the star KAK-SI-SÁ [KAK.SI.DI] (Sirius) measures the waters. This compares with the Iranian Titrya raising the waters of Vourukaša. (The month of Sirius (Tīrī) was associated with the rainy season.)
The similarity occurring in in Babylonia, China and Egypt with the ancient constellation figures to the southeast of Sirius is quite remarkable.
The Chinese have a Bow and Arrow asterism Hou-Chi (reputedly dating to at least the 4th-century BCE) formed by the same stars (in Canis Major) as the Mespotamian Bow and Arrow constellations. The Bow and Arrow is aimed at the Jackal (T'ien-Lang) which is the star Sirius. The celestial Emperor (i.e., mythical ancient Emperors) shot an arrow at the sky jackal (Sirius). In later Egypt, on the round zodiac of Denderah the Egyptian divine archeress, Satit (Satet) (one of two wives of Khnumu), situated just to the east of the Cow in the Barque (Sirius), shoots her arrow at Sirius. Mesopotamian uranography (late period) had constellations comprising of Bow and Arrow (mul BAN and mul KAK.SI.DI). (Also written as mul KAK.SI.DÁ.) Sirius is KAK.SI.DI the Arrow Star (specifically the (shining) tip of the arrow). The Bow is formed from the stars of Argo and Canis Major. Presumably one or more stars between Sirius and mul BAN marked the shaft of the arrow. The MUL.APIN text states "the Bow Star is the Ishtar of Elam, daughter of Enlil." (The Mesopotamian mul KAK-SI-DI (Sirius) is always identified as an arrow.) The planet Mercury was also called "Arrow." This is likely because both Sirius and Mercury move across the sky at a rapid speed. Sirius was associated with Ninurta (god of the thunderstorms, the plough, and the south wind, and god of the city of Nippur), and Mercury with Nabû (god of wisdom and writing). The Mesopotamian Bow and Arrow constellations are identifiable as the original source for the Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian Bow and Arrow schemes. In cuneiform texts Venus as morning star is sometimes called the Bow Star (due to Ishtar of Agade being a war goddess). The issue was first discussed by Franz Kugler in his SSB II. According to Antonio Panaino Mesopotamian astral beliefs regarding mul KAK.SI.DI began influencing Iranian beliefs about Titrya in the Achaemenid Period. Iranian beliefs about Titrya became syncretistic and Titrya also became a god related to (1) the calendar, (2) the astral interpretation of the feasts of the Adonis-Tammuz fertility cycle, and (3) astrological speculation.
(6) Early Western Constellation Sets
The splendour of the starry night sky must have been a constant source of fascination since the dawn of human history. However, this does not mean there were early attempts to constellate the night sky and give names to prominent stars. Ancient constellation 'systems' did not fill the entire visible sky. Ed Krupp has pointed out that constellation systems are functions of social complexity. Nomadic hunters and herders don't actually develop full constellation systems but select key elements of the sky that are useful. The appearance of elaborate constellation sets as reference systems covering most of the visible sky only originated with the development of complex societies. Constellations are a means of organising the sky by dividing it into smaller segments. This function of constellations was certainly required by the Mesopotamians as their astral sciences developed.
Knowledge of early uranography exists as (1) a qualitative descriptive tradition (and the constellations are associated with myths), and later (2) a quantitative mathematical tradition (i.e., described stars are located in a co-ordinate system). Within the early qualitative descriptive tradition the locations of stars were described in terms of their relative positions within a constellation figure.
There is some evidence for the existence of constellations in the late 3rd millennium BCE in Sumeria (Ur III Period) and also in the Middle East in the city-states of Ebla and Mari. In his article "Further Notes on Birmingham Cuneiform Tablets volume I." (Acta Sumerologica, Volume 13, 1991, Pages 406-417) the Assyriologist Wayne Horowitz includes a brief discussion of possible evidence pointing to an Ur III origin of at least some constellation and star names.
Complex constellation systems make their earliest appearances in the 2nd millennium BCE in the stable kingships of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. In these empires astronomy had become a state supported and state directed enterprise. The extant evidence clearly indicates the significant role of Mesopotamian civilization in the origin of the constellations. (Likely dating to the neo-Sumerian period in the late 3rd millennium BCE.) The Babylonian constellation set of the 1st-millennium BCE influenced the the constellation set consolidated by the Greeks. (The consolidation of the major astral omen series Enuma Anu Enlil between circa 1300 BCE and 1000 BCE was likely an influence for the constellating of the entire Mesopotamian sky.) The Greek constellation set forms the core of the (European) constellation set we use today. The complete constellating of the Greek sky was also done rather rapidly; likely between the 5th and the 3rd centuries BCE.
Since the work of the Belgian astronomer Eugène Delporte on constellation boundaries (published 1930) the constellations are, in modern astronomy, no longer regarded as star patterns but rather as precisely defined areas of the sky instead.
(7) Introduction of Star Globes
It would appear that star globes preceded star catalogues. A celestial globe is a 3-dimensional map of the stars. A celestial globe shows the apparent position of the stars in the sky.
The concept of constructing a physical model to represent the arrangement of the constellations appears to have originated in ancient Greece. The stars were perceived by the observer looking up at the night sky as being attached to the inside of a hollow sphere with the terrestrial observer being at the centre. Consequently, the earliest attempts to represent the constellations were by means of a star globe. The earliest star globes simply depicted the constellation figures.
Star globes have been used since classical times and were produced initially by Greek astronomers. The beginning of construction of celestial globes can hardly be earlier than the existence of a spherical theory of the heavens. The Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 BCE) proved that the earth was round. Over 100 years later the Greek mathematician Erastosthenes of Cyrene (276-194 BCE) is said to have calculated the circumference of the earth with considerable accuracy.
The Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes constructed the first celestial globe on record, but it is believed other celestial globes had existed before it. The Greek philosopher Anaximander of Miletus (circa first half of the 6th-century BCE) taught that the sky was a globe and possibly invented the celestial globe. There is, however, no certainty that star globes existed before the time of Eudoxus, i.e., existed with Thales of Miletus and Anaximander of Miletus. It appears the actual term used was 'sphere.' Diogenes Laertius wrote that Anaximander of Miletus had made a sphere. Radim Kocandrle has made the point (2012) that unfortunately, the meaning of the term 'sphere' is not made clear. We do not know whether it was an armillary sphere (model), a celestial globe, or a drawing, or whether the term sphere is only due to an anachronism of later authors. The 5th- and 4th- centuries BCE saw the introduction of celestial mapping in Greece - including celestial globes. According to the Roman poet and orator Cicero (106-43 BCE), Aratus derived his entire description of the constellations from the star globe constructed by Eudoxus. In Aratus' Phaenomena the the description of the human figures at least seem to be taken from those on a star globe. However, a star globe is never mentioned.
The purely scientific celestial globes of the ancient Greeks and Romans were mostly constructed of wood. Later Greek and Roman celestial globes were constructed with the key celestial circles, a dark blue background to represent the night sky, and the stars were indicated by their apparent brightness and colour. The apparent magnitude of stars was represented by discs of 6 different sizes and their colour by either red or yellow.
The earliest star globe makers faced the principal problem of how to position the constellation figures - how are the constellation figures to be positioned on the surface of a star globe. The ancient Greek (and later) astronomers drew the constellations on globes both in sky-view and in rear-view - that is, with the observers inside or outside the globe - and sometimes even on the same globe. This was also done with descriptions of the constellations given in ancient texts.
The terrestrial viewpoint is necessarily from the inside of the celestial sphere looking outwards. Hence, properly, the stars (constellation images) are to be observed from inside the star globe. However, without some elaborate special construction the constellation images cannot be viewed in this way - the view point for a star globe is from outside. The solution decided upon by the earliest star globe makers was to reverse the relative positions of the constellation images (stars) i.e., east to west for right to left direction, to match watching them from the outside of the celestial sphere looking inwards. This resulted in the depiction of constellation figures being depicted from the back, not only on star globes but also later on Late Antiquity drawings and later Medieval star atlases. The custom from Late Antiquity was to draw constellation figures, particularly the human figures, from the back, as if they were on a star globe. As example: Some of the illustrations in the Leiden Aratea i.e., Serpentarius, Perseus, and Orion. An exception is the figure of Aquarius which faces the observer but is revered right to left, still representing the constellation as it would be seen on a star globe. The same with the early Medieval star atlases. As example: Albrecht Dürer (1515) and Johann Bayer (1603). Johannes Honter (1541) - whose view point was inside looking outside - drew the constellations figures/stars from the front. A much later solution was - when simply drawing star globes - to depict the constellation figures/stars as seen by ignoring the convex surface of the globe and simply assuming that it is a concave surface.
(8) Early Star Catalogues
The West: Timocharis of Alexandria and Aristillus (presumably of the school of Timocharis) produced the first Greek star catalogue circa 280 BCE.
The East: Star lists appear in Mesopotamia as early as the Old Babylonian period circa 1850 BCE. However, the pinnacle of star lists is reached in the Mul.Apin series circa 1000 BCE.
The Orient: (1) Star map/catalogue by Wu Xian (created circa 1200-1000 BCE) but perhaps mythical for this time. (The life dates for Wu Xian (Wuxian) are uncertain and there is the possibility he may even have been fictional.) This was a partial (northern) sky star map apparently containing 44 central and outer constellations and a total of 141 stars. (2) Star map/catalogue by Gan/Ghan De (created between circa 475-221 BCE, Warring States period). This was a partial (northern) sky star map possibly containing 75 central constellations and 42 outer constellations (= 117 constellations). (Some sources though state 510 stars in 118 constellations). (3) Star map/catalogue by Shi Shen (created circa 350 BCE). This was a relatively comprehensive (northern) sky star map apparently containing 138 constellations, 810 star names, and the locations of 121 stars. (According to some sources it contained the 28 lunar ecliptic constellations/asterisms, 62 central constellations, and 30 outer constellations.) However, we have no record of the brightness of the stars, which has made complete identification difficult.
Modern star catalogues give the position of the stars in a mathematical system of coordinates. Ancient 'star catalogs,' such as Ptolemy's 'star catalogue' were quite different and were not well-suited for astronomical observation. Their intention was more towards providing basic information on the stars comprising the constellation figures and the relative positions of the constellations, as well as explaining legendary aspects of the constellation figures.
The term "early star catalogues" is also commonly applied to descriptions of Greek (and Babylonian) uranography prior to Ptolemy. With few exceptions these "early star catalogues", however, are distinctly different from what modern astronomers, from Ptolemy onwards, have meant by the term. With few exceptions, prior to Ptolemy star catalogues did not give the position of stars by any system of mathematical coordinates. They are instead qualitative descriptions of the constellations. They simply note the number of stars in each part of a constellation and the general location of the brighter stars within a constellation. (The type of description usually used is "near X is Y".) This cumbersome method of describing the location of stars in terms of their relative positions in a constellation was used by both the Babylonians and the Greeks. The pictorial arrangement of stars is not a star catalogue. A star catalogue proper gives accurate positions for each individual star regardless of the constellation it is grouped into. Also, the boundaries of the Greek constellations were subject to change up to the time of Ptolemy.
In Greek astronomy the stars within the constellation figures were usually not given individual names. (There are only a few individual star names from Greece. The most prominent stars in the sky were usually nameless in Greek civilization. If there was a system of Greek star names then it has not come down to us and also would appear unknown to Ptolemy.) Greek constellations ("star catalogues") up to the time of Ptolemy are descriptive. The Western tradition of describing the constellations by means of describing the relative positions of the stars within the constellation figures was firmly established by Eratosthenes and Hipparchus. In their descriptions to the time of Ptolemy the constellations were defined by the Greeks by their juxtaposition (i.e., descriptive comparison of positional relationship to each other). Prior to Hipparchus (and Ptolemy) the general goal of the Greeks at least was not accurate astronomical observation but artistic and mythological education. The end result was a sort of geographical description of territorial position and limits.
Circa the 5th-century BCE many of the constellations recognised by the Greeks had become associated with myths. Both the star catalogue (constellation description) of Eudoxus (4-century BCE) and the star catalogue (constellation description) of Aratus (3rd-century BCE) adopted the vocabulary of myth. In his Castasterismi Eratosthenes (284-204 BCE) completed and standardised this process with each of the constellations being given a mythological significance. The first complete description of the Greek constellations to survive is given by the Greek poet Aratus circa 270 BCE. With only a few exceptions no actual stars are described by Aratus - only constellation figures. This method was undoubtedly inherited from Eudoxus who produced a set of descriptions of constellations in which the relative positions of stars in each of the constellations was described. Eudoxus was likely the first Greek to summarise the Greek system of constellations. The purpose of the Phaenomena by Aratus was to describe the appearance and the organisation of the constellations in the sky with reference to each other.
Ancient 'star catalogues involved:
(1) Qualitative descriptions of the constellations.
(2) Noting the number of stars in each part of the constellations. (Describing the constellations by means of describing the relative positions of the stars within the constellation figures.)
(3) Noting the general location of the brighter stars within the constellations.
(4) Perhaps providing illustrations of the constellations to accompany the descriptions given.
(5) The illustrations depicting the mythological figures represented by the constellations (rather than the location and brightness of individual stars).
(6) The illustrations depicting the mythological figures represented by the constellations sometimes containing no stars at all - the body of each of the figures simply being filled with text discussing the particular constellation.
(9) Chronological History of Preserved Early Star Maps
Circa 1500 BCE (late 2nd-millennium BCE) - Several royal tombs in Egypt have ceiling/wall paintings of constellation figures. In the New Kingdom period (circa 1500 to 1100 BCE), the constellational representations were painted on temple ceilings (i.e., the Ramesseum ceiling) and on the sepulchral vaults of kings (i.e., the tomb of Senmut). However these are not accurately drawn and are essentially decorative.
Circa 650 BCE - The Assyrian planisphere K 8538 is a circular star map, divided into equal 8 sectors, with constellations depicted in addition to written constellation names, star names, and symbols. It is not a depiction of the whole visible sky.
Circa 300-100 BCE - Kugel celestial globe may be the earliest celestial globe to survive from antiquity. It does not follow the Graeco-Roman astronomical norms of the period as defined by the astronomer Hipparchus. The size and positions of a number of constellations are misplaced.
Circa 150 BCE - Farnese globe depicting most of the Aratean constellation figures (but not individual stars). Believed by art historians to be a Roman copy of an earlier (presumably) Greek original. It is generally thought that the existing sculpture was made in Rome circa 150 CE and is a late copy of a Greek original made circa 200 BCE. Stars may have been painted on the marble globe.
Circa 140 CE - Ptolemy's descriptive star catalogue with the placement of stars within Eudoxan/Aratean constellation figures. The constellation list in Ptolemy's star catalogue standardised the Western constellation scheme.
Circa 150-220 CE - The Mainz celestial globe is a complete celestial globe in that it depicts all 48 Classical constellations (but does not fully agree with the star-catalogue of Claudius Ptolemy) with relative precision.
Circa 670 CE - Chinese Dunhuang star map depicting the whole of the sky visible in China. The oldest known manuscript star chart and, excluding astrolabes, it is the oldest existing portable star map known.
Circa 715 CE - The Aratean constellation set painted on the domed ceiling at the bath house of the Arab palace at Qusayr 'Amra (Jordan). The constellation depiction/mapping mostly followed the Ptolemaic tradition.
Circa 820 CE - The Leiden Aratea is a 9th-century CE copy of an astronomical and meteorological manuscript based on the Phaenomena written by the Greek poet Aratus The evidence suggests the Leiden Aratea was probably produced in the royal scriptorium, possibly in 816 CE.) The manuscript contains 39 full-page miniatures.
Circa 1009/10 - Al-Sufi's book on the fixed stars. In al-Sufi's Kitab suwar al-kawakib the constellation figures and the individual stars comprising them are shown separately (i.e., separated from each other) without any information on their relative positions being given. No sky map (with all the constellations charted) appears in the book.
1440 CE - Earliest known western maps of the northern and southern hemispheres with both stars and constellation figures. (These are preserved in Vienna and may have been based on the now lost charts from 1425 owned by Regiomontanus.)
1598 CE - Southern constellations depicted on a celestial globe by Petrus Plancius. (Until the end of the 16th-century star charts contained only the 48 Ptolemaic constellations.)
(10) Early Traditions for Locating Stars
The ancient Greeks are the main source of present-day Western star/constellation names. The present-day Western constellations are based on the classical Greek constellation set. Also, additional Western constellations were introduced in the 17th and 18th centuries both to fill the gaps remaining in the northern sky and to map the newly-accessible southern sky. (Many cultures were not concerned with constellating the regions of the sky that contained only faint stars. They attached them to larger constellations, gave them less important names, or ignored them completely.)
There is a descriptive tradition and a mathematical tradition for locating the stars. Naturally, the descriptive tradition is earliest. In the descriptive tradition, the stars are located according to their position within the constellations; while in the mathematical tradition, the stars are located according to a set of coordinates.
Throughout antiquity and the Middle Ages up to the beginning of the 17th-century the normal method of referring to a star/star's location was a type of verbal description relating the particular star to its individual position within the shape of the constellation. At times this descritive system became cumbersome. The requirement to "Look at the 3rd star to the left of Capella." lacks a suitable scientific precision.
The Western tradition of describing stars by their positions within constellation figures may have begun with Eudoxus of Cnidus (circa 408-circa 355 BCE). It was certainly continued/established by Eratosthenes of Cyrene (circa 276-circa 196 BCE) and Hipparchus of Nicaea (circa 190-circa 120 BCE). The descriptive method had existed with the Babylonians circa the late 2nd-millennium BCE. The 3 classical texts setting out the constellation set we have inherited are: (1) Aratus' Phaenomena (3rd-century BCE, 45 constellations described); (2) Hyginus' De astronomia (1st-century BCE, 44 constellations described); and (3) Ptolemy's Syntaxis [Almagest] (2nd-century CE, 48 constellations described). Both Aratus and Hyginus locate stars descriptively.
Ptolemy locates stars by using both description and coordinates. In the star catalogue of Ptolemy each star is described by its position within the supposed figure of each constellation. Also, its celestial latitude and longitude are given. It can be identified with considerable exactness how the late Greek astronomers at least imagined the constellation figures. Not all stars were included in constellation groups. Approximately 10 percent of the stars listed in Ptolemy's catalogue are not included within constellation figures.
(11) Individual Star Names
The Babylonians and the Greek named very few individual stars. There are some 300 preserved Mesopotamian names for individual stars or asterisms. Most (but not all) of these star names are actually little more than short descriptors denoting the positions of the stars within constellations (i.e., the middle star on the brow of the Scorpion). In Greek astronomy the stars within the constellation figures were not usually given individual names. The star names mentioned by Aratus are Sirius, Arcturus, Procyon ("Forerunner of the Dog"), Stachys ("Ear of Corn," now Spica), and Protrugater ("Herald of the Vintage"). Ptolemy added only 4 stars to those named by Aratus 4 centuries earlier - Aetus (Altair), Antares, Basiliscus (Regulus), and Lyra (Vega) the same name as its constellation.
The majority of star names adopted for use in Western nomenclature since the Renaissance are Arabic in origin. The use of names to identify individual stars that formed a constellation - in contrast to the descriptor method identifying the location of the star in the constellation figure - was only really established through the influence of Arabic-Islamic astronomy on Latin Europe during the medieval period. Star names still officially in use are essentially limited to the old pre-telescopic names given to the brighter stars. The more numerous fainter stars, most requiring the use of a telescope to see, are known only by modern catalogue numbers and coordinates. The greatest influence on stars names occurred when Ptolemy's book The Great System of Astronomy (Arabic, Almagest) was translated twice into Arabic (initially twice in the 9th-century). With the reintroduction of Ptolemy's Almagest back into Europe, beginning in the 10th-century CE (its major influence being in the 13th-century), many of the Arabic-language star descriptions using Ptolemy's star catalogue came to be used widely in Europe as names for stars. Quite a lot of prominent stars bear Arabic names, in which the definite article al (corresponding to the English-language 'the') usually appears in front of the names, e.g., Algol, 'The Ghoul.' The inclusion of the definite article as part of the star name (prefix) has now become rather arbitrary.
A number of modern star names derive from the indigenous pre-Islamic traditions of the Arabian Peninsula, where names had been established for the brighter stars. However, the majority of star names remaining in modern use are those star names used by the medieval Arab-Islamic astronomer al-Sūfī, and are Arabic translations of Ptolemy's system of descriptions. Ptolemy's system of descriptions was inevitably perpetuated with the reintroduction of Ptolemy's Almagest back into Europe. Following the ancient Greek tradition, the majority of stars names are related to their constellation, e.g., the star name Deneb means 'tail' and is the label for the matching part of Cygnus the Swan; the star name Fomalhaut comes from the Arabic meaning 'mouth of the southern fish,' which matches where Ptolemy had described it in his star catalogue in the Almagest. Other star names (not many) simply describe the star itself, such as Sirius, which literally means 'scorching.'
The leading expert on star names in Arab-Islamic astronomy is the German historian Paul Kunitzsch. His research has enabled him to identify 2 traditions of star names in Arab-Islamic tradition. The 1st involves the traditional star names originated by the indigenous pre-Islamic inhabitants of the Arabian Peninsula, which he has named 'indigenous-Arabic,' the 2nd involves the scientific Arab-Islamic tradition, which he designates 'scientific-Arabic.'
(12) The Magnitude System
Greek astronomers are thought to be the first ancient astronomers to classify stars by their brightness. The magnitude system - denoting the apparent degree of brightness of stars - apparently originated with the Greek astronomer Hipparchus. Circa 130 BCE, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes created the first known catalogue of stars (that totalled approximately 850 stars). This star catalogue does not survive today. Hipparchus listed the stars that could be seen in each constellation, described their positions, and ranked their brightness in a simple way on a scale of 1 to 6, the brightest being 1. He called the 20 brightest stars "of the first magnitude," simply meaning "the biggest." Stars that were not as bright were called "of the second magnitude," or second biggest. The faintest stars Hipparchus could barely see he called "of the sixth magnitude." Thus the system of star magnitudes is one that counts backwards (an inverse scale). The use of this backward numbering method (or rather a similar system) for describing the brightness of a star survives today largely due to its adoption by the influential Hellenised astronomer Claudius Ptolemy. Around 140 CE Claudius Ptolemy copied Hipparchus’ magnitude system in his own expanded star catalogue of 1022 stars (included in his work the Almagest). Sometimes Ptolemy added the words "greater" or "smaller" to distinguish between stars within a magnitude class. Because Ptolemy's Almagest remained the basic astronomy text for the next 1,400 years, everyone used the system of first to sixth magnitudes. Prior to the invention of the telescope the "apparent magnitude" system worked quite well. (Note: According to another version, the stellar magnitude system of Hipparchus seems to have had no other distinction than "clear," "small," and "obscure." Later, Ptolemy in his catalogue gave 6 different classes, numbered from 1 to 6. (and occasionally subdivided by the remark "larger" or "smaller").
However, by the middle of the 19th-century, a need to define the entire magnitude scale more precisely than by simple eyeball judgment. As more accurate instruments came into play, astronomers found that each magnitude is about 2.5 times brighter than the next greater magnitude. This means that magnitude 1 stars are around 100 times brighter than magnitude 6 stars. Also, more accurate measurements allowed the astronomers to assign stars decimal values, like 2.75, rather than rounding off to magnitude 2 or 3. In 1856 the Oxford astronomer Norman Pogson proposed that a difference of five magnitudes be exactly defined as a brightness ratio of 100 to 1. This convenient rule was quickly adopted. One magnitude thus corresponds to a brightness difference of exactly the fifth root of 100, or very close to 2.512 - a value known as the Pogson ratio. The resulting magnitude scale is logarithmic (in agreement with the mistaken 1850s belief that all human senses are logarithmic in their response to stimuli). However, our perceptions of the world actually follow power-law curves, not logarithmic ones. Thus a star of magnitude 3.0 does not in fact look exactly halfway in brightness between 2.0 and 4.0. It looks a little fainter than that. The star that looks halfway between 2.0 and 4.0 will actually be about magnitude 2.8. The wider the magnitude gap, the greater this discrepancy is. Although scientists have known for some time that the response of our eyes to stimuli/intensity is a power law, astronomers continue to use the Pogson magnitude scale.
The logarithmic system is now locked into the magnitude system as firmly as Hipparchus's backward numbering. A result of ranking star magnitudes on a precise mathematical scale, however ill-fitting, introduced the unavoidable situation that some "1st-magnitude" stars were a whole lot brighter than others. This required astronomers to extend the scale out to brighter values as well as faint ones (made visible with the invention of the telescope). Thus the bright stars Rigel, Capella, Arcturus, and Vega are magnitude 0, an awkward value statement that makes it seem they have no brightness at all! The magnitude scale extends farther into negative numbers: Sirius shines at magnitude –1.5 (minus 1.5).
Usually, when an astronomer talks about magnitude, "apparent magnitude," is meant - referring to the way we perceive stars, viewing them from Earth. Apparent magnitude is usually written with a lower case m, as in 3.24m. However, the brightness of a star is not just a matter of how brightly it shines, but also how far away it is. Modern astronomers came up with another way to measure brightness and call this "absolute magnitude." Absolute magnitude is defined as how bright a star would appear if it were exactly 10 parsecs (about 33 light years) away from Earth. For example, the Sun has an apparent magnitude of -26.7 (because it's very, very close) and an absolute magnitude of +4.8. Absolute magnitudes are usually written with a capital M, as in 2.75M.
(13) Uses for Stars
Constellations (the arrangement of stars into groups) serve as a mnemonic aid for identifying stars and their positions (including relative positions) in the night sky. Establishing artificial grouping relationships among the more prominent of the approximately 3500 visible stars made it easy for early people to both remember them and to locate them quickly in a segment of the night sky. Uses for stars and their arrangement into constellations/asterisms - and their yearly cycle - include: (1) determining new year, (2) festival regulation, (3) direction finding (nautical navigation and land navigation), (4) weather indicators, (5) seasonal indicators, (6) agricultural calendars, (7) weather prediction, (8) time-keeping (time of night and time of year), and (9) identifying sky positions. (See: "Some Aspects of Primitive Astronomy." by A. P. FitzGerald (The Irish Astronomical Journal, Volume 1, Number 7, September, Pages 197-212).) For the Babylonians, identifying sky positions was important for the recording of celestial omens. (The Greeks had no professional interpreters of omens.)
The quite well preserved Babylonian cuneiform tablet, BM 36609 contains an important compendium (a compilation of short texts) of Babylonian stellar astronomy dealing with the use of stars in late Babylonian astronomy.
In the Greek city-states constellations were introduced to help identify and remember the rising and setting of individual stars.
Until the introduction of the Julian calendar reform of 46 BCE the only reliable way of telling the time (and seasons) was to utilise celestial chronology. People needed to know the positions of the constellations and be aware of the meteorological phenomena accompanying them. For the Classical World all essential knowledge to enable this was included in Aratus' Phaenomena. The role and importance of the stars as a time-reckoning device was superseded in the Roman world by the synchronization of the civil and solar years under Julius Caesar.
(14) Stars as Astronomical Reference Systems
Five key systems of astronomical reference were independently developed in antiquity. Mesopotamia: The 3 ways of Ea, Anu, and Enlil (= the stars of Ea, Anu, and Enlil); later the system was replaced by the zodiac (which has survived to the present day in the Greek constellation set). India: the 27/28 stars/asterisms (naksatra) associated with the path of the moon (lunar mansions), now mainly surviving within astrology. China: System of 27/28 hsiu's (xiu's) (lunar lodges) spread out in a band either along the equator or ecliptic. Egypt: System of 36 decans (stars/asterisms) in a band south of the ecliptic (now surviving within astrology).
(15) Constellation Development
We have material evidence that in the occident small was just as likely to be early and big was just as likely to be late. There are sound reasons to believe the constellations originated with, and developed from, seasonally/agriculturally significant stars and simple asterisms. Also, there no solid reasons to believe that constellation development – including the size of a constellation and the amount of sky considered necessary to map – followed a simple developmental path. Diverse cultural responses to the night sky, made over lengthy time periods, were inevitable. There is every indication that ancient cultures invented constellation patterns that matched the functions/purposes attributed to the star groupings/arrangements they devised. Hydra is the largest of the modern constellations and measures 1303 square degrees. The Greeks identified 27 stars comprising Hydra. Argo was the largest constellation in Greek uranography measuring 1867 square degrees. The Greeks identified 27 stars comprising Argo. The evidence is clear that the constellation Argo, the largest constellation in the Greek sky, was the late invention of the Hellenistic period. It appears to have been invented by the Greeks under the influence of the story of the Argonauts and their voyage for the Golden Fleece. The Pleiades asterism (one of the smallest `constellations´) measuring some 6 square degrees, has existed and been used all around the world as a seasonal/agricultural indicator at a date long preceding the existence of Argo. (Argo had no seasonal/agricultural function.) It is impossible to have a late origin for the Pleiades.
(16) Constellation Transmission (Diffusion and Migration)
Enabled in a multitude of ways - both BCE and CE.
Four geographic/cultural blocks can be considered: (1) Orient (China, Mongolia, Korea, Southeast Asia), (2) Near East (Mesopotamia, Arabian Peninsula, Iran, India), (3) Mediterranean (Greece, Rome, Turkey, Levant, Egypt), and (4) Northern Europe. Empire establishment through warfare: (1) Egyptian empire, (2) Assyrian empire, (3) Persian empire, (4) Greek empire, (5) Roman empire, (6) Mongolian empire, (7) Islamic empire, and (8) the Crusades. Important activities include: (1) Migration, (2) Trade (Routes), (3) Travelling scholars/entertainers (storytellers)/crafts people. The Phoenicians (seafaring traders) were conduits for cultural exchange. The trade route termed the Silk Road offered access to traders, merchants, pilgrims and travellers, etc, between China and the Near East and Mediterranean. Key religions and related activities: (1) Christianity, (2) Islam, and (3) Buddhism. Buddhism was very much a missionary religion. Buddhist missionaries travelled from India to China.
The Near East (Mesopotamia) was an early source of constellations and cultural transmission.
Later means included European exploration, migration, colonisation and empire building. Also, the Byzantine empire. Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, like all great capitals, was a melting-pot of heterogeneous elements: all seventy-two tongues known to man were represented in it, according to a contemporary source.
Methodological issues need to be clarified. The inventory method of comparison contributes little. Also, comparisons need to be culturally specific. The contact model of transmission needs to be explored; as does bilingualism within cultures.
(17) The Identification of Ancient Constellation Names with Modern Constellation Names
"The identification of ancient star-names with the modern names for fixed stars, planets, and constellations is problematic. The apparent positions of stars in the heavens have changed since antiquity, and many ancient constellations are no longer recognized. Furthermore, names of fixed-stars and constellations may have varied during ancient times, and constellations whose names remained constant, may have been composed of different stars in different periods or as viewed from different cities. Thus it is often best not to attempt precise identifications of ancient star-names with modern names." (Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography, by Wayne Horowitz (1998, Pages 153-154).)
(18) Attempts to Identify Similar Star Groupings Across Cultures and Time
"There is a long tradition of attempts to identify - with inadequate evidence - unknown constellations in other astronomical systems. These attempts are frequently reported at meetings, and occasionally appear in print. Interpreters typically begin with the premise that constellations we know have counterparts in other systems. In some cases this is so. Certain asterisms - the Pleiades, Orion's belt, the Big dipper (Plough), and a few others - are almost always singled out by everybody. After that, the picture is very muddy. Those who have studied constellations with discipline and a desire to discern genuine fact have understood that "tentative identities" based on loosely defined configurational relationships have very little value." (Posting: "Dr Krupp replies to Etz and Bauval," by Ed. Krupp, In the Hall of Ma'at, July 25, 2002.)
The following quote, whilst focusing on South America, also makes the point. "A related problem has especially hampered progress in Andean [and wider] ethnoastronomy. It is the tendency to make assumptions about what other people must see when they look at the sky. Many late-nineteenth and early-twentieth-century scholars (especially G. V. Callegari, Jean Du Gourca, and Stanbury (sic) Hagar) attempted to reconstruct the Incaic constellations as though they wee identical to the Greek and Roman constellations. For example, Hagar made a careful study of the cosmological drawing of Pachacuti Yamqui ... and concluded by equating twelve figures in the drawing to the twelve constellations of the European zodiac .... In a similar vein, Antonio Tejeiro ... formally related each of the constellations of the contemporary Aymara-speaking Indians of Bolivia to a constellation in the European tradition. Now the point of objection is that Gemini, or Capricorn, or Cancer have as much business floating over the imperial city of Cuzco as the "dark cloud" constellation of the Llama has floating over over the sanctuary of Delphi. None of these constellations exists in the sky unless a particular culture agrees on its existence. The stellar constellations of Western Europe and the Mediterranean are the constructs of a long cultural tradition which has its roots in Egypt and Sumeria. [More likely Babylonia.] Without the cultural tradition the constellations have no caledrical, symbolic, or cosmological meaning. In addition, it is often assumed by Western-trained scholars that there is some real relationship between the order of the stars and the shapes which the classical Western civilizations projected onto the celestial sphere. This again, is not the case. Almost every culture seems to have recognized a few of the same celestial groupings (e.g., the tight cluster of the Pleiades, the V of the Hyades, the straight line of the belt of Orion), but the large constellation shapes of European astronomy and astrology simply are not universally recognized; the shapes were projected onto the stars because the shapes were important objects or characters in the Western religious, mythological, and calendrical tradition. Thus it is wrong to assume that different sociocultural groups will project the same shapes onto the stars - or even that different cultures will have the same motivation for ordering the stars into constellations. (At the Crossroads of the Earth and the Sky: An Andean Cosmology by Gary Urton (1981, 2013).)
An asterism is an obvious pattern of (a small number of) stars that are not part of a regularised constellation list. An asterism may form part (a section) of a constellation or may be formed from stars from more than one constellation. Historically, before constellation sets were organised, there was no difference between a constellation and an asterism. Asterisms generally mark out simple geometric shapes. Some of the best-known asterisms in the northern sky are: (1) the Big Dipper (Plough), and (2) the Great Square of Pegasus.
(2) Dating the Constellations
(1) "Void Zone" Method
In 1807 the ideas of the Swedish amateur astronomer Carl Swartz his ideas on the origins of the constellations were first published in his Recherches sur l'origine et le signification des Constellations de la Sph�re greque (1807). The revised (standard) edition was published as Le Zodiaque expliqu� (1809). Unlike Charles Dupuis and others he identified a recent date for the constellations and the zodiac. In the first and second editions of his book Carl Swartz proposed that the unconstellated area of the southern sky gave an approximate date for the formation of the constellations. Specifically he: (1) identified the unmapped space in the southern sky as significant for determining the origin of the constellations; (2) argued a case for the essential unity of the constellations as a single set; (3) estimated that the radius of the "void zone" was about 40 degrees; and (4) deducted from the "void zone" that the date of origin of the constellations was 1400 BCE.
Carl Swartz's ideas for the origin of science and culture in the Caucasus region were based on Von den kaukcasischen V�lkern der mythischen by Theodor Ditmar (1789). The Royal Observatory, Greenwich sun spot specialist Edward Maunder discovered a copy of Le Zodiaque expliqu� in the observatory library and in a series of articles from 1898 to 1913 reintroduced many of the ideas of its author.
The "void zone" argument, though popular since its reintroduction by Edward Maunder, has multiple problems. The chief premise of the "void zone" is that the classical Greek constellations (i.e., the Aratean constellations) were designed at one definite time and in one place, according to a preconceived plan. The argument for establishing the time and place of the Aratean constellations is based on the extent of the vacant space left around the south pole of the celestial sphere when all but the Aratean constellations are removed; and the apparent movement of the stars due to precession. The further assumption made is that the area of the globe that was not constellated in the description of Aratus was centred on the south celestial pole at the date when the constellations were fixed.
The size of the "void zone" is taken as a clue to the latitude at which the constellation inventors lived. A date is found when, by allowing for precession, the centre of the "void zone" on the globe is in the position of the south celestial pole.
(2) "Void Zone" Method Flaws
The subjectivity of the method is demonstrated by the varying estimates of the radius of the "void zone" (30 degrees to 40 degrees) and the varying estimates of the date of origin given by precession (1400-2800 BCE). Anyway the boundaries of the "void zone" cannot be accurately defined as we lack the understanding of the original boundaries of the classical Greek constellation figures. Due to our lack of knowledge of the boundaries of the Aratean constellations the "void zone" method is inherently subjective and its use can lead to no real agreement (as it has failed to do) regarding the latitude and date for the constellations being designed at one definite time and place.
Many of the Aratean constellations show a similarity with Babylonian constellations. The Greek constellation scheme of Aratus of Soli (3rd-century BCE) contains a mix of both Babylonian constellations and non-Babylonian constellations. The Babylonian component of the Aratean constellations is traceable to both Babylonian "star calendar" constellations of the 2nd millennium BCE and also to Babylonian constellations listed in the later Mul.Apin series (circa 1000 BCE). (The few known 8th-century BCE constellations of Homer mirror the constellations already existing in the Babylonian scheme.) The Babylonian scheme of constellations has always been a mix of constellations mentioned by Aratus and other constellations outside the Aratean scheme. A definite Babylonian influence on the later Greek scheme of constellations is reasonably indicated. It is obvious that the Greeks borrowed certain constellations from the Babylonians and it is obvious that the constellations could not have originated, or been adopted, as a single devised scheme by either the Babylonians or the Greeks.
If the constellations originated as a set circa 2000-2800, as commonly claimed by the proponents of the "void zone" method, then they cannot have originated with the Greeks. However, the latitude at which the constellations were believed to have originated as a single scheme cannot refer to Mesopotamia because their earliest scheme of constellations, though dating to the 2nd millennium BCE, was a mix of constellations mentioned by Aratus and other constellations outside his scheme.
Crediting the Minoans, as some like to do, as the makers of the classical constellations and offering explanations based on the destruction of Minoan civilization and the later ineptitude of the Greeks as observers are also not convincing. There is no evidence that the classical Greek scheme of constellations existed anywhere prior to its evolvement in Greece circa 500 BCE. This includes the fact that there is no evidence that the particular Greek scheme of 12 zodiacal constellations existed anywhere prior to its evolvement in Greece circa 500 BCE. The difficulty with maintaining an ancient zodiac is how can a late Mesopotamian zodiac (developed circa 500 BCE) and comprised of 12 constellations (and 12 equal divisions), and substantially borrowed by the Greeks, have been in use by anybody hundreds of years earlier. (Or even thousands of years earlier, prior to the existence of the Babylonian civilization which demonstrably created it.)
The flawed "void zone" argument has become a common tool for maintaining that a Neolithic zodiac (and fully constellated sky) can be reasonably be proposed. The "void zone" argument can hardly substitute for the lack of clear evidence (which tends to fall under the murky heading of "tradition"). Even if the "void zone" argument were correct it has never offered support for the idea that the constellations could have existed as a deliberately planned set extending back some 6000-8000 years BCE (or further). The use of the "void zone" argument controls the feasible range for the dating of the constellations if they are considered to have originated as a deliberately planned scheme. Interestingly, Edward Maunder, a committed proponent of the "void zone" argument, in his later articles on the topic attempted to overcome this limitation by implying a very slow developmental period for the final scheme of constellation design (see: "Origin of the Constellations", The Observatory, Volume 36, 1913, Page 330).
(1) The Controversy Over Possible Paleolithic Astronomy
It is now usual to argue for the existence of Paleolithic lunar calendars as a means to establish the existence of astronomy in the Paleolithic Period. The strongest recent (but not original) proponent of the existence of Paleolithic lunar calendars was the ex-journalist Alexander Marshack (See: The Roots of Civilization (1972)). Others persons have since moved further and assert the establishment of constellations in the Paleolithic Period. Arguments for the origin of constellations in the Paleolithic Period remain very controversial.
(2) The Controversy Over Possible Paleolithic Lunar Calendars
It remains controversial whether Paleolithic lunar calendars have been discovered.
The original proponent of the existence of Paleolithic lunar calendars was the British geologist Professor Thomas Rupert Jones (1811-1911). He edited the results of the collaborative work of the French paleontologist Professor Édouard Lartet (1801-1871) and the British ethnologist Henry Christy (1810-1865). On Christy's death his half-finished book Reliquiae Aquilanicae was further partly completed by Lartet. On Lartet's death the book was finally edited and completed by Thomas Rupert Jones (known by the preferred name Rupert Jones). It was initially issued in parts but published complete in 1875. Rupert Jones saw the markings (notches) on the bones and antlers from the Upper Paleolithic, on Plate LXXV of the book, not as art (simple decorative marks) but as arithmetical notations, tallies, or calendars.
Alexander Marshack's theory of the existence of Paleolithic lunar calendars remains controversial and numerous objections have been raised against such. Early on, many anthropologists objected to the methods employed by Marshack's application of the schematic notational apparatus he devised could extract a lunar cycle from almost any set of markings. As quick examples: Microscopic analysis of some of the same artifacts by other scholars (including Francesco d'Errico) yields different counts of marks, experimental replication of such artifacts suggests other reasons for the distinctions among marks, and there is reason to believe that all the marks were made at one time, rather than being a sort of tally system of time. (See: Megaliths, Myths and Men by Peter Brown (1976); "Paleolithic Lunar Calendars: A Case of Wishful Thinking?" by Francesco D'Errico (Current Anthropology, Volume 30, Number 1, 1989, Pages 117-118) and see also his reply to Alexander Marshack in Current Anthropology, Volume 30, Number 4, 1989, Pages 494-500; "Upper Paleolithic Notation Systems in Prehistoric Europe." by Simon Holdaway and Susan Johnston (Expedition, Volume 31, Number 1, 1989, Pages 3-11); "On the Impossibility of Close Reading: The Case of Alexander Marshack." by John Elkins (Current Anthropology, Volume 37, Number 2, 1996, Pages 185-201) and see also responses and replies on Pages 201-226; "Review of The Roots of Civilization." by Iain Davidson (American Anthropologist, New Series, Volume 95, Number 4, December, 1993, Pages 1027—1028); "Marking Time." by Daniel Rosenberg (Cabinet Magazine, Issue 28: Bones, Winter, 2007-2008. See also critical reviews of Alexander Marshack's publications by Andrée Rosenfeld (Antiquity, Volume XLV, 1971, Pages 317-319); and by Arden King (American Anthropologist, Volume 75, Number 6, 1973, Pages 1897-1900).)
The possibility of the existence of a notational system does not in itself comprise evidence for the existence and use of a calendar. The question of whether there was a need for the owners of the 'notational artifacts' to have an accurate calendar and be able to calculate time accurately is unresolved. For calendric purposes, the notational system argument requires the artifact to have recognizable reference points i.e., visually distinctive marks. This is the case with modern calendar sticks. A series of undifferentiated notches on the surface of an artifact is not sufficient to demonstrate a calendar of sorts. No type of distinctive marks are to be found on the ancient artifacts offered as proof of a calendrical system being used. Also, as most of the the artifacts are quite small any marks can hardly be differentiated by the unaided eye. This in itself would make them unsuitable for calendrical purposes. Francesco d’Errico made the point that Alexander Marshack's classification was based on Marshack's own intuition, and with the results he reported Marshack had manipulated the number of marks and sequences in order to achieve an accumulation that was correlated to the movement of the sun or moon (see: Francesco d'Errico, 1989).
It was after reading an article by Jean de Heinzelin (Jean de Heinzelin, "Ishango," Scientific American, Volume 206, June, 1962, Pages 109—110).) that Marshack (1918-2004) was prompted to begin to systematically comparing similarly marked bones. He eventually concluded that a very wide range of examples, including the Lartet bone and the Blanchard bone, adhered to a lunar pattern. Marshack did not actually claim that series of marks on certain bones were intended to be lunar calendar. He did, however, believe they were tallies related to lunar cycles. Marshack speculated that the notches could be read as examples of "lunar phrasing." Marshack never publicly released details of all the objects he thought were relation to marking lunar cycles - only the ones he thought provided the best proof of his ideas.
A stable lunar calendar is not easily enabled and is a complicated undertaking. The principal arguments against accepting Marshack's lunar calendar interpretation of scribed marks on certain bones relates to the issues of (1) where he decides a particular sequence of marks begins, and (2) how he decides to count the marks. The critical investigation by Francesco D'Errico of Alexander Marshack's claim that lunar calendars were kept by the Azilian culture of France circa 12,000 years ago has not been supportive of the claim. The important experimental work carried out by Francesco D'Errico found that marks that appeared to be made over time by different tools on items that were claimed to be lunar calendars were, in all likelihood, made by the same tool and without time gaps. Further, no example has ever been given by Marshack, or his supporters, of any scheme of correct lunar month counts on any of the notched bones claimed to be lunar calendars. "Marshack's lunar-notation months vary from 27 to 33 days; the first and last quarters vary from 5 to 8 days and periods of Full Moon and New Moon from 1 to 4 days - plus an allowance of ± 1 day for errors in observation . From these very flexible parameters the lunar model used by Marshack can be made significant for any number or sequence of numbers between 1 and 16 and between 26 and 34. The difficulty in accepting Marshack's ideas is that for each example he has studied, each seems to require assumptions to be made about 'cloud-outs' or it requires other adjustments to account for inconsistencies. With good reason critics have claimed that his ideas are too glib and allow too much manoeuvering or arbitrary jiggling of numbers to suit circumstances. (Megaliths, Myths and Men by Peter Brown, (1976), Page 29.)" Also, the moon itself is never depicted on any of the bones claimed to comprise lunar calendars; but animals and other symbols sometimes are.
(3) The Controversy Over the 7-Day Week as Lunar
A calendar is important for enabling people in society to function continuously in an organised manner. Grouping days into a 7-day week is relatively late.
The concept of the 7-day week seems to have originated in Mesopotamia/West Asia. The 7-day week has no astronomical significance. There is no 7-day cycle in any astronomical or other natural phenomena. Relating the 7-day week to four phases of the moon is not obvious. Hence the concept of a 7-day lunar week is different to the issue of a lunar month. (The 7-day week is not actually a particularly good system for dividing the lunar month as it simply does not divide evenly into the actual duration of such. For this reason very few ancient peoples used a 7-day scheme.) The lunar month can at least be tracked by observing the cycles of the moon. According to some authorities the Babylonians had divided the year into 7-day weeks at least as early as the 15th-century BCE. However, the Sumerian epic of Atra-Hassis (Story of the Flood), preserved in Akkadian from the Old Babylonian period, has the earliest reference to what could be a 7-day week: "After the storm had swept over the country for seven days and seven nights." More likely it is common number symbolism. Simply talking of 7 days and 7 nights does not make a 7-day week. In Mesopotamia the number 7 was the most commonly revered number. One non-lunar theory is simply the 7-day week originated as a planetary week based on the seven identified celestial bodies Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn. Some persons still assert the Babylonians named the seven days of the week after these seven celestial bodies that they knew well. Also, the Babylonian sacred number seven was probably related to the seven "planets." There is no indication that we can easily extend back to the Paleolithic Period for the number 7 or a 7-day week.
The Jews at least since the Babylonian Exile (beginning circa 597 BCE) have had a 7-day week (6 days and sabbath). The early Christians adopted the Jewish continuous 7-day week. The 7-day week originated within the Western Roman Empire - a reconciliation of the Christian 7-day week with the Roman calendar - and, with the consolidation of Christianity as the State religion, spread throughout the Western Roman Empire. Calendars in Antiquity: Empires, States and Societies by Sasha Stern (2012) sets out reasons for believing that the change from flexible to fixed calendars was the way the 7-day week and zodiac-based horoscope were introduced. The change to fixed calendars occurred within the span 500 BCE to 300 CE. Stern maintains this was totally and purposefully based upon the unique, fixed calendar of Egypt, adopted by the (Zoroastrian) Achaemenid regime and passed on to the Hellenistic kingdoms and Rome's Julian calendar. Leofranc Holford-Strevens sets out (A Short History of Time (2007)): The 7-day cycle known as the (7-day) week became a rival to – and ultimate successor to – the Roman 8-day market cycle. The 7-day week as we know it is a fusion of 2 conceptually different day cycles: (1) the Judaeo-Christian week (beginning on Sunday), and (2) the 7-day planetary week derived from Hellenistic astrology (beginning on a Sunday).
(4) Possible Identification of Paleolithic Constellations
Astronomical interpretations are given to a number of the Lascaux (France) cave paintings. Some researchers believe that the #18 Lascaux auroch with the two associated sets of dots represents the constellation Taurus. According to Frank Edge a group of 6 dots painted above the shoulder of auroch #18 represents the Pleiades open star cluster, and that another group of V-shaped dots painted on the auroch's face represents the Hyades open star cluster.
(5) Current Status of The Controversy Over Possible Paleolithic Astronomy
To date none of the arguments attempting to show the existence of some sort of Paleolithic astronomy can be considered convincing. Well-worth consulting is the hefty book Eine Himmelskarte aus der Eiszeit? (1999) by Dr Michael Rappenglück. The author, who undoubtedly pushes the envelope, is an expert on the issues.
There is perhaps archaeological evidence that the big dipper stars were anciently recognised as a constellation. In her 1954 article on "Astronomy in Primitive Religion." (The Journal of Bible and Religion, Volume 22, Number 3, July, Pages 163-171) the noted astronomer Maud Makemson (relying on the work of the pioneer French archaeoastronomer Marcel Baudouin (1860-1941, Secretary of the Societe Prehistorique Francaises) published in 1912 and 1913) reproduced what she believed was a representation of stars in Ursa Major and Boötes incised on a fossilised and silicified sea-urchin (Echinus) on an amulet from stone-age northern Europe. Her further interpretation of the amulet included: (1) that the engraver had taken care to indicate the differences in brightness of the stars by varying the sizes of the cavities, and (2) the depicted configuration of the big dipper stars indicated a high age for the origin of the amulet.
According to the archaeologist Colin Renfrew the Indo-Europeans entered southeastern Europe from Asia Minor/the Balkans circa 7000 BCE. The main constellations of the Indo-Europeans are identified by Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin as: (1) Big Bear, (2) Pleiades, (3) Small Bear, and (4) Hyades.
(4) Middle East
(1) Establishment of Babylonian Uranography
There is a lack of both astronomical and astrological texts texts in Mesopotamia until the late 2nd-millennium BCE. There is no compelling reason for assuming that the astronomical texts from the 2nd-millennium BCE relied upon astronomical texts from the 3rd-millennium BCE. The Sumerians of the 4th-millennium BCE did, however, make simple calendrical calculations based on the movements of the celestial bodies. Circa 2700 BCE the goddess Nisiba (the patron goddess of scribes) had a knowledge of astronomy attributed to her and her temple in Eres was called the "House of the Stars." She had a lapis-lazuli tablet which is sometimes called the "tablet with the stars of the heavens" or "tablet with the stars of the pure heavens." It was kept in her "House of Wisdom." It is possible that this lapis-lazuli tablet - which was connected with astronomy - was a kind of star-map or symbolic representation of the heavens. However, all the extant evidence indicates a set of constellations covering the entire visible sky was not consolidated until circa the last quarter of the 2nd-millennium BCE. This approximately matched the completion of the omen series Enûma Anu Enlil. The earliest Mesopotamian star list that covers the entire visible sky is contained in the two-tablet Mul.Apin series. The Mul.Apin series contains the earliest (surviving) full description of the Mesopotamian constellations. Because the Mul.Apin series is a compilation from various sources no single date is assignable.) It is difficult to identify the history of the text or the sources for its parts. Analysing all of the star list data in the Mul.Apin series the American astronomer Brad Schaefer has concluded (2007) that the epoch for the data comprising Mul.Apin star lists is 1370 ± 100 BCE with a latitude of 35° ± 1.2°. The actual observations to establish the data through averaging were obviously a little earlier. This corresponds with the cuneiform evidence (the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil, the Astrolabes (i.e., star calendars), the creation epic Enuma Elish) indicating that most of the Mesopotamian constellation set was established during the late 2nd millennium BCE.
The Babylonians gave single or short names to the constellations they originated. The Babylonian scheme of constellations, excepting for the development of the zodiacal scheme of 12 constellations, was mostly finalised by the late 2nd-millennium BCE (i.e., near the end of the Kassite Period circa 1160 BCE). The only significant change that took place in the early 1st-millennium BCE was the development of the 12-constellation zodiacal scheme (and the shift from the scheme of the "three ways" to the ecliptic as the primary celestial reference point). The Babylonian names for the stars forming a constellation are descriptive phrases that serve to identify their location within the constellation figure. In a section of the Mul.Apin astronomical compendium, due to the use of the horizon as reference point for a list of simultaneous risings and settings of constellations, these particular constellations are approximately identifiable. The earlier Babylonian "star calendars" (commonly misnamed "Astrolabes") do not provide any suitable information to enable the identification of the constellations. This is simply because we do not have any information regarding the principles of their categorizations (i.e., astronomical or divination). Tablet 1 of the Assyrian Mul.Apin compendium (circa 1000 BCE) contains a qualitative description of constellations and the star positions comprising such. The incomplete Neo-Assyrian text (VAT 9428, circa 400 BCE) from Assur originally contained a complete qualitative star by star description of the Babylonian constellations.
(2) Lack of Standardised Star List
"Abstract: Sumerian and Akkadian names of stars and constellations occur in cuneiform texts for over 2,000 years, from the third millennium BC down to the death of cuneiform in the early first millennium AD, but no fully comprehensive list was ever compiled in antiquity. Lists of stars and constellations are available in both the lexical tradition and astronomical-astrological tradition of the cuneiform scribes. The longest list in the former is that in the series Urra = hubullu, in the latter, those in Mul-Apin. Introduction: Cuneiform texts bearing names of stars and constellations are available from the early second millennium BC down to the time of the last available cuneiform tablets of the first-century AD ..., but there is no such thing as an authoritative [standardised] Mesopotamian star list, that is, a standard list of all the stars, or the main stars, known to a set of Ancient Mesopotamians in any one time or place. ... [W]hen speaking of Mesopotamian star lists, what is generally meant is a collection of names of constellations, with the occasional name of a fixed star or planet included. Star lists are found in two very different parts of the cuneiform corpus. First are dictionary lists in the lexical tradition that is best known from the canonical Sumerian-Akkadian series Urra = hubulla ... And the second, sets of star names in the astronomical/astrological tradition. For example, the stars of the Paths of Anu, Enlil, and Ea - the traditional divisions of the Mesopotamian sky. The Lexical Tradition: The canonical version of series Urra = hubulla, dating to ca. 1000 BC, was comprised of 24 tablets with a total of more than 10,000 entries when complete. Included in Tablet 22 of the series was list of star names with a Sumerian name on the left translated by its Akkadian name equivalent on the right. As is typical of the series as a whole, the list begins with the standard sign for stars, that is, the star determinative, Sumerian mul = Akkadian kakkabu, the latter being cognate to terms for stars in the other Semitic languages." (Horowitz, Wayne. (2014). "Mesopotamian Star Lists." In: Ruggles, Clive. (Editor). Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy. (Pages 1829-1833).)
(3) Transient Nature of Early Babylonian Constellations
An example: "Mušhuššum, "furious serpent." This constellation is only attested in the OB [Old Babylonian] period. It might be the dragon whose origin is described in the Labbu Myth (Frans Wiggermann, "Tišpak, his Seal, and the Dragon Mušhuššu," in To the Euphrates and Beyond: Archaeological Studies in Honor of Mauits N. van Loon [ed. O. Haex et al; Rotterdam: A. A. Balkema, 1989], 117–33, esp. 126). Gössmann equates it with the later constellation MUŠ, though this is by no means certain; if it is the case, however, it is possibly to be identified with the constellation Hydra ...." (Cooley, Jeffrey. (2011). "An OB Prayer to the Gods of the Night." In: Lenzi, Alan. (Editor). Reading Akkadian Prayers and Hymns. (Page 77).)
Whether or not the Mesopotamians only used a single series of constellations throughout the country at all times is unknown. Alastair McBeath (Tiamat's Brood, Page 41) states: "... Gössmann's work and other cuneiform sources argue for several variant traditions. It is possible each city-state had at least some constellations that were more or less unique to them, as with their gods." There is, however, the possibility that some particular names that occasionally appear were late and/or variant (alternative) names of constellations/stars. It was only late i.e., perhaps 1st-millennium BCE that constellation and star/planet names became standardized.
(4) Boundary Stone Iconography: Constellation Symbols or God Symbols?
Babylonian boundary-stone (kudurru) iconography (Cassite Period 1530-1160 BCE) includes the following depictions:
In the early period of Assyriology it was common to identify these symbols as depictions of the zodiacal constellations. Further work in Assyriology has changed this assumption. It not established that constellations or constellation symbols are being depicted. It is established, however, that god/goddess symbols are depicted. For a recent attempt to establish the astral nature of kudurru symbols (from the Cassite Period, circa 1530-1160 BCE) see: "Eine neue Interpretation der Kudurru-Symbole," by Ulla Koch, Joachim Schaper, Susanne Fischer, and Michael Wegelin (Archive for History of Exact Sciences, Volume 41, 1990/1991, Pages 93-114). However, the attempts to date kudurru by assuming their iconography has astral significance and then using the arrangement of their iconography to establish astronomical dates is both speculative and unproven. Ursula Seidl, a present-day kudurru expert, maintains in her article "Göttersymbole und -attribute." (Reallexikon der Assyriologie (Dritter Band 3, 1957-1971, Pages 483-490)) that kudurru iconography has no astral significance. (See also her book: Die Babylonischen Kudurru-Reliefs Symbole Mesopotamischer Gottheiten (1989). In this book, regarded as the standard study of kudurru iconography, she maintains her scepticism that kudurru symbols have an astral significance.)
(5) Astral Associations of Mesopotamian Gods/Goddesses
The eminent assyriologist Francesca Rochberg believes that Mesopotamian religion was not astral in nature. Rather, an astronomical body (i.e., sun, moon, planet, star, constellation) might represent a specific god/goddess, but astronomical bodies themselves did not have a god/goddess-like status. (See: Rochberg, Francesca. (2009). "The Stars Their Likenesses." In: Porter, Barbara. (Editor). What Is a God? (Pages 41-91).) While not an 'astral religion,' the Sumerian and Babylonian tradition did have astral features.
Astral Associations of Mesopotamian Gods/Goddesses
|Damkina (goddess). The 'lady of the earth.' (Originally a Sumerian goddess; earlier Sumerian name = Damgalnuna.)||(Sumerian city) Nina.||Astrologically associated with the 'Wagon of Heaven' (= Ursa Minor).|
|Damu (Originally a Sumerian god).||Girsu (also, a cult was established in Isin).||'Star of the god Damu,' or 'swine star' (= the 'sea-hog' (= Delphinus)).|
|Ellil (Akkadian). (Originally a Sumerian god; earlier Sumerian name Enlil).||Nippur.||Astrologically associated with the constellation Boötes.|
|Inanna (goddess)||Primary centre was the city of Uruk.||(1) the planet Venus, (2) the constellation Anunītu (= the eastern fish of the later zodiacal constellation Pisces), and (3) the star mulTIR.AN.NA was associated with Venus in Late Babylonian celestial divination practice.|
|Ishara (Late Sumerian period goddess; first appeared in the Northern Syria (Ebla) and Kizzuwatna (Southern Anatolia i.e., Luwian and Hurrian cultures)).||Goddess of Ebla but later established in Mesopotamia in Drehem in Ur III period.||(1) Astrologically associated with the constellation Scorpius (the goddess of Scorpius), and (2) called the mother of the Sibittu, the 7 unnamed gods (who may have been associated with the Pleiades).|
|Ištar (goddess)||Uruk||The 7 stars of the circumpolar Margidda (Wagon) constellation (= Ursa Major/'Big Dipper').|
|Marduk (god)||(Babylonian city) Babylon.||Orion.|
|Ninurta (god)||Nippur.||The star Sirius.|
|Lugalirra and Meslamtaea (twin gods; originally Sumerian).||Kisiga (also, Kutha).||Great Twins (= Gemini).|
|Ninmah (goddess). (Originally a Sumerian mother goddess; alias Nintu, alias Ninhursag).||Kěs.||(1) Vela (associated with a celestial area adjoining and overlapping Vela), and (2) Puppis (also Puppis and Vela).|
|Sala (goddess)||Adad.||(1) the Furrow (= part of the immediately adjacent constellation Virgo), and (2) the star Spica "ear of grain").|
(6) Mul.Apin Series
The broad astronomical content and significance of the (two-tablet) Mul.Apin series had been identified by the English assyriologists Archibald Sayce and Robert Bosanquet in a journal article published in 1880. The first part of the Mul.Apin series to be published was BM 86378 in Cuneiform Texts from Babylonian Tablets in the British Museum: Part XXXIII (Plates 1-8) by Leonard King (1912). The tablet used was almost complete copy of tablet 1. Another important early article was "A Neo-Babylonian Astronomical Treatise in the British Museum and its Bearing on the Age of Babylonian Astronomy." by Leonard King (Proceedings of the Society for Biblical Archaeology, Volume 35, 1913). This article by the English assyriologist Leonard King drew attention to the importance of this text for identifying the Babylonian constellations. In the next two years numerous articles and books appeared that utilised its star list information in the attempt to identify the Babylonian constellations and the stars that comprised such.
This principal copy of tablet 1 probably dates to circa 500 BCE and is a late Babylonian copy of tablet 1 of the astronomical compendium Mul.Apin. The earliest copies were recovered from the royal archives of the Assyrian King Assurbanipal (667-626 BCE) in Nineveh (and also from Assur). The Mul.Apin series contains the most comprehensive surviving star/constellation catalogue. It is largely devoted to describing the risings and settings of constellations/stars in relation to the schematic calendar of twelve 30-day months. The text of tablet 1 was able to be completely restored with the aid of five copies - one dated to the Neo-Babylonian Period, two from Assurbanipal's library (hence written before 612 BCE), and two from Assur. The principal copy of the second tablet is VAT 9412 from Assur, dated 687 BCE. (This is the oldest of the texts.) Multiple copies of tablet 2 are known: principally three from Assur, three from Assurbanipal's library, and one dated to the Neo-Babylonian period. There are also texts of Mul.Apin in which the two tablets are combined in one large tablet. The connection of a third tablet to the Mul.Apin series, by some modern commentators, was probably only an occasionally added appendix to Mul.Apin.
The Mul.Apin series (the name being derived from its opening words) is obviously a compilation of nearly all astronomical knowledge of the period before 700 BCE. (Because the Mul.Apin series is a compilation from various sources no single date is assignable.) It is difficult to identify the history of the text or the sources for its parts. However, it is reasonably certain the origin of the Mul.Apin series dates to the Assyrian Period circa 1000 BCE. (Component parts of Mul.Apin date at least to the early first millennium BCE.) The Mul.Apin series contain improvements to the older astrolabe lists of the stars of Anu, Enlil, and Ea. Various facts make a Babylonian origin of the series probable. Everything that is known about the astronomy of this period is in some way related to the series Mul.Apin. The Mul.Apin series follows the "astrolabe" system (i.e., "three stars each" calendrical system) very closely, but at the same time, it also makes some substantial improvements.
Mul.Apin is essentially a series of structured lists grouped into 18 sections. Tablet 1 basically contains eight sections (including five star lists): (1) a list of 33 stars in the Path of Anu, 23 stars in the Path of Enlil, and 15 stars in the Path of Ea; (2) a sequential list of (Morning Rising) dates in the ideal calendar (i.e., based on a year comprised of 12 months of 30 days each) on which 36 fixed stars and constellations rose heliacally; (3) a list of simultaneously rising and setting constellations; (4) time intervals (periodicity) between the Morning Rising dates of some selected stars; (5) the visibility of the fixed stars in the East and the West; (6) a list of 14 ziqpu-stars (i.e., stars which culminate overhead as more fundamental stars helically rise) [May be deemed secondary stars.]; (7) the relation between the culmination of zipqu-stars and their Morning Rising; and (8) a list of stars and planets in the path of the moon. (The beginning of the second tablet continues the listing of (8) in tablet 1.) Tablet 2 basically has ten sections dealing with: (9) the path of the sun and the planets and the path of the moon; (10) Sirius data (rising dates) relating to the equinoxes and solstices; (11) the heliacal risings of some further fixed stars, wind directions; (12) data relating to the five planets (i.e., the planetary periods); (13) the four corners of the sky; (14) the astronomical seasons (i.e., the sun's risings on the eastern horizon on the days of the solstices and equinoxes); (15) Babylonian intercalary practice (i.e., a scheme (actually two schemes) of intercalary months); (16) gnomon tables detailing shadow lengths and water clock data (i.e., weights of water for their clocks) [A list showing, by mathematical calculations, when the shadow of a gnomon (vertical rod) one cubit high is 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10, cubits long at various seasons.]; (17) the length of a night watch on the 1st and 15th day of the month, tables of the period of the moon's visibility (Rules for calculating the rising and setting of the moon.); and (18) astral omens connected with fixed stars and comets.
A list of 17/18 stars/asterisms in the path of the moon is given. A statement that the Sun, Moon, and five planets were considered to move on the same path also appears. Reports of lunar eclipses dating from the 7th-century BCE are also recorded.
The Mul.Apin series contains the earliest (surviving) full description of the Mesopotamian constellations. Its detailed constellation material dates to the late 2nd-millennium BCE possibly relates to the Mesopotamian constellations being largely formalised around the time of the completion of the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil. The data contained in the Mul.Apin series is not quantifiable (i.e., precisely defined) and appropriate assumptions are required to be made (i.e., of the stars forming each constellation and which of these stars were listed to rise heliacally). In a Hastro-L posting (June 5, 2007) the assyriologist Hermann Hunger explained: "The tablets contain no observations. They state on which calendar date certain phenomena (mostly risings and settings) are supposed to occur. Since that calendar used real lunar months, and years consisting of either 12 or 13 such months, the date of a stellar rising, e.g., cannot occur on the same date each year. Assuming that the dates given in the text are the result of averaging, one can use them as if they were observations."
Analysing all of the star list data in the Mul.Apin series the American astronomer Brad Schaefer has concluded (2007) that the epoch for the data comprising Mul.Apin star lists is 1370 ± 100 BCE with a latitude of 35° ± 1.2°. The actual observations to establish the data through averaging were obviously a little earlier. This corresponds with the cuneiform evidence (the omen series Enuma Anu Enlil, the Astrolabes (i.e., star calendars), the creation epic Enuma Elish) indicating that most of the Mesopotamian constellation set was established during the late 2nd millennium BCE.
The inclusion of an anthology of 47 celestial omens (drawn from a variety of Mesopotamian celestial divination texts) at the end of the Mul.Apin series suggests its goal was to serve as an introduction to celestial omen literature and the practice of celestial divination. The data contained in the Mul.Apin series was functionally important in the practice of celestial divination in Mesopotamia. The intended audience for the text would have been scribes receiving practical training in celestial divination. (See: "Teaching the Stars in Mesopotamia and the Hellenistic Worlds." by Jeffrey Cooley (Humanitas, Volume 28, Issue 3, Spring, 2005, Pages 9-15).
Note: Ziqpu-stars were stars "so chosen that one crosses the meridian before dawn, in the middle of each month, as another constellation is rising heliacally." (See: Mul.Apin by Hermann Hunger and David Pingree (1989) Page 142.) The ziqpu-stars were useful if, for whatever reason, the eastern horizon was obscured and the heliacal rising of important stars was unable to be directly observed. The most common version of the ziqpu-star list contained 25 stars.
(7) Identification of Mul.Apin Constellations and Stars
Circa 1900 little was known with certainty regarding the identification of of Babylonian constellation names and star names. Though cuneiform script had been successfully deciphered for decades the meanings of numerous words either remained unknown or were incorrectly understood. The types of astronomical texts available circa 1900 were (1) late Babylonian observational texts (4th to 1st century BCE); (2) mathematical-astronomical texts (from the latest period of Babylonian astronomy); and (3) omina literature regarding celestial events and (4) a few lists of constellation/star names. The observational texts and mathematical-astronomical texts contained few names of celestial bodies - mostly the names of planets and the constellations of the zodiac. The type of information contained in the constellation/star lists in Mul.Apin tablet 1 (BM 86378), an autograph copy of which was first published by the British Assyriologist Leonard King in 1912, provided a unique opportunity for the identification of Babylonian constellations.
The primary effort in successfully identifying the constellations and star names listed in BM 86378 was carried out by first by Franz Kugler and then by Carl Bezold and August Kopff. The Kopff-Bezold results largely agree with the identifications made by Franz Kugler in his Supplement 1 (1913) to his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel. Further work by later scholars largely confirmed their results. There were 16 agreements in identification between Kugler, Weidner, and Kopff-Bezold. The lower number is due to the lesser number of identifications made by Ernst Weidner.
An early study of Mul.Apin tablet 1 and the identification of Babylonian constellations with modern star groups was Zenit- und Aequatorialgestirne am babylonischen Fixsternhimmel (1913). In this publication the assyriologist Carl Bezold, with the assistance of the German astronomer August Kopff and the participation of the German philologist Franz Boll, examined the contents of BM 86378. The identification of 78 Babylonian constellations and star names is made. The 59-page pamphlet gives the transcription and (German-language) translation of BM 86378 and a detailed comparison of the results of Franz Kugler, Ernst Weidner, and August Kopff and Carl Bezold, in identifying the stars and constellations listed. The pamphlet is valuable in reproducing the particular cuneiform signs for all 78 constellations and star names investigated.
The two tablets comprising the Mul.Apin series are essentially a series of structured lists grouped into 18 sections. Tablet 1 basically contains eight sections (including five star lists):
(1) A list of 33 stars in the Path of Anu, 23 stars in the Path of Enlil, and 15 stars in the Path of Ea.
(2) A sequential list of (heliacal rising) dates in the ideal calendar (i.e., based on a year comprised of 12 months of 30 days each) on which 36 fixed stars and constellations rose heliacally.
(3) A list of simultaneously rising and setting constellations.
(4) Time intervals between the heliacal rising dates of some selected stars.
(5) The visibility of the fixed stars in the East and the West.
(6) A list of 14 ziqpu-stars (i.e., stars which culminate overhead).
(7) The relation between the culmination of zipqu-stars and their heliacal rising.
(8) A list of stars and planets in the path of the moon. (The beginning of the second tablet continues the listing of (8) in tablet 1.)
The data contained in the Mul.Apin series is not quantifiable (i.e., precisely defined) and appropriate assumptions are required to be made (i.e., of the stars forming each constellation and which of these stars were listed to rise heliacally).
Kugler in his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, Erg. 1, used lists (2) (3) and (6) and computed for 500 BCE at Babylon. Kopff used the same lists and computed for 600 BCE at Nineveh. I am presently unsure what lists Weidner used and what date and location he computed for. Later researchers used different lists. The German assyriologist Johann Schaumberger in his Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, Erg. 3, used lists (1) and (2). The Dutch mathematician Bartel van der Waerden in his Anfänge der astronomie (1966) used lists (2) and (4). List (4) is compiled from list (2) and its data is most subject to inaccuracy. Many significant differences exist between the identifications made by these four scholars. Erica Reiner and David Pingree, Babylonian Planetary Omens: Part Two (1981), using lists (3) and (6) in conjunction with a planetarium projector, concluded that the data best fit the date 1000 BCE and the location of Nineveh (circa 36� north). List (3) is independent of the schematic dates of risings in list (2).Also, the simultaneously setting constellations of list (3) are clearly determined by observation. List (3) was also the foundation for the constellation identifications (and the date and place of the observations) made by Herman Hunger and David Pingree in their Astral Sciences in Mesopotamia (1999).
(8) Diffusion of Babylonian Uranography
The British assyriologist David Brown wrote ("The Scientific Revolution of 700 BC." In: Learned Antiquity edited by Alaisdair MacDonald et. al. (2003)): "The early pioneers in this field [Assyriology] concerned themselves with decipherment, largely ignoring the context in which the famed mathematical-astronomical cuneiform texts were written. They found, with particular parameters and mathematical techniques, that the evidence for transmission to Greece and thence to India in the Hellenistic period was overwhelming, and they left it at that."
During the Babylonian period astronomical knowledge was transmitted unchanged, due to the superiority of Babylonian astronomy, to all neighbouring cultures. Sometime around the middle of the 1st-millennium BCE Mesopotamian astronomical knowledge (including the accurate prediction of particular astronomical phenomena) spread westward. It had already done so during phases of the Assyrian Period. During the late 2nd-millennium BCE the astronomical knowledge summarised in the Mul.Apin series had spread to the Middle East, Greece, Iran and India. It was the Mul.Apin series that formed the basis for inter-relatedness between astronomical systems in these regions outside Mesopotamia.
Mesopotamian astronomy and cosmology were certainly known and influential in ancient Israel, especially after the Babylonian Exile - where the deported Judean priestly intelligentsia came into contact with ancient Mesopotamian science.
Elements of Babylonian astronomy are contained in Jewish apocalyptic literature and calendrical texts and in Enochic and Qumranic tradition/astronomy. The Demotic astrological texts (Egypt) are evidence of a pre-Hellenistic transmission from Mesopotamia to Egypt during the Persian Empire. Exactly how the Greeks came to learn about Mesopotamian scientific tradition is still unknown. By the 2nd-century BCE Babylonian astronomy had significantly influenced Hellenistic scientific thought.
David Pingree proposed that Mesopotamian omen-literature was transmitted to India during the Achaemenid occupation of northwestern India and the Indus Valley (late 1st-millennium BCE, circa 300 BCE). David Pingree also proposed that knowledge of Mesopotamian sciences reach India by the late Vedic period (1000 BCE to 500 BCE).
(9) Evidence for Celestial Topography
Two disc-shaped clay tablets providing evidence for Babylonian celestial topography have survived. One of these tablets is K 8538, a 7th-century BCE text recovered from the royal library at Nineveh. It shows a select number of constellations inside a circular arrangement of 8 (equal) 45-degree segments (marked by lines). The 'dot and line' type figures represent constellations and are identified by their names on the tablet. The Nineveh planisphere is slightly rounded on the reverse side and is only inscribed on the flatter side, the obverse. The obverse side has a slight rim (raised edge). The second of these tablets is a Neo-Babylonian tablet from Sippar showing the ziqpu (i.e., zenith) stars (as dots) in a circular arrangement of 12 (equal) 30-degree segments (marked by lines). Only K 8538 provides iconographic representations of the constellations.
(10) Accurate Astronomical Record Keeping
Astronomical records were only zealously compiled beginning with the reign of Nabonassar (Nebu-nasir) in 747 BCE. (This period also saw the beginning of more accurate astronomical observations.) It appears the so-called astronomical diaries (and other astronomical records) were diligently written starting with this period. (The Babylonians termed the observations for the Diaries "regular watchings." Documents similar to astronomical diaries may have been written as early as the 12th-century BCE in the reign of Merodach-baladan I. See: Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles by Albert Grayson (2000, Page 13).) In his book Sternkunde und Sterndienst in Babel, II (Pages 366-371), the polymath Franz Kugler made the suggestion that a possible reason why the Babylonians may have been motivated to begin keeping more accurate astronomical observations and records beginning 747 BCE was the spectacular conjunction of the moon and the planets in what was also the first regnal year of Nabonassar (Nebu-nasir). The evidence supports the conclusion that detailed records of a range of topics - not just astronomical phenomena - were diligently kept from the reign of Nabonassar (Nabu-nasir/Nebu-nasir) 747-734 BCE. The Babylonian Chronicle Series begins its narration with the reign of Nabonassar (Nabu-nasir/Nebu-nasir). The "Astronomical Diaries" and the Babylonian Chronicle Series are typologically similar. (See the modern discussion: "The Scientific Revolution of 700 BC." by David Brown. In: Learned Antiquity edited by Alasdair MacDonald et. al. (2003, Pages 1-12).)
The greater survival of astronomical and other records from 747 BCE onwards is considered likely due to the increased political stability of Mesopotamia and more systematic approach to record keeping. The British assyriologist David Brown has proposed (2003) "that around 700 BC, ... prediction became an all-important skill to the astronomers who practised astrological divination in the service of the Assyrian kings." ("The Scientific Revolution of 700 BC." In Alasdair MacDonald, Michael Twomey, and Gerrit Reinink, (Editors). Learned Antiquity: Scholarship and Society in the Near-East, the Greco-Roman world, and the Early Medieval West. Pages 1–12.) The primary purpose of the astronomical phenomena systematically recorded in the (astronomical) Diaries appears to have been to enable prediction of certain astronomical events. The outburst of scientific astronomy in Mesopotamia can be dated to the 5th-century BCE.
(1) The Decan System
The ancient Egyptians used special constellations (asterisms), the decans, to divide their year into 36 parts. The decans are an Egyptian system of 36 stars/star groups (asterisms). (The term decan is from the Greek meaning "10 days apart.") The decans could be groups of stars or single bright (conspicuous) stars. Decanal "star clocks" decorated Egyptian coffin lids starting circa 2100 BCE (and ending circa 1800 BCE). They show that there was a system of 36 named equatorial stars rising within 10 days of each other (and were based on the civil calendar year). These Egyptian "star clocks" are the earliest detailed astronomical texts known.
The decans rose at particular hours of the night during 36 successive periods of 10 days each, constituting the year. A decan indicated the one and same hour during 10 days. (Each specific decan rose above the eastern horizon at dawn for an annual period of 10 days.) As the stars rise 4 minutes later night by night a given decan was replaced after 10 day by its predecessor to mark a given hour. Otto Neugebauer believed the 36 decans formed the old year of 360 days. The 5 additional or epagomenal days were "ignored" but undoubtedly were taken into account during the development of the decan system. (The earliest Egyptian calendars indicate that the 5 epagomenal days were not regarded as belonging to the year. The New Year festival begins on the 1st Thoth, not on the 1st of the epagomenal days.) A more recent view by Anne-Sophie von Bomhard is that the original decan system was designed for a year of 365 days. The Egyptian "star clocks" (i.e., decans) are the earliest detailed astronomical texts known.
(2) Location of the Decans
According to the accepted interpretation made by Otto Neugebauer in Egyptian Astronomical Texts (Volume 1, 1960), based the Book of Nut texts, the decan stars circled the sky in a zone approximately parallel to and slightly south of the ecliptic. The decans (a Greek term) lay within a wide equatorial belt and began with Sepedet (= Sirius). (Sepedet (= literally, "the excellent" but also "The Great Star") was sometimes called the "Mistress of the Year.") Sirius (Sepedet) is the only one of the decans able to be unambiguously identified. (Neugebauer's identification of the location of the decanal belt is disputed by Kurt Locher "New arguments for the celestial location of the decanal belt and for the origin of the s3h-hieroglyph." (Atti di sesto congresso internazionale di egittologia. (2 Volumes, 1992-1993.)); and Joanne Conman "It's About Time: Ancient Egyptian Cosmology." (Studien zur Altägyptischen Kultur, Band 31, 2003).
(3) Source Texts for the Decan System
The texts relating to the system of decan stars date from 2200 BCE to 1200 BCE. Decanal "star clocks" (also (mistakenly) termed "diagonal calendars") decorated the inside surface of Egyptian (wooden) coffin lids, in both drawings and texts, starting circa 2100 BCE (with the practice ending circa 1800 BCE). However, the decanal system can be identified as early as the Third Dynasty (circa 2800 BCE) and may even be earlier. (Our principal knowledge of astronomy in the Middle Kingdom period comes from wooden coffin lids, primarily from the 9th and 10th Dynasties. The painted scenes (sometimes carved) on the inside surface of the coffin lids are actually tables of "rising stars.") They are also shown on the tomb ceilings of Seti I (1318-1304 BCE) and on some of the ceilings/walls of royal tombs of the Ramesside period (12th-century BCE). They show that there was a system of 36 named "equatorial" stars rising within 10 days of each other (and were based on the civil calendar year). Pictures of decans comprise most of the celestial representations in Egyptian tombs.
(4) Purpose of the Decan System
The system of decan stars was used to indicate the hours of the night throughout the year. Lists of decans were prepared to determine the hour of the night if the calendar date was known, or to determine the decan if the hour of the night was known. The use of the decan stars for time measurement during the night likely led to the twelve-division of the period of complete darkness. Of the 18 decans marking the period from sunset to sunrise 3 were assigned to each interval of twilight. This left 12 decans to mark the hours of total darkness. The 12-unit division of the night therefore probably originated in the combining of the decanal stars with the civil calendar decades. The twenty-four division of day and night (i.e., 24 hour system) eventually derived from this. (The original 24 hour division was actually a system of "hours" of uneven length and uneven distribution between daylight and night. As early as circa 2100 BCE the Egyptian priests were using the system of 24 hours. According to one authority this comprised 10 daylight hours, 2 twilight hours, and 12 night hours. This system was obsolete by the time of Seti I. By the Ramesside period (circa 1300/1200 BCE) there was a simpler more even division of 24 hours into 12 hours of night and 12 hours of daylight each. It has been proposed, however, that the division of day and night into 12 hours each may have been initiated by the fact that the year was divided into 12 months.)
The "hours" successively marked by each decan star for an interval of 10 days were, however, actually only an "hour" of approximately 45 minutes duration. (Each decan would rise approximately 45 minutes later each night.) (The division of the hour into 60 minutes was the invention of the Babylonians.)
(5) Origin of the Decan System
The decanal system has been traced back as far as the 3rd Dynasty (circa 2800 BCE) and may be older still. The contents of coffin lids establishes that the decanal system, of dividing the night into 12 hours according to the rising of stars or groups of stars, was in place at least by circa 2150 BCE. The contents of the Pyramid Texts show that the system of decans was established by at least the 24th century BCE.
(6) The Decan System and the Civil Calendar
The primary reason for the Egyptians to study the night sky seems to have been to establish the civil calendar (which was apparently initiated with the heliacal rising of Sothis (= Sirius)) on a firm basis. (The civil calendar was the official calendar. It was a simple calculating tool that could be followed automatically. The civil calendar remained unchanged in Egypt from its establishment circa early 3rd millennium BCE until near the end of the 1st millennium BCE.) The Egyptian calendar-year on which the system of decans (star clocks) was originally constructed was the civil or "wandering" year which consisted of 12 months of 3 10-day weeks, divided into 3 seasons of 4 months each, followed by 5 epagomenal days (called "the days upon the year"/"those beyond the year"). The civil calendar had been long established when the decans first appeared on the inside surface of coffin lids of the Middle Kingdom period. Otto Neugebauer (The Exact Sciences in Antiquity, 1957, Page 82) wrote: "In tracing back the history of the Egyptian decans we discover the interaction of the two main components of Egyptian time reckoning: the rising of Sirius as the harbinger of the inundation, and the simple scheme of the civil year of 12 months of three decades each." To assist the establishment of a civil (year) calendar the sky was divided into a scheme of 36 decans, with each decan (characterised by a bright star or distinctive star group) marking 36 ten-day periods, to which was added 5 epagonal days.
(7) Decan Lists
Many Egyptian monuments incorporate lists of decans.
The decanal system involved the arrangement of 10-day intervals throughout the year. The decan lists were essentially set out in tables consisting of 36 columns with (usually) 12 rows or divisions. The columns in the tables covered the year in 10-day intervals. The rows in the tables covered the 12 decanal hours of the night. In each of the 36 columns the decans are placed in the order in which they rise above the horizon (or transit the meridian). Every 10 days the 12 hours of the night are defined/marked by a different combination of 12 successive stars. With each of the successive 36 columns the name of a specific decan is moved one line higher to its place in the preceding column (i.e., the second decan becomes the first and so on). This results in a diagonal structure (diagonal pattern) which is the reason for the early name "diagonal calendars" being given to these texts (but perhaps properly "star clocks" or "diagonal star clocks"). However, not all are arranged in a manner that would enable them to function as 'star clocks.' Regarding "diagonal calendars." A complete diagonal calendar contains 36 transverse columns.
Basically 3 lists of decans were constructed.
The comparison of all the
variations in the decan lists enables a grouping into 5 families. Three of
rising decans, one of decans in transit, and one that cannot be assigned with
certainty to either. The 5 families of decans are named from the first example
of each. The 5 families are the Senmut, Seti I A, and Seti I C families of
rising decans; the Seti I B family of transiting decans; and the Tanis family of
It is suggested that it is probably '
(8) The Two Decan Systems
There were 2 systems of decanal stars. The first (and original) system used heliacal risings. The second (and later) system used meridian transits. The second system replaced the first. There was also the third system, the later Tanis system (whose application is uncertain). The decan system is uniquely Egyptian in origin.
(9) Tanis Family of Decans
The Tanis family of decans, is found in examples from the 26th Dynasty down to the end of the 1st century CE. The Esna ceiling has the decans of the Seti I B family in a strip next to those of the Tanis family in a strip.
(10) Rising Decans
The decanal system consisted of 36 rising stars and used the heliacal risings of stars/asterisms on the eastern horizon as markers. Each period of 10 days was first marked by the heliacal rising of the next decan on the eastern horizon. They rose heliacally 10 days apart and all had the same invisible interval of 70 days prior to their heliacal rising. (At least ideally all the decans had the same duration of invisibility as their leader Sirius. All decans were invisible for 70 days between acronychal setting and heliacal rising - because of being in the light.)
By the time of the New Kingdom period (circa 1550-1100 BCE) the usefulness of the original decan system of hours had ceased. By the 10th Dynasty and 11th Dynasty the original decan system had become completely unusable and in the 12th Dynasty were subjected to a radical revision. Many old decans were dropped out and many new decans were introduced.
(11) Transit Decans
From the Book of Nut texts we can identify the introduction of a new decanal system that can be termed transit decanal clocks. This new system, termed the Ramesside star clocks, used the transiting of the meridian by decans (their culminations) to mark the night-time hours. (The time of decan transits involved the time they crossed the meridian i.e., reached the highest point in the sky (culmination).) This new method of indicating the night hours arose by combining only those stars which behave like Sirius with 10-day weeks of the civil calendar. Likewise with the previous system of decans, this attempt to substitute the culmination of stars for their heliacal rising also did not last.
The Ramesside (20th Dynasty) star clocks are star tables which measure hours by means of transits, in half month intervals (i.e., 15-day cycle/"week"). (One of the most important documents relating to Egyptian astronomy is the long table of (decan) star transits (culminations) for each hour of the night on every fortnight of the year. This is given with most accuracy in the tomb of Ramses VI) These are different star clocks to the earlier system of decans. Only a few of the stars/asterisms used in the earlier decanal star clocks are the same as, or near to, those used in the Ramesside star clocks. The evidence for these later star clocks comes exclusively from the ceilings of a number of Egyptian royal tombs of the Ramesside period (Ramses VI, Ramses VII, and Ramses IX of the 12th-century BCE). Two sets of star tables appear in the tomb of Ramesses VI, one set of star tables appears in the tomb of Ramesses VII, and one set of star tables appears in the tomb of Ramesses IX. The texts consist of 24 star clock tables (panels) for the 24 half-month intervals of one year. These particular ceilings also include other astronomical information: (1) lists of decans and their divinities, (2) constellations, and (3) the days of the lunar month.
There was no provision for the 5 epagomenal days of the year. Also, the calendrical system based on the decans was flawed by its failure to take into account the fact that the Egyptian civil year was always approximately 6 hours short and the solar year. The lack of a leap year in the Egyptian civil calendar resulted in the risings of decans becoming out of phase with it. The result was a slow progressive change took place in the relation between the heliacal rising of a decan and its date in the civil calendar. Rearrangements of the decanal order were attempted in order to counter the resulting mismatch.
(12) The Nature of the Decans: Star Clocks, or Star Calendars, or Diagonal Star Tables?
The interpretation of the rows of diagonal star tables is controversial. The operation of the diagonal clocks is not suitably established and neither is the exact length of the decanal hours. The "star clock" outline explanation given above follows the work of Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker. In 2007 the Egyptologist Sarah Symons ("A Star's Year: The Annual Cycle in the Ancient Egyptian Sky." In: Steele, John. (Editor). Calendar and Years: Astronomy and Time in the Ancient Near East (Pages 1-33). ) proposed the more neutral term "diagonal star table." A common past term for diagonal star tables has been "star calendars." The common current term is "diagonal star clocks." However, Sarah Symons points out that just because the rows of diagonal star tables are related to the hours of the night does not necessarily mean that the tables are clocks. As early as 1936 the naturalised American astronomer Alexander Pogo ("Three unpublished calendars from Asyut." (Osiris, Volume I, Pages 500-509).) questioned whether the intended function of the diagonal star tables was as hourly timekeeping devices. In 1998 the Egyptologist Leo Depuydt "Ancient Egyptian star clocks and their theory." (Bibliotheca Orientalis, Volume LV, Number 1/2, January-April, Pages 5-43).) likewise questioned whether the intended function of the diagonal star tables was as hourly timekeeping devices. See also: Depuydt, Leo. (2010). "Ancient Egyptian star tables: A reinterpretation of their fundamental structure." In: Imhausen, Annette. and Pommerening, Tanja. (Editors). Writings of Early Scholars in the Ancient Near East, Egypt, Rome, and Greece. (Pages 241-276).
(1) Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age
In her 2002 doctoral thesis "The moon and stars of the southern Levant at Gezer and Megiddo: Cultural astronomy in Chalcolithic/Early and Middle Bronze Ages." Sara Gardner identifies constellations, including a lion constellation (equated with Leo), existing during the Chalcolithic/Early Bronze Age (circa 4500-2200) in the Levant. (The drawings of animals in Cave 30:IV at Gezer are held to represent constellations.) In their article "The Geometry and Astronomy of Rujm el-Hiri, a Megalithic Site in the Southern Levant." (Journal of Field Archaeology, Volume 25, 1998, Pages 475-496) Anthony Aveni and Yonathan Mizrachi set out the astronomical sophistication of the construction phase of the Rujm el-Hiri complex. The numerous star depictions on wall frescos at Telēlāt Ghassūl (in modern-day Jordan) suggests that Palestine had its own independent astral beliefs from very early times (circa 4th-millennium BCE).
Canaanite astral beliefs precede the Assyrian period of domination beginning circa 6th-century BCE. Prior to the time of Assyrian domination the Palestinian mother-goddess in her own right had astral attributes, and was sometimes regarded as an astral goddess. She was represented as an astral goddess at Ugarit, Megiddo, Gezer, Bethshan, and Tell es-Safi. On a bronze plague from Ras Shamra (Ugarit) the mother goddess is portrayed standing on the back of a lion which has a star imprinted on its shoulder. It is thought that this star was likely Regulus.
(2) Uranography of the Hebrews
The uranography of the Hebrews is fraught with difficulty and remains controversial. Hebrew star and constellation names most often bear little or no resemblance to star names in Mesopotamian uranography. In the Old Testament stars were believed to be animate bodies with names who ruled over the night.
In all likelihood the zodiac was known to the Hebrews (Israelites) in biblical times.
The amount of astronomical knowledge contained in the Hebrew Bible appears to be quite limited. There are no strictly astronomical texts in the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh or "Old Testament") or other Hebrew literature such as the Talmud. There are, however, some calendar and constellation references. The Hebrew Bible does mention several individual stars and constellations. However, the astronomical references in the Hebrew Bible do not distinguish planets from stars. Our knowledge of Hebrew (Israelite) astronomy depends almost entirely on 3 Old Testament passages that refer to specific stars and constellations: Amos 5:8, Job 9:9, and Job 38:31-32. The date for the Book of Amos is circa 8th-century BCE. The date for the Book of Job is circa 6th-century BCE. The number of constellations mentioned on the Hebrew Bible is small. (Only the word mazzārot (mazzāroth) in Job 38:32 can be understood as "constellations.") Also, they mostly appear in poetical references, and their identification remains uncertain. Though the extent of astronomical terminology and observation attested to in the Hebrew Bible is not very great scholars are generally agreed that there is enough evidence to conclude that it represents only a small amount of the astronomical interest and lore that the ancient Hebrews (Israelites) possessed. It is generally agreed the Hebrew Bible shows knowledge of the constellations of the Greater Bear, Orion, and the Pleiades (as asterism in the constellation Taurus). The clearest references are: (1) Kesil (mentioned in Job 9:9, Job 38:31, Amos 5:8, and Isaiah 8:10) which is usually identified as the constellation Orion; (2) Kimah (Job 9:9, Job 38:31, and Amos 5:8) which is variously identified as the Pleiades, or the stars Aldebaran, Arcturus, or Sirius; (3) Ash (Ayish or Ayis) (Job 9:9 and Job 38:32) which is commonly identified as the Hyades, or the constellation Ursa Major, or the planet Venus as the Evening Star (Venus when seen after sunset); and Mezarim which is commonly identified as denoting both the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor; or another name for Ursa Major; or as a synonym for "mazzalot" and referring to the planets collectively or the constellations of the zodiac. (Godfrey Driver disputes the identification of Ash (Ayish) with Ursa Major (which goes back approximately 1000 years to Rabbi Saadia Gaon (882/892-942 CE) and Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra (1092-1167 CE) and follows Giovanni Schiaparelli in proposing identification with Aldebaran.) It is thought that Canis Major and its bright star, Sirius, were regarded by the Israelites as animals of some kind, perhaps dogs. John McKay, in his1973 book Religion in Judah under the Assyrians (Chapter VI "Astral Beliefs in Judah and the Ancient World," gives the following identifications: Aldebaran and the Hyades ('āš / 'ayiš, Job 9.9) 'the Moth;' Ursa Major (mezārim, Job 37.9) 'the Winnowing-fan;' the Pleiades (kimā, Job 9.9, 38.31, Amos 5.8) 'the Cluster;' Orion (kesil, Job 9.9, 38.31, Amos 5.8) 'the Stout One' or 'the Clumsy Fool;' Taurus (šōr, Amos 5.9) 'the Bull;' Capella ('ēz, Amos 5.9) 'the Goat;' Virgo (mebassēr, Amos 5.9) 'the Vintager.' In Amos 5:26 Chuin is usually identified with the planet Saturn; in Jeremiah 7:18 (and elsewhere) Meleket ha-Shamayim is identified with the planet Venus; and in Isaiah 14:12 Helel is sometimes identified with the planet Venus as the Morning Star (Venus when seen before dawn). The extent of Hebrew Bible familiarity with the developed mythology associated 12 signs of the zodiac is still subject to debate. Mazzaroth, which is mentioned only once (Job 38:32), has been interpreted as signifying a constellation, the zodiacal signs, or the planet Venus (as both Morning Star and Evening Star). It is still uncertain whether the constellations of the zodiac are intended with the use of the term Mazzaroth. Whilst it is commonly stated to signify the 12 signs of the zodiac this identification remains controversial. Also, the identification of Nachash with the constellation Draco is very uncertain and controversial. Both Édouard Dhorme and Giovanni Schiaparelli identify the "chambers of the south" (hadrê tēmān) with the stars of Argo, Centaurus, and the Southern Cross.
(1) Pre-Islamic Bedouins of the Arabian Peninsula
Astral gods/goddesses were widely established/venerated in ancient Southern Arabia where an astral cult known as Sabaeanism prevailed. The religion of South Arabia was essentially a planetary astral system in which the cult of the moon-god prevailed.
Before their contact with Greek-based astronomy through Arab-Islamic civilisation the pre-Islamic Arabs (of the Arabian Peninsula has their own folk astronomy. They knew the fixed stars and asterisms and used a number of fixed stars and asterisms, the so-called anwā', for a variety of purposes. After the introduction of Islam in the 7th-century CE a substantial amount of poetry, proverbs, legends, and folk science was written down in Arabic texts. Some attention was focused on the star lore of the pre-Islamic and early Islamic Bedouins and farmers of the Arabian Peninsula. Specifically, from the 9th-century onwards Arabic-Islamic lexicographers and philologists collected old Arabic folk astronomy in books called Kutub al-anwā' (Books of the anwā') (Note: Most modern scholars simply write anwa'). From these books more than 300 old Arabic names for stars and asterisms have been recovered. The Bedouin Arabs regarded single stars as representing people and animals. Many of the the original meanings of the named stars had been forgotten by the time of al-Sufi.
It is usually stated that eventually the folk tradition of Arabic star names was preserved as the "lunar mansions." This would appear to be erroneous. The system of "lunar mansions" are a type of almanac for seasonal activities. Daniel Varisco ("Islamic Folk Astronomy." In: Selin, Helaine. (Editor). (2000). Astronomy Across Cultures. (Pages 615-650).) states: "The claim that the formal model of twenty-eight lunar mansions originated as a set sequence of asterisms from a pre-Islamic star calendar cannot be sustained." The Arab-Islamic concept of "lunar mansions" appears to have been borrowed from India. (Knowledge of the Indian lunar zodiac may have existed in the Arabian Peninsula in the late 4th- or early 5th-century prior to the birth of Muhammad.
Within the post-Islamic (Arab-Islamic) tradition al-Sufi's book on the constellations Kitab suwar al-kawakib (Book of the constellations of the Fixed Stars) written in the 10th-century CE was of fundamental importance. It was the first critical revision of Ptolemy's catalogue of fixed stars (included in his Almagest). However, al-Sufi adopted Ptolemy's basic scheme and pattern of constellations. He did not add or subtract stars from Ptolemy's star list and neither did he re-measure their (frequently incorrect) positions. However, in order to account for precession over the time between Ptolemy and his own day, al-Sufi updated the positions of the listed stars by adding 12º 42' to all of the longitudes. In his book al-Sufi included 2 drawings of each constellation figure: one as seen in the sky from earth and one reversed as seen when looking at a solid globe. He then included a paragraph of notes for each constellation. In these notes he discussed: (1) the problem of identification and errors in Ptolemy's coordinates, (2) variants of the names for individual stars, including old Arabic star names that predate Arab contact with Greek astronomy. He also numbered the stars on the charts and keyed them to the star list accompanying each.
(2) Post-Islamic Arab-Islamic Classical World
To avoid misunderstandings the term Arab-Islamic needs to be defined. Arabic is a linguistic term identifying Arabic language users and the use of Islamic has the sense of civilisation rather than religion. (The term Arab-Islamic = linguistic-cultural; not ethnic-religious.)
"The star names used in the classical Islamic world were derived from two distinct sources: (1) the various (non-standardised) names originated by pre-Islamic groups of Bedouins (the nomadic desert Arabs of the Arabic Peninsula) (older body), and the main body (younger group) of indigenous Arabic star/asterism names were probably formed in the period 500-700 CE (prior to the introduction of Islam in the 7th-century CE); and (2) those transmitted from the Greek world. As Greek astronomy and astrology were accepted and elaborated, primarily through the Arabic translation of Ptolemy's Almagest, the indigenous Bedouin star groupings were overlaid with the Ptolemaic constellations that we recognize today." (Islamicate Celestial Globes by Emilie Savage-Smith (1985) Page 114.) When al-Sufi published Book of the constellations of the Fixed Stars, his own version of Ptolemy's star catalogue in the Almagest (not its original Greek title), he introduced many individual star names. "A third set of names derived from the Arabic were bestowals, often ill-based, by early modern Western astronomers even though they had never been used by Arabian astronomers. Most of these names have disappeared. Thuban, alpha Draconis, is an exception." (Early Astronomy by William O'Neill (1986) Page 162.) Both Emilie Savage-Smith and William O'Neill are reliant on the fundamental studies of Paul Kunitzsch. An example of the first category of star names of Arabic origin is Aldebaran from Al-Dabaran. An example of the second category of star names of Arabic origin is Fomalhaut from Fam al-Hut. An example of the third category of star names derived from Arabic is Thuban, alpha Draconis.
(3) The Demise of Arab-Islamic Uranography
During the course of the 19th-century European ideas on celestial mapping made a profound impact upon the traditional Arab-Islamic practices. By the end of the 19th-century little trace of medieval Arab-Islamic celestial mapping practices remained.
The key sources for constellations and star names are the Avestan and Pahlavi texts. The Avestan texts are earlier than the Pahlavi texts. The Avesta was committed to writing perhaps circa 3rd-cenrury BCE. (The present text of the Avesta was compiled circa 3rd- to 7th-century CE from texts that survived destruction during the conquest of Persia by the Macedonian general Alexander the Great.) The Bundahishn was compiled circa 9th-century CE from earlier texts.
In the earliest material incorporated into the Avesta there are a few references that indicate the existence of some sort of observational astronomy. There are individual yashts dedicated to the sun, moon, Sirius, and Mithras. See yashts 6 to the sun, yashts 7 to the moon, yashts to Tishtya (= Sirius) and yashts 10 to Mithra. The oldest extant Old Iranian source that makes reference to constellations is the Younger Avesta. It contains the names of two constellations only - the modern-day constellation Ursa Major (Great Bear) and the modern-day asterism Pleiades. From the names 'the seven marks/having seven marks' for Ursa Major and 'first' for the Pleiades they are clearly indigenous Iranian constellations. (Antonio Panaino states that the only constellations clearly attested in the Avestan texts are Haptoiringa with 'Ursa Major,' Titryaeini with 'Canis Minor,' and Paoiryaeini with the 'Pleiades.') The date of the first identification of Iranian constellation names is uncertain but it is thought that they can be placed in a prehistoric period of the eastern Iranian world. In the later Avestan literature, however, both constellations and star names are mentioned. These include the star Sirius, the constellation Ursa Major, the Pleiades (yashts 8:12), and the Milky Way. (There is an Avestan yashts addressed to the Milky Way (which is personified as feminine).)
Four so-called royal stars are mentioned in Siroza (Hymn) 1 and Siroza (Hymn) 2 forming part of the Khorda Avesta. These are Tishtya, Vanant (or Wanand), Satavaesa (or Sadwes), and the Haptoiringas (or Haftoreng). Only 2 of the 4 can be reasonably identified (i.e., Tishtya with the star Sirius, and Haftoreng with the stars of Ursa Major. However, many popular publications still proceed to identify Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus as the four royal stars of Persia. This error is obviously based on the 105 year old book Star Names by the amateur American star-lorist Richard Allen. (The identification Aldebaran, Antares, Formalhaut, and Regulus was first proposed by the 18th-century French astronomer and historian Jean Bailly.)
The various identifications made of the so-called four royal stars are: Tishtya has been variously identified as Aldebaran, Sirius, Arcturus, and the Summer Solstice. Vanant (or Wanand) has been variously identified as Regulus, Vega, Altair (earlier Corvus), Sirius, and Procyon. Satavaesa (or Sadwes) has been variously identified as Antares, Aldebaran, the stars of Musca Australis (the actual constellation being invented circa 1595), and Crux. The Haptoiringas (or Haftoreng) have been variously identified as Formalhaut, and Ursa Major.
(2) Bow and Arrow Constellation
The association of the benevolent Indo-Iranian god Tishtrya with the star Sirius occurred during the Achaemenid Period. It is very probable that the Avestan Titar (Titrya) (Sirius) corresponds to the Vedic Tisya (Tishya). Antonio Panaino identifies Titrya as an important Old Iranian astral divine being that is to be identified with Sirius (the brightest star in the sky). The 8th hymn (Tiar Yat) of the Later Avestan corpus was dedicated to Titrya. Bernhard Forssman has proposed an entymological explanation showing it is most likely that the Vedic Tisya corresponds to the Avestan Titrya, and that Sirius has a direct and clear relationship with the three stars of Orions belt. In several mythological passages in Vedic literature the three stars comprising the asterism of Orions belt were represented as an arrow shot by Tisya. In the Avestan Yast 8.6-7 and 37-38 Titrya flies in the sky as the arrow shot by their Aryan hero archer.
The Chinese have a Bow and Arrow constellation formed by the same stars as the Mespotamian Bow and Arrow constellations. The celestial Emperor (i.e., mythical ancient Emperors) shot an arrow at the sky jackal (Sirius). In later Egypt, on the round zodiac of Denderah the Egyptian divine archeress, Satit (one of two wives of Khnumu), shoots her arrow at Sirius. The Mesopotamian had constellations comprising of Bow and Arrow (mul BAN and mul KAK.SI.DI). Sirius is KAK.SI.DI the Arrow Star (specifically the tip of the arrow). The Bow is formed from the stars of Argo and Canis Major. The MUL.APIN text states "the Bow Star is the Ishtar of Elam, daughter of Enlil." According to the polymath Franz Kugler the old Babylonian for Sirius was "weapon of the bow (= "arrow"). The Mesopotamian Bow and Arrow constellations are identifiable as the original source for the Iranian, Indian, Chinese, and Egyptian Bow and Arrow schemes.
(3) Lunar Mansions
The Indian system of lunar mansions was introduced into Iran (Persia) circa 500 CE. When the system of the lunar mansions (naksatras) was introduced into Iran (Persia) from India a completely new set of names was created for them. We have lists of the Iranian lunar mansions from 4 different sources. The Pahlavi Bundahishn contains a detailed discussion of the naksatras. (The number of lunar mansions listed in the Pahlavi Bundahishn is 27.)
The ancient Greeks are the main source of present-day Western star/constellation names. The Greeks, from the early 1st-millennium BCE at least, named particular prominent stars and groups of stars.
Homer mentions the Pleiades, the Hyades, Orion, Boötes, the Bear (the Wain) and the Dog of Orion (Sirius). Hesiod mentions all of these and uses their heliacal risings and settings as markers for the seasons and times, for agricultural purposes. Whilst these are the only Greek constellations known to have been named at this early period it is thought likely that some of the later constellations were identified before the 4th-century BCE. The pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus of Abdera (Thrace) (circa 460 BCE-circa 370 BCE) is stated to have used the constellations Lyra, Aquila, and Delphinus for agricultural purposes.
The Greek constellations were first described by Eudoxus, Aratus, Hipparchus, Ptolemy, (pseudo-)Eratosthenes, and Hyginus. There is a descriptive tradition and a mathematical tradition for locating the stars. Naturally, the descriptive tradition is earliest. In the descriptive tradition, the stars are located according to their position within the constellations; while in the mathematical tradition, the stars are located according to a set of coordinates. The 3 classical texts setting out the constellation set we have inherited are: (1) Aratus' Phaenomena (3rd-century BCE, 45 constellations described); (2) Hyginus' De astronomia (1st-century BCE, 44 constellations described); and (3) Ptolemy's Syntaxis [Almagest] (2nd-century CE, 48 constellations described). Both Aratus and Hyginus locate stars descriptively. Ptolemy locates stars by using coordinates. The constellations described by Hyginus are mostly the same constellations described by Aratus, but some are given different names.
The ancient Greek constellations are a combination of mythology and science. The Greek constellations were named after/represented mythological figures. In the ancient Greek world mythological gods and the heroes - their deeds and images - were interpreted in the constellations in the night sky. The Greeks had only a few named constellations established by the time of Homer circa 800 BCE. There was no early intention by the Greeks to constellate the entire sky. Circa 800 BCE they only named the most prominent stars and established the most obvious constellations. Some 400 years later they adopted and modified Mesopotamian uranography, but applied their own constellation myths to the result. Hence the classical Greek constellation set represents a mixed Babylonian and Greek tradition. Greek astronomy began with the organisation of the more prominent stars into constellations. Bernard Goldstein and Alan Bowen have proposed that the original motivation for Greek astronomy was the construction of star calendars (parapegmata, which correlated dates and weather phenomena with the risings and settings of the stars). In Greece, constellations were introduced as an aid to identify individual stars in the sky in so that they could be recognised at their rising and setting. Connecting constellations to stories helped people to memorise their various stellar configurations, independently of their astronomical/time-keeping functions.
It was only in Hellenistic times that systematic attempts were made to connect all the Greek constellations with traditional Greek mythology. Enough of the once extensive Greek literature on astral mythology has survived to show there was no standard version consolidated. Different myths were often attached to the same constellation. The iconography of the Greek constellation figures was connected with the mythology of the figures but only partly determined by such. Though the iconography of the Greek constellation figures was not uniform there were certain traditional and unchanging characteristics. As example: Taurus is always represented as only the forepart of a bull, Cassiopeia is always represented as seated on a throne.
(2) Star Names in Homer and Hesiod
The star names Sirius ("Scorcher") and Arcturus ("Bear Watcher") are mentioned by Homer and Hesiod in the 8th-century BCE. Homer and Hesiod were two of the earliest Greek poets. Hesiod, a poet and farmer in Boeotia, a region of central Greece, likely lived about the same time or shortly after Homer. The earliest constellation/astral myth of the Greeks appears in Homer's Iliad (and was likely ancient at this time). It is the myth of Orion becoming a constellation after his affair with Eos (Dawn). The astral myth of Orion was first told in full in Hesiod's (now lost) Astronomy. (Fragments of Hesiod's Astronomy were summarised in the Catasterismi by the pseudo-Eratosthenes.) Homer's attention in the Iliad and the Odyssey is directed mainly to constellations (Great Bear, Boötes, Orion, and the Pleiades). Hesiod's attention in the Works and Days is directed mainly to individual stars (Sirius and Arcturus).
The Greeks never thought of constellating the entire visible sky until circa the 5th-century BCE when Greek astronomy proper began. Around this time the Greeks adopted (and adapted) the Babylonian zodiac and other Babylonian constellations. By circa 400 BCE (likely under the influence of Babylonian uranography) the Greeks had, by borrowing and invention, established the majority of the 48 classical constellations.
(3) The Greek Zodiacal Constellations
The Babylonian origin of the Greek zodiacal constellations is certain. The names and iconography demonstrate their Babylonian origins. It is now believed the 12 constellations of the Babylonian zodiac were introduced into Greece prior to their introduction being credited to the Greek astronomer Cleostratus of Tenedos (circa 520 BCE-circa 432 BCE). He resided on Tenedos, an island of Turkey. He wrote an astronomical work called Astrologia or Phaenomena. The claim that he invented/introduced the Greek zodiac is most probably legendary.
(4) The Star Myths of Eratosthenes and Hyginus
The first Greek works which dealt with the constellations were books dealing with star/constellation myths. The main sources for Greek star myths were the now lost works of Hesiod and Pherecydes of Syros (philosopher, flourished 6th-century BCE). The most complete extent Greek works dealing with the mythical origins of the Greek constellations are the later works Catasterismi by the (conventionally called) pseudo-Eratosthenes (a Hellenistic writer) and De Munitionibus Castrorum by the (conventionally called) pseudo-Hyginus (an early Roman writer). The Phainomena of Aratus was also a source of star myths. Each of these authors drew extensively from the writings of older sources such as Homer and Hesiod, and their successors. They provide a clear overview of the stories that lay behind the present-day Western constellations we use.
Circa the 5th-century BCE many of the constellations recognised by the Greeks had become associated with myths. Both the star catalogue (constellation description) of Eudoxus (4th-century BCE) and the star catalogue (constellation description) of Aratus (3rd-century BCE) adopted the vocabulary of myth. In his Castasterismi Eratosthenes (284-204 BCE) completed and standardised this process with each of the constellations being given a mythological significance.
"The constellations, as they were described in Greek mythology, were mostly god-favoured (or cursed) heroes and beasts who received a place in the heavens in memorial of their deeds. They were regarded, as semi-divine spirits, living, conscious entities who strode across the heavens. (Theoi Greek Mythology: www.theoi.com/Cat_Astraioi.html)"
It was only in Hellenistic times that systematic attempts were made to connect all the Greek constellations with traditional Greek mythology. Enough of the once extensive Greek literature on astral mythology has survived to show there was no standard version consolidated. Different myths were often attached to the same constellation.In Greece, connecting constellations to stories aided the memorisation of the numerous star groupings that were developed. The content of the astral myths was independent of astronomical function.
It is also proposed that the Greek constellations are often interconnected mythological figures (narrative groups)) who were 'catasterised' (transformed) into constellations by the Greeks, mostly circa the 5th-century BCE. As example: The Perseus myth is reflected in the names of the constellation figures Perseus, Andromeda, Cetus, Cassiopeia, and Cepheus.
(5) The Phaenomena of Eudoxus
Actual descriptions of constellations in Greece existed as early as Eudoxus, circa early 4th-century BCE). The Greek astronomer Eudoxus, circa 375 BCE, appears to have been the first person to develop a standardised map of the Greek constellations. A complete set of Greek constellations appears to have been first described by Eudoxus in 2 works called the Enoptron and the Phaenomena (both of which are no longer extant). Phaenomena was likely a revision and expansion of Enoptron. (Eudoxus appears to have been the first person to have comprehensively arranged and described (i.e., consolidated) the Greek constellation set.) The early method of the Greek astronomer Eudoxus for determining the places of the stars was to divide the stars into named constellations and define the constellations partly by their juxtaposition, partly by their relation to the zodiac, and also by their relation to the tropical and arctic circles. The complete (and standardised) constellating of the Greek sky (with 48 constellations) was possibly first achieved by Eudoxus in his work Phaenomena.
(6) The Phaenomena of Aratus
The first complete description of the Greek constellations to survive is given by the Greek poet Aratus circa 270 BCE. With only a few exceptions no actual stars are described by Aratus - only constellation figures. This method was undoubtedly inherited from Eudoxus who produced a set of descriptions of constellations in which the relative positions of stars in each of the constellations was described. Eudoxus was likely the first Greek to summarise the Greek system of constellations. The purpose of the Phaenomena by Aratus was to describe the appearance and the organisation of the constellations in the sky with reference to each other. Aratus' Phaenomena was the most influential poem in ancient Greece after the 2 Homeric epics.
In the Phainomena of Aratus (circa 275 BCE) 44 constellations are named. Within the poem the constellations are descriptively arranged into two main areas, the northern constellations (including all of the zodiacal constellations), and the southern constellations. (The goal of the Phainomena was to entertain and educate the literate upper class of Greek society. The contents, especially the brief sections on seasonal signs and weather signs, are too sophisticated for ordinary farmers and sailors.) The star names mentioned by Aratus are Sirius, Arcturus, Procyon ("Forerunner of the Dog"), Stachys ("Ear of Corn," now Spica), and Protrugater ("Herald of the Vintage"). The poem of Aratus was a product of the Hellenistic Greek culture centred not at Alexandria, where scientific activity flourished, but at Athens and the Macedonian court there. The Phainomena describes the constellation figures of the night sky that embodied the cultural history and traditions of the world of Aratus.
The constellations described by Aratus are technically those of Eudoxus. (A useful index of the Eudoxan versus that later Ptolemaic constellations appears in The Cambridge Guide to the Constellations by Michael Bakich, (1995, Pages 83–84).
The oldest extant scholarship on Aratus' Phaenomena is the2nd-century BCE, Commentary on the Phaenomena of Aratus and Eudoxus by the astronomer Hipparchus of Rhodes details the relationship between Aratus' poem and Eudoxus' source material. Hipparchus' Commentary makes clear that Aratus of Soli adapted works by Eudoxus of Cnidus. Aratus' astronomical inaccuracies were criticised by Hipparchus. The earliest commentary on Aratus' Phainomena was by Achilles Tatius, a Roman era Greek writer who flourished in the 2nd-century CE, and resided in Alexandria. The most influential Latin translation of Aratus' Phainomena was made by Claudius Germanicus (the Emperor Tiberius' nephew) in 19 CE.
The archaic Greek zodiac of the Aratean-Eratosthenic period was comprised of 11 figures positioned along the ecliptic. The 12 constellation zodiac of the Greek-Roman world originated in the 1st-century CE with the introduction of the Libra (in place of the Claws of the Scorpion). The different versions survive in a number of different celestial maps (likely produced to support to the comprehension of the first part of the Phaenomena) depicting either the Greek Aratean tradition or the later Latin Aratean tradition.
(7) Constellation Illustrations/Iconography
The iconography of the Greek constellation figures was connected with the mythology of the figures but only partly determined by such.
It is likely there were artistic representations of individual star groups as mythological figures earlier than the constellation representations on the mythological shield of Archilles. Homer mentions 4 constellations ((the Pleiades, the Hyades, Orion, and Arktos (the Bear); Iliad 18. 485-489.)
Whether the Phaenomena of Aratus was actually illustrated with pictures of the constellation figures is uncertain. It is considered there is greater likelihood that there were already pictures in the Katastarismoi of Eratosthenes of Cyrene (circa 275-195 BCE) which were then later taken over into the commentaries and translations of Latin writers such as Germanicus, Cicero, Hyginus, and others. The iconography of the Greek constellation figures was connected with the mythology of the figures but only partly determined by such. The American art historian Kurt Weitzmann held the view that the so-called Aratea (after Aratus) were in all likelihood illustrated with mythological figures for the constellations for the first time by Eratosthenes of Cyrene in the late 3rd-century BCE. There are very few sets of of early illustrations of the mythological figures associated with the Aratean constellation set. The presently known illustrations (sets) include: the Farnese globe (Roman), the Kugel globe (Roman), the Mainz globe (Roman), the Qusayr 'Amra lodge and bath house (Arab-Islamic), and Codex Vossianus (saec. IX) (Carolingian). The constellation figures are shown from the rear. (This was also the case for most Carolingian illustrated copies of the Aratea.)
Though the iconography of the Greek constellation figures was not uniform there were certain traditional and unchanging characteristics. As example: Taurus is always represented as only the forepart of a bull, Cassiopeia is always represented as seated on a throne.
(8) Greek Stellar Nomenclature
In Greek astronomy the stars within the constellation figures were usually not given individual names. (There are only a few individual star names from Greece. The most prominent stars in the sky were usually nameless in Greek civilization. If there was a system of Greek star names then it has not come down to us and also would appear unknown to Ptolemy.) The Greek name for constellations was katasterismoi. The 12 constellations/signs on the ecliptic were known as the zodiakus (circle) or zodiakus kyklos (circle of little animals). Greek constellations ("star catalogues") up to the time of Ptolemy are descriptive. The Western tradition of describing the constellations by means of describing the relative positions of the stars within the constellation figures was firmly established by Eratosthenes and Hipparchus. In their descriptions to the time of Ptolemy the constellations were defined by the Greeks by their juxtaposition (i.e., descriptive comparison of positional relationship to each other). Prior to Hipparchus (and Ptolemy) the general goal of the Greeks at least was not accurate astronomical observation but artistic and mythological education. The end result was a sort of geographical description of territorial position and limits.
(9) The Stellar Observations Timocharis and Aristyllos
Early in the 3rd-century BCE the Greek philosophers Timocharis and Aristyllus, using a cross-staff, accurately catalogued the positions (i.e., declinations) of some of the brightest stars. Timocharis, between circa 290-270 BCE, observed the declinations of twelve fixed stars. Aristyllus, continuing the program of Timocharis, observed between circa 280-240 BCE, the declinations of six more fixed stars. This is the first known Greek compilation of measured stellar positions forming a star catalogue. (See: "Ancient Stellar Observations Timocharis, Aristyllos, Hipparchus, Ptolemy - the Dates and Accuracies." by Yasukatsu Maeyama (Centaurus, Volume 27, 1984, Pages 280-310.)) It can be deemed the first true star catalogue.
(10) The Star Catalogue of Hipparchus
The first catalogue of stars over the entire visible sky probably originated with the Greek astronomer Hipparchus circa 130 BCE. One of the great achievements of Hipparchus was his (now lost) Catalogue of fixed stars. This star catalogue differed from the earlier and imprecise descriptions of the constellations. To compile his star catalogue Hipparchus apparently used an equatorial armillary sphere to measure the exact ecliptical coordinates (i.e., ecliptic latitude (angular distance from the ecliptic plane) and ecliptic longitude (angular distance from an arbitrary point i.e., the vernal equinox)) of approximately 850 stars. However, it is clear that at the time of Hipparchus a standardised system of spherical coordinates for denoting stellar positions did not exist. In the material that has survived Hipparchus does not use a single consistent coordinate system to denote stellar positions. He inconsistently uses several different coordinate systems, including an equatorial coordinate system (i.e., declinations) and an ecliptic coordinate system (i.e., latitudes and longitudes). He used declinations for about half of the 850 stars he catalogued. (In his Commentary, obviously written before his discovery of precession, the positions of stars, when given, are in a mixed ecliptic-declination system.) In his Commentary on the Phaenomena of Aratus and Eudoxus, Hipparchus largely chose to write at the same qualitative (i.e., descriptive) level as the two authors he critiqued. Only later, obviously after his discovery of precession, did he introduce a system of real ecliptic coordinates where the positions of stars are given in their latitude and longitude (and longitudes increase proportionally with time whilst latitudes remain unchanged). Hipparchus, in his Commentary, attributed Aratus' Phainomena to the earlier Phainomena of Eudoxus. He reached this conclusion after a detailed comparison of both texts. It has been suggested that Eudoxus' Phainomena is a revision of his earlier Enoptron.
The development of a system of coordinates to enable the positions of individual stars to be located accurately was first achieved in Greece; but only after undergoing considerable evolvement. The fixed stars were first located only in very vague terms. In the Works and Days of Hesiod (circa 7th-century BCE) there exists only the most rudimentary system for identifying particular stars and where to find them in the sky. A first attempt at an exact coordinate system for locating particular stars was not to occur until some 500 years later with the star catalogue of Hipparchus. In the 2nd-century BCE Hipparchus originated a star catalogue in which also he tried to give some reasonably accurate locational coordinates for the stars he listed. However, the coordinate system he used to locate the positions of the stars on his list remains unknown.
Hipparchus introduced the system of assigning Greek letters to identify the magnitudes (brightness) of the naked-eye stars in each constellation.
Approximately 300 years later Ptolemy compiled a star catalogue - likely by adding about 170 additional stars to the 850 in the star catalogue compiled by Hipparchus. Hipparchus' system of designating stellar magnitude was adopted by Claudius Ptolemy. Before Hipparchus and Ptolemy Greek astronomy focused on constellation figures rather than star positions.
(11) The Star Catalogue of Ptolemy
The final consolidation of the classical Greek star names and constellation figures was accomplished by the polymath Ptolemy circa 150 CE in his book The Great System of Astronomy. (Originally called the Syntaxis by Ptolemy and then called the Almagest by the later Arabic translators.). The earliest Western star catalogue (as we understand the term) originated with the astronomer Ptolemy (circa 140 CE). The culmination of Greek establishment of constellation (and star) names was contained in (Book VII and Book VIII) of Ptolemy's Almagest written circa 140 CE. In it Ptolemy listed 1025 (fixed) stars. For his star catalogue Ptolemy used one system of proper coordinates (ecliptic longitudes and latitudes) for all the stars listed in it. (Interestingly, the Roman historian Pliny the Elder (1st-century CE) mentioned the existence of another star catalogue of 1600 stars existing some 75 years prior to Ptolemy's star catalogue.)
Ptolemy did not identify the stars in his catalogue with Greek letters, as is done by modern astronomers. The star catalogue in Ptolemy's Almagest lists over 1000 stars with their coordinates and magnitudes. Only a dozen stars are given proper names. The remaining stars listed are identified with descriptors of their places within the constellations. Each of the 1025 stars listed was identified (1) descriptively by its position within one of the 48 constellation figures; then (2) by its ecliptic latitude and longitude; and then (3) its magnitude. It is this particular star catalogue method of Ptolemy that enables us to identify, with considerable exactness, the boundaries (i.e., shape) of the ancient Greek constellations. The constellation scheme described by Ptolemy (Almagest, circa 140 CE) consisted of 21 northern constellations, 12 zodiacal constellations, and 15 southern constellations.
Ptolemy's star catalogue became established as the primary reference source for all later divisions of the sky.
(12) Development of Western stellar coordinate system
Aratos' Phainomena describes the stars/constellations is a descriptive, pre-coordinate manner. Hipparchus of Rhodes circa 2nd-century BCE pioneered the development of a stellar coordinate system.
(13) Early Star Catalogues
The term "early star catalogues" is also commonly applied to descriptions of Greek (and Babylonian) uranography prior to Ptolemy. With few exceptions these "early star catalogues", however, are distinctly different from what modern astronomers, from Ptolemy onwards, have meant by the term. With few exceptions, prior to Ptolemy star catalogues did not give the position of stars by any system of mathematical coordinates. They are instead qualitative descriptions of the constellations. They simply note the number of stars in each part of a constellation and the general location of the brighter stars within a constellation. (The type of description usually used is "near X is Y".) This cumbersome method of describing the location of stars in terms of their relative positions in a constellation was used by both the Babylonians and the Greeks. The pictorial arrangement of stars is not a star catalogue. A star catalogue proper gives accurate positions for each individual star regardless of the constellation it is grouped into. Also, the boundaries of the Greek constellations were subject to change up to the time of Ptolemy.
(1) Roman Debt to Greek Uranography
The Romans derived a considerable portion of their star lore and uranography from the Greeks. What stars/constellations the Romans had before they borrowed from the Greeks is uncertain. Both the Greek and Roman poets related fabulous stories about the origin of the constellations.
(2) Roman Uranography
The constellation Libra (the Scales) originally represented the claws of the constellation of the Scorpion. (The constellation Libra was included in the Babylonian zodiac but was later described by Hellenistic astronomers, such as Ptolemy, as "'the claws' of the great Scorpio.") However, in Roman times the star grouping was changed and the constellation Libra (the Scales) was established as a separate constellation. The claws of the constellation of the Scorpion were incorporated into the remaining stars representing the constellation of the Scorpion. According to a semi-vague account by Virgil the Roman astronomers drew back the claws of the Scorpion constellation and the constellation Libra (the Scales) was added in honour of Julius Caesar, at whose death a new star was said to have in that part of the sky.
(6) Far East
(1) The Rig Veda
The Rig Veda (basically an early collection of Hindu religious hymns) lists a number of stars. (There is no sophisticated astronomy within the Rig Veda. From internal evidence the date of the composition of the Rig Veda is indicated as being between 1500-1400 BCE.) The Rig Veda reference (i, 162:18) to 34 lights has been interpreted as referring to the sun, the moon, the 5 planets, and the 27 naksatras. (The Rig Veda gives no complete list of the naksatras.) The Rig Veda does mention 3 possible asterisms: Tisya [Tishya] (v, 54:13; x, 64:8, Aghas and Arjuni (x, 85:3). In some of the late hymns of the Rig Veda (dating approximately to the first half of the last millennium BCE i.e., 1000 BCE to 500 BCE) the astronomical knowledge is related to the content of the late second-millennium Mesopotamian astronomical text known as Mul.Apin. This Mesopotamian text includes a catalogue of some 60 constellations in order of their heliacal risings, and 17 constellations in the path of the moon, beginning with Mul.Mul (the Pleiades). (Also like Mul.Apin it has an ideal year of 360 days of 12 x 30 day months. This ideal year also appears in a late hymn of the Rig Veda and also in the Atharva Veda.)
The Rig Veda has a (incomplete) list of 27 (or 28 stars/asterisms) (naksatra), also associated with the path of the moon, and also beginning with the Pleiades (called Krttikas). Not all naksatra lie exactly in the path of the moon. (The word naksatra seems to refer to any star. Usually the naksatras were asterisms (small star groups/patterns which were assigned specific names). Technically the naksatras are the lunar mansions.) These constellations were in use (in late Vedic times) at the beginning of the 1st millennium BCE. (In later literature Indian astronomers inserted a 28th naksatra.) (Other Vedic texts similar to the Rig Veda mention constellations. Two passages in the Yajur Veda list 27 constellations. A third passage in the Yajur Veda and a passage in the Atharva Veda mention 28 constellations.) Some 20 naksatra have correspondences with the Mul.Apin list of asterisms in the path of the moon. The Indian lists of naksatras were established during the early first millennium BCE. They show striking resemblances to the Mesopotamian constellations; especially to List VI in the Mul.Apin series. Strictly, the calendars of the Vedic and Brahmanic Periods were luni-solar. The naksatras were used to mark the positions of the sun, moon, and planets.
The positions of the naksatras in the sky are not defined at all in any of the very early texts.
(2) Influence of Mesopotamian Uranography on India
David Pingree suggested (The Astral Science in Mesopotamia by Hermann Hunger and David Pingree (1999, Page 63)) that the Mesopotamian association of gods/goddesses with constellations in the late 2nd-millennium BCE probably influenced the Vedic Indians to also associate one or a set of their gods/goddesses to each of their lunar mansions (naksatras). According to David Pingree it is also likely that the influence for the development of the Indian system of naksatras originated in Mesopotamia, specifically with star list VI in the Mul.Apin series (17/18 stars/asterisms in the path of the moon). The original use of the scheme of naksatras was simply to record the location of the moon among the stars. The scheme of naksatras was later extended to an astronomical system for recording the positions of planets (and the lunar nodes). Examples of this later use are to be found in the Mahabharata. (The Vedic convention of 27 or 28 lunar mansions has survived in modern Indian calendrical practice.
It seems likely that the Mesopotamian idea of associating stars with cardinal directions is reflected in Indian texts such as the Vedic Satapatha Brahmana. The Satapatha Brahmana states the Saptarsis (Ursa Major, "Wagon" (Babylonian: MAR.GID.DA)) rise in the North, and the Krttikas (= the Pleiades, "Stars" (Babylonian: MUL.MUL)) rise in the East. The science historian and Sankritist David Pingree believed that all of the astronomical information from the Mesopotamian Mul.Apin series reached India through Iran.
Ancient Persian (Iran) was one of the intermediate stages in the transfer of Babylonian astronomical ideas to India and China. The Babylonian scheme of 12 equal divisions of the ecliptic (and then ultimately the 12 zodiacal signs) most likely reached India through a Greek intermediary sometime in the late first millennium BCE or in the early first millennium CE. Elements of Mesopotamian astronomy were transmitted to India during the Achaemenid Period (circa 550 to 330 BCE); especially during the Achaemenid occupation of the Indus Valley in the 5th-century BCE. This was a significant stage in Mesopotamian astronomy reaching India. The period of the astronomy of the early Puranic writings and early Siddhantic writings (i.e., post-Vedic astronomy) - circa 500 BCE/400 BCE - 400 CE/500 CE saw the transmission of both Greek and Persian ideas on cosmology. (It is not uncommon, however, to see exaggerated arguments for the influence of Indian astronomy on the West and the emphatic minimisation or denial of the influence of Babylonian astronomy on India.)
(1) Sky Maps
The Chinese developed their own system of constellations and these are quite different to the traditional Western system of constellations. The Chinese did not follow the Western tradition of grouping stars according to their brightness but rather grouped stars according to their location. Also, the Chinese formed their constellations from only a small number of stars. (A few (five) Chinese constellations were patterned in the same way as those used in Western Europe. These were: (1) the Great Bear, (2) Orion, (3) Auriga, (4) Corona Australis, and (5) the Southern Cross. In Chinese uranography a constellation was called a "palace," with the major star being the emperor star and lesser stars being princes.
The Chinese had been creating star maps and star catalogs since at least the 5th-century BCE. The first Chinese star charts appeared during the Warring States period (circa 475-221 BCE). (The Warring States period was just prior to the unification of China under the first emperor Qin Shi Huang (or Shih Huang Ti) in 221 BCE.) The scientific and technological achievements of the Warring States period are immensely impressive. The various feudal states all had their own court astrologers/astronomers. Chinese astrologers/astronomers began to group the individual stars into constellations with each constellation having a symbolic significance. Shi Shen of the State of Wei and Gan De (possibly) of the State of Qi (Chu) co-authored The Gan and Shi Book of the Stars. In it they accurately recorded the positions (i.e., provided equatorial coordinates) of 120 (121?) stars. It is the world's earliest star chart. (This star catalogue also included the names of constellations and other stars that had not had their positions accurately recorded.)
The fixed star registers of the 3 astronomical schools were preserved in the Kaiyuan Zhanjing (Treatise on Astrology) of the Kaiyuan Period (729 CE) from the Tang Dynasty (618-907 CE). (The earliest existing book to systematically describe the Chinese constellations was the Tianguan Shu (Monograph on Heavenly Officers) by Sima Qian (circa 145 BCE - 87 BCE). Some 90 constellations were mentioned including the 28 lunar mansions. Another feature was the Chinese sky was divided into 5 palaces.)
Circa 310 CE (immediately after the Han period) Chen Zhuo (Chhen Cho) (circa 230-320 CE), the Imperial Astronomer of the Wu State, and later the Jin court, (he lived during the Three Kingdoms (= Sanguo) period, and at the beginning of the Jin dynasty) constructed a map of the visible sky (stars and constellations) based on the astronomical schools of Shi Shen, Gan De, and Wu Xian. He combined (integrated) the three traditional star maps of Shi Shen, Gan De, and Wu Xian to form a new star catalogue of the visible sky. With additions included there were 1,464 stars and 283 (284?) constellations, and also included were an explanation and astrological commentary. Undoubtedly, in the combined star catalogue of Chen Zhou, the groups of constellations he attributed to one of the three astronomical schools his only his own chosen allocation. (It would be mistaken to believe that each of these groups of constellations were exclusively the constellations of each of the three astronomical schools used by Chen Zhou. There is no reason to suppose that each of the three astronomical schools did not take a comprehensive interest in the entire visible sky.) From this time on the new version of the Chinese sky provided by the scheme of Chen Zhou became established as the traditional Chinese sky. It was inherited by the Tang dynasty (618-907) astronomers and the Chinese sky became relatively fixed. No further significant changes occurred. Some stars were added, some star names were changed (the different star names introduced were actually synonyms), and the shapes of some constellations were changed into new groupings of stars. After the Tang dynasty the constellations were no longer distinguished according to which school they had belonged to. The later planisphere of Qian Luozhi agreed with this composite star chart constructed by Chen Zhou.
It would appear that most of the constellations of Gan De and Wu Xian were just fill-ins amongst the constellations listed by Shi Shen. Shi Shen's constellations were formed from the brightest stars in the sky. It has been commented that the constellations of Gan De and Wu Xian did not seem to exist in their own time but were later developments of star naming during the Han Period. Before the Han Period there did not exist any complete description of the sky. It remained largely unconstellated. Only 38 star names or constellation names are mentioned in pre-Han literature. These 38 stars names or constellation names were either the 28 hsiu (xiu) or were popular stars or constellations (appearing in folklore or poems) such as Niulang (= alpha Aquila), Zhinu (= alpha Lyra), and Beidou (= Ursa Major). (Later, the 7 bright stars of Ursa Major were known as Yu Ya (the Chariot) and the Milky Way was known as Tian He (Celestial River) or Yin He (Silver River).)
The well-known Dunhuang star chart is an example of the coloured star map of Qian Luozhi (Qian Lezhi). It gives a flat representation of Qian Luozhi's three-coloured traditional chart on the celestial globe (made 5th-century CE). Between 424 and 453 CE (during the Nan Dynasty) the Imperial Astronomer Qian Luozhi had a bronze celestial globe (planisphere) cast with the stars on it coloured in red, black, and white to distinguish the star listings of the three astronomers he had sourced. (The colours used had nothing to do with the observed colours of stars.) These were the first Chinese catalogues of star positions that were drawn up by the astronomers Shi Shen (Shih Shen or Shi Shi), Gan De (Kan Te or Gan Shi) , and Wu Xian (Wu Hsien or Wuxian Shi). (Shi Shen (Shih Shen or Shi Shi) listed 93 constellations; Gan De (Kan Te or Gan Shi) listed 118 constellations; and Wu Xian (Wu Hsien or Wuxian Shi) listed 44 constellations.) They created their own star maps for calendrical and astrological purposes. The positions of a number of stars were accurately determined. The stars of Shi Shen were coloured red, the stars of Gan De were coloured black, and the stars of Wu Xian were coloured white. The use of colours was due to the belief that the three astronomers had each used different methods of astrological interpretation and that is was therefore necessary to know which system to apply. On the Dunhuang star chart the stars of Shi Shen were coloured yellow (not red), the stars of Gan De were coloured black, and the stars of Wu Xian were coloured white. (Wu Xian is actually a vague (probably legendary) figure from the Yin dynasty (said to be a Minister at the time of Emperor Da Wu) circa 1200 BCE. During the later Han period some astrologers began to write in the name of Wu Xian and this practice led to the emergence of a Wu Xian astronomical school.)
(2) Early Chinese Star Maps
Some early Chinese star maps are:
(1) Star map/catalogue by Wu Xian (created circa 1200-1000 BCE) but perhaps mythical for this time. This was a partial (northern) sky star map apparently containing 44 central and outer constellations and a total of 141 stars.
(2) Star map/catalogue by Ghan De (created between circa 475-221 BCE, Warring States period). This was a partial (northern) sky star map possibly containing 75 central constellations and 42 outer constellations (= 117 constellations). (Some sources though state 510 stars in 118 constellations).
(3) Star map/catalogue by Shi Shen (created circa 350 BCE). This was a relatively comprehensive (northern) sky star map apparently containing 138 constellations, 810 star names, and the locations of 121 stars. (According to some sources it contained the 28 lunar ecliptic constellations/asterisms, 62 central constellations, and 30 outer constellations.) It may well lay claim to have been the earliest star catalogue.
(4) The book Tianguan Shu (Monograph on Heavenly Officers) by Sima qian (lived circa 145 BCE - 87 BCE) was the earliest book to describe the Chinese constellations. Some 90 constellations (500 stars) were mentioned, including the 28 lunar mansions.
(5) Star map/catalogue by Chen Zhuo (created circa 270 CE). This was a whole (northern) sky star map whose contents were a unified constellation system (integrating the records of Shi Shen, Gan De, and Wu Xian) containing 1464 stars in 284 constellations.
(6) Planetarium/star map by Qian Luozhi (Qian Lezhi) (created circa 443 CE, Nan Dynasty). This whole (northern) sky planetarium/star map used red, black, and white to differentiate stars from the different star maps of Wu Xian, Ghan De, and Shi Shen.
(7) The Dunhuang star map/catalogue (created circa 705-710 CE). It is an example of the coloured star map of Qian Luozhi (Qian Lezhi).
(8) The Suchow (Soochow/Su-chou) planisphere/star map by Huang Shang (created 1193 CE). This was a whole (northern) sky chart depicting the sky visible from central China (approximately 35 degrees north latitude). The inscription accompanying the chart states there are 283 asterisms and 1565 stars. There are, however, 313 asterisms and only 1440 stars displayed on it.
(3) Sky Divisions
The 28 lunar lodges came to form the basis of the Chinese astronomical coordinate system (i.e., reference points). The hsiu (or xiu) constellations are constantly used throughout Chinese history as precise markers of the positions of celestial bodies during the seasons. Each hsiu (xiu) has a triangular patch of the sky extending up to the North Pole. (This is because the 28 lunar lodges sliced the celestial sphere into 28 sectors similar to the sections of an orange. All lines radiated from the "orange stem" of the north celestial pole. Each of the 28 sectors contained one of the lunar lodges and the width of a sector was dependant of the size of the constellation (lunar lodge).) As the lunar lodges were spaced out, more or less, along both sides of the celestial equator, this coordinate system was usually regarded a an equatorial system. Some modern researchers, however, hold that the lunar lodges mostly followed the ecliptic. (However, Chinese astronomy generally ignored both the horizon and the ecliptic.)
Each lunar lodge was numbered and named for a constellation or asterism. The 18th lunar lodge was called Mao and was formed by the stars of the Pleiades, The 21st lunar lodge was called Shen and was nearly identical to the modern European constellation Orion.
William O'Neill (Early Astronomy from Babylonia to Copernicus (1986, Page 179) writes: "An interesting and unique feature of the hsiu was the designation of 28 circumpolar stars on approximately the same meridians as the hsiu stars. Thus even when a hsiu star was below the horizon its direction could be read from its paranatellon (a star crossing the meridian at the same time)."
The Shangshu (Book of Documents) contains a paragraph concerning 4 cardinal asterisms and is generally agreed to record the observation of stars before the 21st-century BCE. Also, a similar reference appears in the Records of the Grand Historian by Sima Qian (life dates: circa 145-90 BCE, Prefect of the Grand Scribes in the Han government, and astrologer) describing the Xia dynasty circa 2000 BCE.
A period of particular interest for the constellating of the entire Chinese sky is the Han Period (circa 200 BCE-200 CE). Prior to the Han Dynasty the constellation system of 28 lunar lodges (presumably developed in reference to the sidereal month), and little else, was established. The earliest description of the entire Chinese sky is given in the Tianguan Shu (Monograph on Heavenly Officers) by Sima Qian (circa 145 BCE - 87 BCE). In this book he mentions 91 constellations (including the 28 lunar lodges) including approximately 500 stars. It is the earliest existing book to systematically describe the Chinese constellations. Another feature was the Chinese sky was divided into 5 palaces.
The earliest Chinese historical records known are the writings on the oracle bones. Some of the inscriptions on the oracle bones (mainly fragments of turtle/tortoise shells (carapaces) and mammalian bones (i.e., the scapulae of oxen) discovered at Anyang, and which date to the Shang Period (circa 16th(but likely 14th)- to 11th-century BCE), contain some star names. (The fragments of carapaces or mammalian bones were subjected to heat and the paths made by the resulting cracks were interpreted to answer questions about current or future events.) The star names plausibly indicate the existence of a scheme for dividing the sky along the equatorial circle into 4 main divisions was being developed at the time. It is generally accepted that at least 4 quadrantel hsiu were already known in China in the 14th-century BCE. The discovery of the Shang Oracle bones makes it possible to trace the gradual development of the system of Chinese lunar lodges from the earliest mention of the 4 quadrantel asterisms. (Unfortunately the astronomical data so far found on oracle bones and deciphered have greater historical than scientific interest because we do not know the exact time and position of the astronomical occurrences recorded.)
The Canon of Yao (comprising the first section of the Shu Ching (Classic of History), dated circa 4th-century BCE, states that the 4 stars named Niao, Huo, Hsü,, and Mao) mark the 4 tropic times. The 4 tropic times correspond with the middles of the 4 seasonal quarters of the year, not with their beginnings. Much later, during the Han Period (circa 200 BCE-200 CE), the 4 stars Niao, Huo, Hsü, and Mao were identified with 4 of the 28 lunar lodges.
The system of 28 lunar lodges of unequal sectors dates back to at least the second half of the 5th-century BCE. (The hsiu (xiu) are quite unequal in size. The reason for this is to make them 'key' accurately with circumpolar stars. Some of the hsiu had to be very wide because there were no circumpolar stars to which narrower divisions could be 'keyed.') The names of all the 28 lunar lodges are inscribed on a lacquer(ed) box cover found in the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng. Zeng was a minor state. This is the earliest extant list of all 28 hsiu. The tomb (located on a hillside in Hupei Province) is dated to 433 BCE. The lacquer(ed) box is now kept in the Hupei Provincial Museum. (The tomb was accidentally discovered in 1977 and excavated by Chinese archaeologists in 1978.)
Since the Tang Dynasty, the 3 Yuan and the 28 hsiu (xiu) became the main structure by which the Chinese organised the stars.
(4) The So-Called Chinese Zodiac
The term "Chinese zodiac" is a misconception originating from the system of 12 Jupiter-stations. The 12 Jupiter stations do not equate to the 12 signs of the Western zodiac. One of the late Chinese systems of dividing the sky was the system of Jupiter Stations in which the equator was divided into 12 equal sectors reflecting the approximately 12-year orbital period of the planet Jupiter. (Joseph Needham pointed out the equator (and by analogy the ecliptic) was divided into 12 Jupiter-stations.) The 12 stations Jupiter passes through in one revolution around the sun were associated with 12 animals (taken from the 60-year cycle count). Chinese astrologers associated each of the 12 years with a sequence of 12 animals. Each animal represents 1 year of the 12-year Jupiter-cycle. The concept was well established in Chinese thought by the 4th-century BCE. These 12 Chinese animal signs do not correspond to the 12 signs of the Western zodiac. Also, the so-called Chinese "zodiac" is not linked to the constellations. The Chinese astrologers also related each of the 12 years of the Jupiter-cycle to one of the feudal states. The names of the 12 annual Jupiter-stations began to be used to count years in 365 BCE. The animal signs repeat themselves every 12 years. Because the sidereal period of Jupiter is actually 11.86 years Jupiter would gradually move closer towards the next Jupiter station after each year. After 84.7 years it would be found in the next station. (The apparent motion of Jupiter around the 12-stations is irregular, involving 11 retrograde movements during a 12-year cycle.) Jupiter stations were already out of step with the calendar in the 11th-century CE and had long ceased to be used in the Chinese calendar. When problems set in with the real Jupiter 12-year cycle an "fictitious" (= ideal real counter-orbital-Jupiter) moving backwards in a exact 12-year cycle was invented. This rather bizarre concept continued to be used for centuries. The 12 stations of this imaginary Jupiter were marked by 12 chen (= asterisms).
(5) Differences Between Chinese Constellations and Western Constellations
Differences Between Chinese Constellations and Western Constellations
Chinese (Geographic Block: Orient)
Western (Geographic Blocks: Near East, Mediterranean, and Northern Europe)
|Chinese constellations were smaller i.e., comprised of fewer stars than Western constellations.||Western constellations were usually quite large and comprised many more stars than Chinese constellations.|
|Chinese constellations incorporated fainter stars than Western constellations.||Western constellations tended to use the brighter stars.|
|The Chinese constellations do not offer pictorial representations of the constellations; simply dot and line representations i.e., 'stick-figures.'||Sometimes the member stars of constellations were shared between constellations (at least in the Greek constellation set), and member stars could change over time (at least in the Greek constellation set).|
|The Chinese constellations did not depict myths but rather aspects of Chinese political (imperial) and social and rustic life. The Chinese constellations were symbolic, rather than pictorial.||The Western constellations largely depicted myths (i.e., Greek catasterisms). The Western constellations were pictorial, rather than symbolic.|
|With the Chinese constellations i.e., star maps (and also Korean star maps) there is no attempt to scale the dot symbols as guidance to the brightness of a star i.e., use of the size of the dots as a magnitude scale. This sometimes caused uncertainty with identification of member stars.||The magnitude system for stars - denoting the degree of brightness of stars - originated with the star catalogue of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus.|
(6) Political Cosmology
The Chinese believed the sky to be the other half of the earth. They also believed the sky was a mirror of the earth. As such ancient Chinese astronomy was a political science. Each part of the sky was subdivided to correspond to the different regions of the earthly Chinese empire. The bureaucratic governing structure of China was also reflected in the sky. Chinese astronomers searched the sky for celestial changes as these were regarded as omens. The Chinese sky was intimately linked to the symbolism of the Middle Kingdom i.e., the "Central States" along the Yellow River valley.
(7) Diffusion of Indian Astronomy Into China
Indian astronomy was introduced into China with the journeys of Buddhist monks into China from the late 2nd-century to the early 11th-century CE. During this period of about 800 years an enormous amount of Indian astronomical ideas were introduced into China. This included the Indian system of lunar mansions, the 27 naksatras. This did not result in any great impact on the existing Chinese system of 28 hsiu's (xiu's). Both the Koreans and the Japanese, in part due to the political dominance of China in the region, adopted Chinese uranography.
The currently dominant view is the Korean language belongs to the Ural-Altaic group (which does not include Chinese). Archaeological evidence indicates that Altaic or proto-Altaic speaking tribes (proto-Koreans) migrated from central Asia (south-central Siberia) to the Korean peninsula in successive waves from the Neolithic Age (spanning circa 4000 BCE to 300 BCE) to the Bronze Age (spanning circa 1000 BCE to 300 BCE). They replaced the Paleosiberians who were the earlier settlers to the region. The Paleosiberians were either assimilated or driven further north. The proto-Koreans formed several tribal states that were later established as kingdoms. Koguryu[Koguryo] was Korea's first feudal state.
(2) Influence of Chinese Unranography on Korea
Korea's system of astronomy and uranography was almost completely based on China's system of astronomy and uranography. Indigenous Korean astronomical knowledge is identified in the (Korean) Bronze Age and Koguryu period (and also Goryeo period). The Koreans largely adopted the Chinese system of astronomy and uranography because China had developed astronomy and uranography very early and because China was the politically dominant ancient civilisation in the region. (In 1145 CE King Injong ordered the eminent scholar Kim Pusik to write the Samguk Sagi (Historical Records of the Three Kingdoms) after the fashion of the Chinese dynastic histories - in order to beautify the style and to supplement his information. This is the oldest extant Korean history.) The system of 28 lunar mansions was adopted by Korea. The traditional number of 282 Chinese constellations (asterisms), centred on the North Pole, are used. In the Korean system of astronomy measurements of positions were based on the equator and the north celestial pole. The celestial sphere was divided into 5 'palaces.' In addition to the polar regions 9 sections of the sky were recognised. Three large enclosures that frequently mentioned are: (1) Tianshi (the Celestial Market), which lies mostly in our constellation Hercules; (2) Taiweigong (often abbreviated to Taiwei) (the Grand Forbidden Palace), which occupies much of our constellations Leo and Virgo; and (3) Ziweigong (often abbreviated to Ziwei) (the Purple Forbidden Palace), which occupies the north polar region.
(3) Early Depictions of Korean Uranography
The depiction of constellations dates back at least to the (Korean) Bronze Age whilst star maps date back to at least the Tree-Kingdom period circa 1st-century BCE.
(4) Dolmen Constellations
Korean astronomy (at least the depiction of constellations) originated circa during the (Korean) Bronze Age. Constellations were carved on the cover stones of dolmens which were erected in great numbers throughout the Korean peninsula. (Of the 80,000 dolmens claimed to exist throughout the Korean peninsula circa 1970 only approximately 25,000 were believed to remain circa 2000.)
The Korean dolmens are categorised into 3 types: (1) Northern dolmens (Jisangsukkwak), a high cap stone (stone lid) supported by two or four megaliths, are "table" dolmens thought to be influenced by Siberian culture; (2) Southern types of dolmens (Paduk), have megaliths between underground chambers and cap stones; and (3) Mixed dolmens, have an underground chamber covered by a stone cap stone without supporting megaliths.
The dolmens, believed to be the graves of local leaders, date between circa 2000 BCE and 200 CE. The Institute of Archaeology in north Korea has discovered over 70 dolmens in the area of Jongdong-ri in South Hwanghae Province that are inscribed with constellations. The depiction of constellations on dolmens predate active intervention with China. The constellations are marked on the top faces of the stone lids. The constellations are depicted by holes linked by groove lines. The different sizes of the holes, 10 centimetres to 2 centimetres, denote the degrees of brightness of stars. Some of the constellations depicted on dolmen cover stones include Ursa Minor and the pole star, Sagittarius, Orion, and Ursa Major. Ursa Major (the 'big dipper' asterism) is denoted by 7 holes linked in the shape of a dipper.
"The dolmens with engravings of astronomical charts are found mostly in Pyongyang, and number around 200. Before it was discovered that the holes on the surface of the dolmens represented stars, views differed as to what they might be. Some saw them as an expression of the worship of the sun or the heavens, while others associated them with funeral ceremonies. Some interpreted them as denoting the frequency of a certain ancestral rite, or the number of animals offered for sacrifice. Close examination of the arrangement of holes, however, revealed they were a representation of the constellations around the North Star.
The most well-known of these constellation patterns is found on the surface of a dolmen from Woesae Mountain in the South Pyongan Province. The cover stone of the dolmen tomb bears 80 holes, with a central hole representing the North Pole, and the others making up 11 different constellations. The size of the holes also varies throughout according to luminosity (brighter stars are larger), and when the observations were dated, taking the precession of equinoxes into account, it was determined that they represented the night sky from 2800 BC.
Constellation patterns found on a dolmen stone from the Pyongwon district in the South Pyongan Province were estimated to have been inscribed around 2500 BC, whilst the dolmen constellation found in the Hamju district of the South Hamgyong Province is dated to 1500 BC. When we look at the latter chart from the Hamju district, we can see that it is more accurate than the maps from previous eras. For instance, the holes corresponding to Great Bear and the Little Bear are more accurately distanced with reference to the pole star than in the Pyongwon chart, and stars down to the 4th-magnitude have been included.
In total, 40 constellations are displayed on the 200 dolmens in the valley of the Taedong River, including 28 from the regions around the pole star, skyline and equator. These include all the constellations visible at night from Pyongyang at 39 degrees north latitude, as well as the Milky Way and clusters of the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters). The charting of so many stars, before the invention of telescopes, is an unmatched feat in the history of astronomy. …
It is not certain why constellation maps were carved upon the dolmen tomb stones, but the general consensus is that ancient beliefs about death were linked to the worship of the heavens. This is also demonstrated by the fact that almost all the cover stones with astronomical markings are fashioned in the shape of a turtle's back. The turtle was revered by Koreans as one of the Ten Symbols of Longevity, and was believed to represent eternal youth. By making tombstones in the shape of a turtle, the people of ancient Korea believed they could enjoy a long life in the afterworld, and receive protection from the Turtle God. Representative of Korea’s prehistoric era, and recording something of the knowledge and culture of the age, the dolmens are an important part of the ancient history of East Asia." (Fifty Wonders of Korea, Volume 2: Science and Technology, 2008, Pages 13-15)
(5) Mural Tombs
Murals in tombs belonging to the Koguryu period frequently contain pictures of constellations. (Many old graves in East Asian countries - in the period from the 3rd-century BCE to the 8th-century CE - have paintings on the walls and ceilings.) Koguryu mural tombs were painted from the 4th century CE to the 7th century CE. As of 2008 25 tombs have been so far discovered to have constellation paintings. Kim Il-gwon summarises ("Analysis of the Astronomical System of Constellations in Korguryo Tomb Murals." The Review of Korean Studies, 2008, Volume 11, Number 2, June, Pages 5-32): "Analyzing these constellation tombs, four guardian deities as mystical animals (Blue Dragon, White Tiger, Vermilion Phoenix, and Black Warrior) were guardians of this world. I discovered that Koguryo people developed Sasook-do, a unique constellation system of four directions that is in charge of guarding the cosmos. It consisted of the Big Dipper on the north ceiling, the Southern Dipper, the Eastern Double Three Stars, and the Western Double Three Stars. Each corresponds with the Great Bear, the Archer, the Scorpion, and Orion, respectively. The Three Polar stars are placed in the center and are enlarged according to Osook-do, a five constellation system for directions. The Southern Dipper was a very important constellation rarely seen among Chinese mural tombs during this period." The ceiling lid of Jinpha-ri Tomb Number 4 has more than 130 stars engraved on it (without constellation markers). Constellations decorating the ceilings of Goryeo period tombs copied the Koguryu period pattern.
(6) Early Korean Star Maps
Star maps are known to have existed in Korea as early as the Tree-Kingdom period circa 1st-century BCE to 10th-century CE.
The Pacific was explored and settled by people in two major episodes. The first major episode occurred during the late Pleistocene period (between approximately 50,000 and 30,000 BCE), when water crossings were made from mainland Asia through a chain of large and close islands stretching towards Australia and New Guinea (which were then joined together at that time of low Ice-Age sea level). The second major episode of voyaging and settlement began after 1500 BCE in modern geological times, and after millennia of maritime developments in Island Southeast Asia and western Melanesia. Highly skilled navigators used sophisticated outrigger and double-hulled sailing canoes to voyage into the remote Pacific Ocean.
(2) Oceanic Migration
The Pacific islands are usually divided into the 3 geographical and cultural regions of groups of Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. The people of Polynesia share a common ethnic identity.
It was the Lapita culture that made the first substantial colonisation effort of the Oceanic region. The Lapita culture is the name given to the founding cultural group to initially settle the Oceanic region between circa 2000 BCE and 1000 BCE. Lapita is an archaeologically constructed culture. (The Lapita pottery culture is named after the site of Lapita, in New Caledonia, where some of the first pieces of distinctive Lapita pottery were found.) Lapita pottery represents an early community of culture in the southwest Pacific. Lapita pottery has now been discovered at nearly 200 sites spread out in a series of mostly coastal settlements, from Aitape to Samoa. Lapita culture shared linguistic, biological and cultural traits. The Austroneasian ancestors of the Lapita culture came from Southeast Asia and were master seafarers and mobile colonisers. Their initial peopling of the Oceanic region focused on "Remote Oceania" (the area east of the Solomon Islands). It was here that the distinctive Lapita culture is believed to have developed. (Some authorities hold that the Lapita culture originated on Tonga and Samoa.) The settlement of Oceania, by Austronesian-speaking peoples comprising the Lapita culture, beyond the Solomon Islands commenced circa 2000 BCE-1500 BCE. (Archaeological evidence indicates that circa 1500 BCE human colonisation began to appear beyond the Solomon islands. By circa 1000 BCE people had arrived in Samoa, in western Polynesia.) Lapita pottery has been found at more than 200 different places on islands in a broad arc of the southwestern Pacific from Papua New Guinea to Samoa. The Lapita culture comprised agricultural populations with skilled techniques of canoe navigation for ocean voyages. Within 400 years the Lapita culture had spread over an area of 3400 kilometres - colonising the remaining Oceanic area (i.e., Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia). The first human settlements in the Caroline Islands of Micronesia and the Marquesas date to circa 500 BCE to 100 CE. Hawaii was settled circa 400 CE and New Zealand was settled circa 1000 CE. This series of migratory journeys initiated by the Lapita culture made their culture the prototype for Oceanic systems of astronomical knowledge.
At the time of initial European discovery and settlement similarities in systems of astronomical knowledge existed between different island groups comprising Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia. However, because they were a scriptless people very little has been preserved.
(3) Star Path System
There was a widespread Oceanic practice of using "star paths" or guiding stars for inter-island and inter-archipelago navigation. According to Maud Makemson, an authority on Hawaiian star lore, the ancient Polynesians believed the sky was a dome (or inverted bowl) resting upon the rim of the hemispherical earth where a star proceeded along a path which passed over certain islands. The Polynesians had names for over a hundred and fifty stars. A Polynesian navigator would have known where and when a given star rose and set, as well as which islands it passed directly over. Thus a Polynesian navigator would have then been able to sail toward the star known to be over their destination, and as it moved westward with time the navigator would then set course by the succeeding star which would have then moved over the target island. The Hawaiian term for "steering star" was kawinga meaning "that which is steered for." Ancient Hawaiian astronomical terms include kaniwa meaning the Milky Way and Mata-liki meaning the Pleiades. Reconstruction of specific star names is difficult but includes takulua meaning Sirius and fetuqa-qaho (literally "star-day") meaning Venus as morning star.
(4) Special Constellations
Both Orion and the Pleiades had a special place in Polynesian society.
Maori of New Zealand
The Maori first reached New Zealand circa 1300 CE. Maori ancestry can be traced back to the inhabitants of the Bismark Archipelago east of New Guinea circa 1500 BCE. However, their immediate previous homeland was in the islands of central east Polynesia.
In New Zealand the Maori recognised and named various groupings of stars and also named individual stars. They had names for all the brighter stars and a large number of constellation names also. Only a few of the Maori constellations/asterisms correspond to modern Western constellations. The most extraordinary Maori constellation was the Canoe of Tama-rereti [Tamarereti], the mythical ancestral canoe of the Tainu people. (Te waka a Tamarereti = The Canoe of Tamarereti [This mythical ancestral canoe was possibly connected with an ancient Polynesian navigator and voyager.].) This was an important constellation. This extremely large constellation extended across the sky from Taurus and Orion to Crux. The Canoe of Tama-rereti consisted of the following parts: the Pleiades formed the prow, the 3 stars of Orion's belt formed the stern, the Hyades formed the inverted triangular Sail [Mast], the distant Southern Cross formed the anchor, and the two bright pointer stars trailing behind the Southern Cross (alpha and beta Centauri) form the cable. Near Orion was "the net" (Tehao o Rua). In some lore the star Sirius is stated to guide the canoe. The canoe seems to sail along the Milky Way. (The Torres Strait Islanders (Australia) also have an extremely large canoe constellation named: Tagai the fisherman (or warrior) on his canoe.) In Maori New Zealand both Orion and the Pleiades (Matariki) competed with each other for control of the year.
The Maori also recognised both the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds and also the Coal Sack in the Southern Cross constellation.
(1) Native American Star Lore
North America is home to numerous independent Native Indian cultures. Circa 12,000 BCE Asian hunter-gatherers crossed the frozen Bering Strait leading into the American continent and eventually separated into tribes. It is impossible to know when the first Americans developed a knowledge of astronomy and developed star lore. (Another theory holds that the first Americans may have used boats to make the crossing into North America. There is a growing viewpoint that the first people to enter the American continent were skilled sailors who came by boat circa 11,000 BCE, island hopping from Siberia all the way to the coast of California.)
Native American tribes of the northeastern part of North America commonly identify the 7 key stars of Ursa Major (the "big dipper" asterism) as a bear. The identification of Ursa Major (or more accurately the stars forming the big dipper asterism) as a bear in North America largely exists in the Algonkin (Algonquin) speaking groups but also in the Plateau groups. In his 1906 article "Cherokee Star Lore." (Boas Anniversary Volume, (Pages 354-366)) Stansbury Hagar remarked that generally among the Native American Indians the most important constellations were Ursa Major (= the big dipper) and the Pleiades.
The first European mention of North American Indian astronomy was made in 1524 by the Italian explorer Giovanni di Verrazano who encountered the Narragansett Indians of Rhode Island. His account mentions that their seeding and cultivation of legumes (plants that house their (highly nutritious) seeds in double seamed pods) were guided by the moon and the rising of the Pleiades. (The use of the Pleiades as an indicator of seasonal change was recognised throughout the North American continent.
(2) Pawnee Nation
The Pawnee Nation, a (Great) Plains group of Indians comprised of different divisions/bands, originally lived near the Platte river in Nebraska. Much of the Pawnee Nation ritual was directed by the stars. The construction of the earth-lodge of the Pawnee was directly influenced by their star cult. The earth lodges they built were were miniature models of the cosmos.
Pawnee Nation constellations included the Bird's Foot (located in the Milky Way), the Bow (located between the Pleiades and the Milky Way), the Deer (possibly the belt of Orion), the Pleiades, the Snake (with Antares forming the head), the Swimming Ducks (located near the Milky Way), and the Stretchers (the bowls of the Big and Little Dipper asterisms). It is now difficult to identify the star comprising most Pawnee constellations.
The Skidi band of the Pawnee Nation possessed a rich and detailed star lore tradition. Much of what is known about the starlore of the Skidi Pawnee comes from James Murie whose mother was Skidi Pawnee. He worked primarily with the anthropologists Alice Fletcher and George Dorsey. The Skidi band were organised by the stars. They developed an intricate and direct affinity to the stars that was unmatched by any other Native Indian group. Stars controlled the position and ceremonies of the villages comprising the Skidi band. The placement of the Skidi band villages reflected the position of their stars in the heavens. The 4 world-quarter stars that controlled the the position and ceremonies of the villages comprising the Skidi band was early thought to have possibly been the 4 stars forming the body of the constellation of Ursa Major. More recently the 4 world-quarter stars are thought by Von Del Chamberlain to be Capella, Antares, Sirius, and Vega.
(3) The Thunderbird Constellation
According to Nancy Maryboy and David Begay in their book, Sharing the Skies: Navajo Astronomy (2010), the Navajo thunderbird constellation comprises the stars of the Greek constellation Sagittarius. However, the Native American thunderbird constellation has been alternatively identified as being above Scorpius and incorporating some of the stars of Ophiuchus, Serpens Caput, and Serpens Cauda. (See also: "The Thunder-Bird amongst the Algonkins." by Alexander Chamberlain (The American Anthropologist, Volume III, January, 1890, Pages 51-54).)
(4) The Problem of Authentic Traditional Native American Star Lore
It is commonly held that the existence of certain parallels between Siberian/Asian star lore and North America star lore relating to the big dipper asterism establishes a pre-Columbian origin for the latter and also an Ice-Age antiquity for such. Proponents maintain that the big dipper bear constellation entered the American continent with a wave of immigrants circa 14,000 years ago. The eminent science historian Owen Gingerich, in his article "The origin of the zodiac." (Sky and Telescope, Volume 67, 1984, Pages 218-220) proposed that a bear constellation crossed the Bering Straits with ancient migrants. Gingerich acknowledges Campbell's chapter "Circumpolar Cults of the Master Bear." (Pages 147-151) in his book The Way of Animal Powers: Historical Atlas of World Mythology. Volume 1 (1983). However, the idea is problematic and remains highly controversial. Both of William Gibbon's papers on "Asiatic Parallels in North American Star Lore." (published 1964 and 1972 in Journal of American Folk-Lore) present a strong case for the common origin of the bear constellation in Asia and America. I would, however, hesitate to conclude that he has conclusively presented the case for the such. In 1902 Waldemar Bogoras published a study ("The Folklore of Northeastern Asia, as Compared with that of Northwestern America." (American Anthropologist, Volume 4, Number 4, December, Pages 577-683)) showing that many folklore tales of northeast Asian peoples had often striking similarities to the folklore tales of the Inuit and Northwest American tribes. Obviously the question is: How to account for the similarities? However, the issue is perhaps more complex and uncertain than simply arguing for Ice-Age diffusion. Both the ancient Asian and the North American cultures were bear-hunting cultures. If persons wish to maintain that the Native Americans brought the bear constellation with them circa 14,000 years ago when they entered the America continent then they need to make a suitably convincing case that can deal with problematic issues. (Paul Shepard and Barry Sanders (The Sacred Paw (1985), whilst admitting that not every Native American tribe knew of a bear in the sky, simply state: "Some, apparently, had forgotten.") The conclusive case for the early entry of the bear constellation into the Americas has perhaps yet to be incisively made. An early (i.e., pre-Columbian) Native American depiction of the Great Bear constellation would be a convincing discovery. Overall, the Native Americans had few constellations.
Today, archaeological methods have largely replaced the previous method that made almost exclusive use of ethnographic parallels in determining the history of arctic peoples, including Eskimos (Inuit). Stansbury Hagar remarked in his 1900 article ("The Celestial Bear." (Journal of American Folk-Lore, Volume 13, Number 49, Apr.-Jun., Pages 92-103)) on the Native American bear constellation: "When we seek legends connected with the Bear, we find that in spite of the widespread knowledge of the name there is by no means a wealth of material."
The identification of Ursa Major (or more accurately the 7 stars forming the big dipper asterism) as a bear constellation in North America largely exists in the Algonquin speaking groups of northeastern North America and also in the Plateau groups living in the northern part of East Oregon. (The Plateau group lived in the area between the Cascade Range on the west and the Rocky Mountains on the east and north of the Great Basin. The Plateau group culture was not stable.) It would seem that few of the southwestern Indian tribes (some 18 approximately) identified the big dipper with a bear constellation. (It all depends on who is included in the list and vice-versa who is excluded. The Zuni and Jemez are commonly excluded.) The southwestern Indian tribes tend to call the stars of the big dipper as "the seven." (An exception are the Southern Paiute who identify the big dipper as a bear. The Keresan Sia (a Pueblo tribe) also appear to identify the big dipper as a bear.) It is commonly held that apart from some very early and transient Spanish (and Portuguese) contact the southwestern tribes appear to have remained almost untouched by European influence (but not European contact) until the late 1800s. However, in her 1936 article "Riddles and Metaphors among Indian Peoples." (Journal of American Folk-Lore, Volume 49, Numbers 191/192, Jan.-Jun., Pages 171-174) Elsie Parsons observed: "The Pueblo Indians have been exposed for centuries to Spanish riddles and tales; they have taken over the tales but not the riddles." Jesuit missionaries seem to have had far-reaching contact with most other tribes during the 1500s. (See also: Pueblo Indian Folk-Tales, probably of Spanish Provenience." by Elsi Parsons in Journal of American Folklore, 1918, Volume 31; and "Spanish Tales from Laguna and Zūni, New Mexico." by Elsie Parsons and Franz Boas in Journal of American Foklore, 1920, Volume 33.) Few southwestern tribes appear to have a bear constellation. Also, it is recognised that the astronomical information that has been recorded in this region by ethnologists is frequently very confused and contradictory. (It has been pointed out that the publication Ethnography of the Tewa Indians by John Harrington (1916) needs to be used with some caution (and this includes the astronomical information on star names and constellations) as his willingness to pay for information resulted in him being misled by some informants (now called consultants). The Tewa are part of the Pueblo Indian group.) The reference(s) used by William Gibbon have the Zuni Indians and the Jemez Indians identifying the big dipper as a bear constellation. It is doubtful, however, that the Zuni can be included in the list for the Zuni identification of the big dipper as a bear constellation usually relates to references to Stansbury Hagar or Frank Cushing.
Currently archaeology and ethno-history both have an emphasis on cultural interaction. The evidence associated with the history of the pre-contact period and also the post-contact period of the Americas shows that cultural groups do not exist for any extended periods of time in total isolation and that cultural interaction has shaped even those cultural groups who lived in remote and sparsely populated regions. For the northeast region of Canada there is now sufficient archaeological and historical knowledge to understand the inter-related history of the Paleo-Eskimo, Inuit, Dorset, Beothuk and the Mi'kmaq and Abenaki cultures. These cultures largely shared the same climate and geography and their worlds often intersected. The arctic and sub-arctic regions and their adjacent coasts are increasingly recognised as longstanding "highways" rather than as barriers to the flow of plants and animals, peoples and cultures. Siberian influence in several early Alaskan cultures is now recognised, and Bering Strait sources are known for many features of Eskimo cultures found across the Arctic. The evidence reinforces the intimate relation that exists between culture and environment and it shows that climate, in particular, often plays a determining role in cultural interaction and technological innovation. The late Danish ethnologist Kaj Birket-Smith (once Curator of Ethnology at the National Museum in Copenhagen, Denmark) wrote: "The cultural link between northern Eurasia and North America is so close that the two parts should be regarded as a single circumpolar cultural district in which a similar environment forms the basis for common development."
A nineteenth-century paper by John Murdoch ("On the Siberian Origin of Some customs of the Western Eskimos." (The American Anthropologist, Volume 1, Oct., 1888, Pages 325-336)) holds that use of tobacco, fishing nets, and the bird-bolas amongst the Western Inuit originated from contact with Siberia. Such offers the prospect of a pathway for other cultural borrowing. Tobacco use literally diffused around the world within 100 years of the European discovery of the American continent. In his book The Beothucks or Red Indians (1915) James Howley held that the spear design (for killing seals), and also the technique for such, used by the Beothuks of Newfoundland was borrowed from the Eskimos (Inuit). (The last Beothuk died in captivity in 1829.) The antiquity is unknown for certain but it is now generally agreed that they were relatively recent migrants to the Americas from northeast Asia, spreading across the top of North America from west to east over the course of the past 6,000 years. (The Eskimo-Aleut migration circa 4,000 BCE populated (for the first time) the Arctic coastal zone of North America. Another migration took place more recently, circa 1,000 CE.) At Blue Hill Bay on the central Maine coast at least one stone tool found there that was made from non-native stone is made in the style of the Dorset Culture, a prehistoric Eskimo (Inuit) people. It is evidence that before European contact, the Indians living in the coastal Maine area had long-distance relationships through trade with people living in the far north.
Native American groups have always "borrowed culture" from one another. This includes stories. For an example of the dispersion of myths between Native American tribes (i.e., "The Story of the Waiwailus" from the Bella Coola to the Chilcotin) see A Guide to B. C. Indian Myth and Legend by Ralph Maud (1982, Page 85). Historically, the diffusion of agriculture throughout the Americas probably originated from the Valley of Mexico. The diffusion of the Sun Dance throughout much of North America probably originated from the Plains Area. The Algonquin who moved into North Carolina borrowed from their southern neighbours as they adapted to the geographical and climatic conditions of the area. The people of the Woodland Period in the Champlain Valley borrowed from other groups around them.
The Mi'kmaq Indians were among the first Native Americans to have contact with Europeans. This contact began in the early 1500s with the exploration of Cape Breton by the French Bretons. (In 1497 the British seaman John Cabot discovered the northeast coast of America and also reported an abundance of cod on the Newfoundland Banks.) Virginia Miller (who taught at Dalhousie University) believes there was intensive contact between the Mi'kmaqs and Europeans throughout the 16th-century (and earlier). (See: "The Decline of Nova Scotia Mi'kmaq Population, A.D. 1600-1850." in Culture, Volume 2, Number 3, Pages 107-120.) Beginning in 1501, a variety of European fishing (Basque, Spanish, French, British, and Irish) boats (comprising some 10,000 fishermen) visited the Grand Banks every summer and returned to Europe in the autumn. A few crew members stayed over the winter, past their seasonal fishing tasks, to maintain the shore installations. A few persons even resided permanently as "liveyers." By 1519 these fishermen were coming ashore to dry their catch.
Influences for the post-Columbian introduction of some European star lore and constellations to the Native Americans include: missionaries, explorers, traders (including coureurs de bois ("wood rangers") who were free traders who accompanied the Native Americans on their hunting expeditions), colonists, trappers, captives, military alliances, inter-marriage, tribal relocations (migrations and reservations), Indian schools, and ethnologists (exchanging tales). Of these early cultural contacts the key ones were French commercial connections and frequent intermarriage with Native Americans (i.e., Canada), and Spanish military and religious contact (i.e., the mission system) (in Mexico and the Southwest USA). By the 17th-century European colonists had made direct contact with most Native American communities. Some assimilation had also taken place by this early date. It is not too difficult to expect that some European constellation beliefs were transmitted to Native Americans after Columbus. In his 1906 article "Cherokee Star Lore." (Boas Anniversary Volume. (Pages 354-366)) Stansbury Hagar also remarked that the Mi'kmaq tradition of the Three Kings (= the three stars of Orion's belt) is evidently of European origin.
In the west the marriages between early French settlers with Native Americans created the Métis (a French term) of western Canada. The Métis were the result of marriages of Woodland Cree, Ojibway, Saulteaux, and Menominee Native Americans to French settlers circa the mid-seventeenth century. The Métis homeland consisted of the Canadian provinces of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario, as well as the Northwest Territories. It also included parts of the northern United States (specifically Montana, North Dakota, and northwest Minnesota.
The differences between European and Native American bear constellations does not pose a problem for late borrowing. Europe and North America have two different bear constellations. The European bear constellation is inherited from ancient Greece. The Greek bear constellation has a long tail (but modern bears have no tail). With the Greek sky-bear the stars of the big dipper form the hindquarters and tail of the bear with other forming the head and paws. The Native American bear constellation has no tail. In most North American folk-tales the 4 stars comprising the cup of the big dipper is the bear and the 3 stars comprising the handle of the big dipper are warriors chasing the bear (around the pole). However, it has been recognised that the wide familiarity of the seven big dipper stars would tend to make them readily susceptible to the influence of European star lore. For several examples of this see The Arctic Sky by John MacDonald (1998). The later movements of Native American tribes would have assisted in the diffusion of these beliefs.
Just as the European celestial bear is not the hunter but the hunted (i.e., Boötes the Bear-keeper/Bear-guard chases both the Big Bear and the Little Bear) in the Mi'kmaq myth the bear is not the hunter but, at least with one bear constellation, is the hunted. The identification of a Little Bear constellation by the Mi'kmaqs is somewhat problematic. There is every reason to believe the constellation of Ursa Minor (Little Bear) is a late Occidental invention; perhaps introduced to the Greeks from Phoenicia by the Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus circa 600 BCE. (According to the Greek historian Strabo (63/64 BCE - circa 24 CE) Ursa Minor (known as the Phoenician bear) was introduced as a superior navigational aid.) Mi'kmaq knowledge of a Little Bear constellation seems very much like a borrowing from Europeans.
During the 19th-century in North America ethnology was a branch of anthropology which focused on recording the rapidly disappearing traditional cultures and beliefs of the Native Americans. Only after 1875 did American ethnologists conduct extensive fieldwork among living Native Americans. For decades they simply concentrated on collecting reminiscences of traditional cultural beliefs from a few elderly native informants (now called consultants) who: (1) claimed to remember what life had been like in their youth, and/or (2) have knowledge of historic cultural beliefs and practices. However, as many Native American peoples were so radically altered by European influence by the time they were studied the (salvage) ethnologists were quite unable to verify what they were being told. Often they only spent limited time with their native informants (now called consultants) - a number of hours per day for up to several weeks. Evidence of significant cultural change was usually simply ignored.
At the beginning of the 16th-century, news of the rich fishing waters off the coast of Nova Scotia spread quickly in Europe. By the early 1600s missionaries had established solid contact with the Mi'kmaqs and were living amongst them. (An example is the Jesuit Pierre Biard who had a missionary station among the Mi'kmaq in Nova Scotia from 1611 to 1612. By this time there was also an immense amount of contact with fur traders and European fishing fleets.) However, the first Frenchman to master the Mi'kmaq language was the Catholic missionary Abbé Antoine-Simon Maillard. From 1735 to 1762 he lived with the Mi'kmaq Indians at Restigouche on the Gaspé Peninsula, Quebec. For the early influence of European Catholic beliefs upon Mi'kmaq religion see: "Culture Change in the Making: Some Examples of How a Catholic Missionary Influenced Mi'kmaq Religion." by Carlo Krieger (American Studies International, Volume 40, Number 2, June, 2002, Pages 37-56). Stansbury Hagar was one of the first ethnologists to collect Mi'kmaq tales. This work was conducted in 1895, 1896, and 1897. By the 20th-century the Mi'kmaq had lost nearly everything in their culture and a number of them actually became engaged in the process of borrowing from other Native American cultures - predominantly those located across the border in the USA. (An example of this is the late adoption by the Mi'kmaq of the feathered head-dress.) For a time even the Mi'kmaq language was at risk. It had largely ceased to be spoken and had been diluted by the French language.
The Indians of South America are considered to have observed the stars in considerable detail. Certainly established empires such as the Inca did so.
(2) Brazilian Indians
It is estimated that currently (2009) about 700,000 Indians live in Brazil, mostly in the Amazon region. Some 400,000 of these live on reservations. The Bakairi (or Kurâ) Indians of the Amazon basin (Central Brazil) identify the stars of Orion as a large frame on which manioc is dried. The star Sirius is the end of a great crossbeam supporting the frame from the side. The Bakairi Indians (who in 2000 CE numbered around 950 persons) live around the Xingu River in the State of Matto Grosso, Brazil. Their spoken language is part of the Karib (Cariban) family. The Taulipang Indians, a tribe in the tropical jungle of the Guianas region on the north-east/north-central coast (northern Brazil), saw the stars of Ursa Major as a barbeque grill. (Both the the Arawak Indians of mainland South America (northeastern South America) and the Warrau Indians of the Orinoco delta and adjacent swampy regions of the coast of British Guiana (northern South America) perceived the Pegasus-square as a barbeque grill.) The Taulipang see the stars of Orion as Zilikawai, the Great Man. In the stars of Leo they see a mythological figure named Tauna, the god of thunder and lightning. For the Bororo Indians of the Amazon Basin in Brazil the stars of Orion form the body of the Cayman (a crocodilian reptile) - with the stars of Lepus forming the head and stars in Taurus and Auriga forming the tail. They also identified the stars of Orion with jabuti, meaning (land) turtle. The Kobeua Indians of northwest Brazil (and east Columbia) perceived the stars of Boötes to be a Piranha. The Tukano (Tucano) Indians of the Amazon Basin, Brazil, the Siusi Indians (an Arawak tribe) of northern Brazil, and the Kobeua Indians see a crayfish in some of the stars of Leo. They also see in the stars of Scorpius the Great Serpent. The Tucano and the Kobeua see a heron in the stars of Corvus. The Siusi Indians use 6 stars in Eridani to form a dancing implement. For the Bakairi Indians the stars of Scorpius are Mother with Baby. The stars forming the constellation Crux are seen by the Bakairi Indians as the Bird Snare; by the Bororo Indians as the Great Rhea; and by the Mocovi Indians of Argentina (who are are currently (2008) estimated to number around 3,500 persons) as a Rhea under attack by two dogs. The Common or Great Rhea is one of two species of flightless ratite birds native to South America. The other species is the Lesser Rhea. Both these species are related to the Ostrich and the Emu.
(3) The Thunderbird Constellation
The Warao Indians (circa 2000 comprising some 30,000 persons) of the Orinoco Delta in northwestern Venezuela have a thunderbird constellation comprising of the stars of the Southern Cross. In the Guianas and in the West Indies the thunderbird constellation (Wakarasab = great egret) - according to the Wapisiana - includes the stars of Gemini, Cancer, and Leo. (See: Journal of American Folklore, Volumes 56-57, 1943, Page 134.)
(4) Inca Empire
The Inca Empire flourished during the 14th-century CE and the Spanish conquest in 1532 CE. The capital city Cuzco was the centre of the social, administrative, and religious organisation. Within the Inca Empire sky watching and associated sky lore was closely associated with the calendrical system that regulated agricultural practices on earth.
Throughout the Inca Empire of the south and central Andes the Milky Way (called Mayu) was a central object and was identified as the celestial counterpart of the Vilcanota river. As such the Milky Way represented the source of all moisture (wetness caused by water) on earth. Within the Incan Empire most of the named constellations and individual star lie wholly within or close to the plane of the Milky Way. The constellations are formed not only by the grouping of stars themselves but also by dark sections of the sky (due to dark clouds of interstellar dust blocking starlight). Areas of the southern portion of the Milky Way appear as silhouettes contrasted against the brighter band of sky. (A number of southern hemisphere constellations regarded them.) Individual stars or groups of stars were identified as agricultural implements or architectural structures. However, the Inca perceived a variety of (animal) constellation figures in the dark regions of the southern sky (southern portion of the Milky Way). It seems that Quechua story tellers thought of certain "black" constellations and certain star clusters as the celestial prototypes of the earthly beings they resembled. The dark constellations (or dark cloud constellations) were perceived as animals, such as the Llama dark cloud constellation. The seasonal motion of these constellations were used by the Inca to track the passage of the seasons and to mark sacred events. The Incan names for the dark cloud constellations were Yana Phuya and Pachatira. Yana Phuya (literally, 'dark cloud') was the collective name for the dark cloud constellations, and Pachatira meant 'animal constellations.'
Until recently the certain identity of the dark cloud constellations have been elusive. Numerous early Spanish chroniclers reported that the Inca identified "dark" animals in the sky in the region of the Milky Way. Some 600 years later these were finally identified by Gary Urton in 1982 as patterns formed by the contours of dark regions of the Milky Way. (These dark regions are dark clouds of interstellar matter.) The 7 dark constellations identified by Gary Urton are:
(1) Celestial Serpent (between the star Adhara in Canis Major, and the Southern Cross).
(2) Celestial Toad (near the Southern Cross).
(3) Celestial Tinamou (Yutu (a partridge-like bird), the "coalsack" below the Southern Cross).
(4) Celestial (Mother) Llama (between the Southern Cross and epsilon Scorpio).
(5) Celestial Baby Llama ("below" Mother Llama).
(6) Celestial Fox (between the tail of Scorpio, and Sagittarius).
(7) Second Celestial Tinamou (in the constellation Scutum).
Two other likely Inca dark cloud constellations, identified by Gary Urton and Giulio Magli are: The Choque-chinkay = "golden cat" (tail of Scorpio or perhaps dark spot inside tail), and the Puma (between Cygnus and Vulpecula).
Early Quechua tribes believed that the dark cloud constellations played an active part in the circulation of water. (The Quechua (speaking) people inhabited the Peruvian highlands/Andes.) The Milky Way as a celestial river was believed to be the route by which water was conveyed from the cosmic sea, to the sky, and then to the earth. The Quechua thought that when the Milky Way set below the horizon the dark cloud animals dipped into the cosmic sea to drink water before passing to the Underworld. When the Milky Way rose above the horizon the Quechua thought the the dark cloud animals conveyed the water into the atmosphere and released it as rain. The basis for the belief associating dark cloud animals with the yearly water cycle was the observation that the dark cloud animals remained below the horizon during the dry summer months and then rose above the horizon during the rainy season.
It also seems that Quechua visionaries saw certain "black" constellations and certain star clusters "descend" to earth and shower their protégés with specific vital force.
(5) The Figures on the Nazca Plain
The line figures set out on the Nazca plain have been popularly promoted as constellation figures. The German mathematician Maria Reiche, who spent some 50 years both studying and protecting the Nazca lines, believed the figures corresponded to constellations, and also thought the figures were part of an astronomical calendar. She believed the monkey figure was an ancient symbol for the Big Dipper asterism. It is now generally believed that it is unlikely that the Nazca line figures represent constellations or astronomical alignments. It is thought it is most likely that these line figures are simply maps intended to attract the Andean gods/goddesses and obtain their blessings of water and fertility for allyu (kin group) landholdings.
The United Nations has formal definitions of Northern African, Western African, Central African, Eastern African, and Southern African counties/territories. However, it is useful simple to divide Africa into two parts; countries/territories north of the equator being northern Africa and countries/territories south of the equator being southern Africa.
(2) The Extent of African Star Lore
It has been stated that apart from areas in The Sudan, northeast Africa, and Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia), not much of Africa has had any considerable knowledge of the stars. Also, there is a greater amount of star-lore in the south (amongst sub-Saharan Africa groups) than in the north (North Africa groups). Because it is a different sky the star-lore existing in the north is different to the star-lore existing in the south. According to Keith Snedegar (an expert on African star lore, writing in 1995): "There is no substantial evidence that the pre-colonial Africans imagined a causal relationship between celestial bodies and the seasonal patterns of life on Earth. They did, however, recognize a coincidental relationship. The traditional African cosmos, then, worked as a noetic [rational/reasoned/intuitive] principle unifying the observed motions of celestial bodies, the sequence of seasons, and the behaviour of plants and animals. ... The visibility of conspicuous stars and asterisms marked significant times of the year."
(3) North African Star Lore
The United Nations definition of Northern Africa includes the following 7 countries or territories: Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, and Western Sahara.
(4) Central and East African Star Lore
The United Nations definition of Western Africa includes the countries Ghana, and Nigeria. Western African countries are located in northwest Africa. The United Nations definition of Central Africa includes the country of Angola. The United Nations definition of Eastern Africa includes the countries Ethiopia, Kenya, Mozambique, Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zimbabwe. Eastern African countries are located from northeast Africa through central-east Africa to southeast Africa.
The Masai of East Africa (Kenya and Tanzania) call the Pleiades cluster the "rain stars." This ancient warrior tribe is thought to have originated from north Africa and migrated south following the Nile valley. The speak Maa, a nilotic ethnic language.
(5) South African Star Lore
The United Nations definition of Southern Africa includes the following 5 countries: Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa, and Swaziland.
The star-lore of the Khoikhoi (the older term Hottentot is now considered offensive) is considered quite detailed. Originally the Khoikhoi (meaning 'People People') formed part of a pastoral culture and language group that originated in the northern area of the modern Republic of Botswana. The country lies immediately above South Africa. The Khoikhoi steadily migrated south and reached the Cape of South Africa circa 2000 years ago. The Khoikhoi are one of 3 major tribes of South Africa. The other 2 tribes are the Bantu and the Bushmen. (More broadly South Africa contains approximately 12 different ethnic and cultural groups.) The Khoikhoi identify the visible planets and call Venus, as morning star, "the Fore-runner of the sun," and Venus, as evening star, "the Evening fugitive." Mercury is called "the Dawn-star." When observed "in the middle of the sky" Jupiter is called "the Middle-star." The 6 stars comprising the belt and sword of the European constellation Orion form a group called the "the Zebras." Explanations for name(s) given to the Pleiades by the Khoikhoi differ. One source states the Pleiades cluster is either called "assembly" or "the Rime-star." Another source states the Pleiades cluster is named "Khuseti" or "Khunuseh" and called "the rain stars." The appearance of the Pleiades in the sky is an indicator that the rainy season is near, and also the beginning of a new year.
The Namaquas believed the Pleiades were the daughters of the sky god. The star Aldeberan was their husband and Orion's sword was the arrow (which fell short) he shot at Orion's belt which were three zebras. The star Betelgeuse was a fierce lion which sat watching the three zebras. (The Nama or Namaqua people speak Nama and reside in South Africa. The Nama language is part of the Khoe-Kwadi (Central Khoisan) language family. The Nama people are the largest group of the Khoikhoi people, most of whom have largely disappeared as a group, except for the Namas. The Nama people originally lived around the Orange River in southern Namibia and northern South Africa. The early European colonists referred to them as Hottentots.)
The Bushmen of South Africa call the Pointers (alpha and beta Centauri) "the Two Men that once were Lions." They call the Milky Way the path of white ashes. In Bushmen lore it is believed to have been a path made by a young girl who threw the roasting roots and ashes from a fire into the sky. The red and white roots glow as red and white stars and the ashes are the Milky Way. The star Canopus is presently called the "ant-egg star" due to the time of its appearance (prominence) in the sky coinciding with the season for the abundant availability of ant-eggs.
The Sotho, the Tswana, the Xhosa, and the Zulu people of South Africa all form part of the Niger-Congo linguistic group. All possess a rich star-lore. (The Niger-Congo linguistic group of languages includes the Bantu dialects and the Kwa languages.)
The Zulu people of South Africa had a number of constellation names. The Zulu were part of the Nguni (speaking) communities who formed part of the Bantu migrations down the east coast of Africa circa the 9th-century CE. Their language isiZulu is a Bantu language. Circa 1700 CE they comprised a major clan residing in Northern Natal. The Zulu called the 3 stars of Orion's belt imPhambano. These three stars were considered to depict 3 animals, most usually wart hogs. The 3 stars of Orion's belt were named amaRoza by the Xhosa. The Xhosa people are speakers of Bantu languages residing in south-east Africa. They migrated into South Africa from the region around the Great Lakes (in an around the Great Rift Valley) and were well established in much of eastern South Africa circa 1600 CE. Because it showed them how to navigate in the bush at night the Zulus called the Southern Cross constellation the Tree of Life. For this purpose it was not only an important constellation to the Zulus but also the Sotho and Tswana of southern Africa. Sotho is a Bantu language and name of a southern African people. Sotho is spoken by the Sotho people living in Lesotho and south Africa. Tswana is also a Bantu language and name of a southern African people. The Tswana migrated from east Africa to southern Africa during the 14th-century. Both the Zulu and Xhosa name for the Pleiades cluster was isiLemila (also spelled: selemela) the "digging stars" ("ploughing constellation"). The first visibility of the Pleiades played an important role in both Zulu and Xhosa culture. Both the Zulu and Xhosa peoples were traditionally agrarian cultures and the Pleiades formed the main basis of their respective calendars. The appearance of the Pleiades (in June) marked the beginning of the planting season. The start of the new agricultural year, and the requirement to start preparing the fields, was indicated by the appearance of the Pleiades in the morning twilight. It was for this reason that the Pleiades were dubbed the "digging stars." (The Pleiades were used all over Africa as a marker of the growing season and the need to begin hoeing the ground.) The Tswana people called the stars of Orion's sword "dintsa le Dikolobe," "the three dogs chasing the three pigs" of Orion's belt. (While the constellation Orion is prominent in the night sky Warthogs have their litters (varying from 1-5 pups, but frequently litters of three).
Of the constellations which bear a name in Suto, the best known is that of the Pleiades. They call it " selemela," that is, the " ploughing constellation."
The Xhosas likened the Milky Way to the raised bristles on the back of an angry dog. The Sotho and Tswana believed it to be "Molalatladi," the place where lighting rests. They also believed it kept the sky from collapsing, and showed the movement of time.
The most recent detailed work on indigenous (Sotho, Tswana, Xhosa, and Zulu) astronomy and astronomical folk-lore in South Africa was conducted by Keith Snedegar (Associate Professor of History at Utah Valley State College) circa the early 1990s. He found that some names reflect the celestial and physical appearance of the celestial body. As example: The names for Canopus (the second brightest star in the sky) is Naka / U-Canzibel / uCwazibe meaning "brilliant" (more simply written as U-Canzibe). The name for Sirius is simply Kgogamashego / Imbal'ubusuku / inDosa meaning "the drawer up of the night." The name for the Milky Way is Molalatladil / Um-nyele / umTala meaning "a hairy stripe." A lot of other names for celestial bodies are named for local animals, both domesticated and undomesticated, sometimes with, and sometimes without, correlation between the appearance of the celestial body and the mating season or birthing season of the animal.
The bright stars of the Pointers (alpha and beta Centauri) and the Southern cross were often believed to be giraffes with different tribes having different ideas concerning which were male and female. The Venda people called these stars "Thutlwa," ("rising above the trees"), because in October the giraffes ("Thutlwa") would skim above the trees on the evening horizon, signaling the need for the Venda to finish their spring planting. (Venda is a Bantu language. Venda has been an independent homeland at the top of northern South Africa since 1979. There are also Venda speakers in Zimbabwe.)
For the Karanga people the stars were the eyes of the dead. (The Karanga people of Zimbabwe ruled a great inland African empire from circa 1000 CE to circa1600 CE.) Some Tswana believed the stars were the spirits of those unwilling to be born; other Tswana believed they were souls so long dead that they were no longer ancestor spirits.
(1) Age of Aboriginal Settlement in Australia
The indigenous Australians, generally distinguished as either Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders, are the first human inhabitants of the Australian continent. (The Torres Strait Islands are at the northern-most tip of Queensland near New Guinea. They comprise over 100 islands that were annexed by Queensland in 1879. The heritage and cultural traditions of the Torres Strait Islanders is distinct from Aboriginal heritage and cultural traditions. The eastern Torres Strait Islanders are related to the Papuan peoples of New Guinea, and they speak a Papuan language.) The capitalised term Aboriginal is now only applied to traditional hunter-gatherers; the Torres Strait Islanders traditionally practised agriculture. Australian was originally reached by sea crossings by colonisers (moving on from New Guinea, and perhaps Indonesia) who lived by hunting, gathering, and fishing. These early colonisers made flaked stone tools and also some large axe-like implements. The earliest evidence for human habitation in Australia is Mungo Man dated (by consensus in 2003) to circa 40,000 BCE. His remains (actually the gender identification is not conclusive), dated to the Pleistocene Epoch, were discovered at Lake Mungo, New South Wales, in 1974. At the time of the first European contact the Aboriginal population of the Australian continent was split into some 250 individual nations. Most are quite distinct from each other. (It is also stated that there are about 400 indigenous cultures in Australia.) Though Aboriginal Australians are broadly related there are significant cultural and linguistic differences between the various Aboriginal groups. (The Australian linguist Arthur Capell (1902-1986) concluded that the linguistic evidence points to a widespread affinity between the Aboriginal languages, apart from Tasmanian.)
(2) Aboriginal Astronomy
The Australian Aborigine's knowledge of the southern sky is considered by Roslynn Haynes to be the most precise for people dependent on the naked eye. This may be an exaggerated claim. Australian Aborigines devised a seasonal calendar based on star pattern recognition in relation to the sunrise and sunset position of constellations in the sky. It appears that star pattern was more important than star brightness. A small grouping of relatively obscure stars was often identified as a pattern whilst more conspicuous single stars were ignored.
(3) Antiquity of Aboriginal Astronomy
Roslynn Haynes claims that Australian Aborigines can be identified as the world's first astronomers. This suggestion has also been made by other persons. Rosslyn Haynes at least makes the speculative claim that Australian Aboriginal myths and legends can take us back some 40,000 years because Australian Aboriginals were here some 40,000 years ago. This speculative claim rests upon the assumption that the Australian Aboriginal people practice(d) some form of astronomy that is more than descriptive, that is, having practical and interpretive content, and that these practices were implemented 40,000 years ago. No evidence for actual astronomical measurements of any kind has been identified. The first European description of Australian Aboriginal astronomy dates to 1857, was recorded by a pastoralist, and is a short record of a single tribe only (the Boorong). A variant of this claim is to use carbon dating to establish a date for a site occupancy and then use this figure to claim that date as the age for myths and legends. Excepting for a 2007 conference paper by Ray Norris ("Searching for the Astronomy of Aboriginal Australians") the problems with this sort of speculation do not seem to be readily discussed.
(4) Aboriginal Star Lore
To the Ngarrindjeri tribe of southeast Australia (the lower Murray river and western Fleurieu Peninsula/Coorong area in South Australia), and to the people on the other side of the Australian continent in coastal Arnhem Land, the constellation of the Crux (southern Cross) was a stingray. To the Ngarrindjeri people identified the "Southern Pointers" (alpha and beta Centauri) as two sharks pursuing the giant stingray. Around Caledon Bay on the north-east coast of Arnhem Land (Djapu clan land) the stars of the Southern Cross constellation is also taken to represent a giant stingray. However, the "Southern Pointers" (alpha and beta Centauri) are identified as a single shark pursuing the stingray. The Pleiades are identified as a group of young women. At Yirrkalla on the north-east coast of Arnhem Land (also Djapu clan land) the constellation Orion is identified as a canoe full of fishermen. The Pleiades are their wives in another canoe.
The general term for stars amongst the Waduman was Millijen. Venus, as the evening star, was called Illurgan. The stars of the Southern Cross were called Kamerinji. (See: Native Tribes of the Northern Territory of Australia by Baldwin Spencer, 1914, Chapter X.) The Waduman tribe inhabit the country between the Daly River and the Victoria River (i.e., between the town of Darwin and the town of Katherine) in the Northern Territory.
Amongst the Aranda tribes of Central Australia colour was an important factor in the designation of stars. They distinguished red stars from white, blue, and yellow stars. Before 1900 the Aranda tribe were one of the largest Aboriginal groups in central Australia. There were an estimated 2000 Aranda at the beginning of the 19th-century. (During the early 19th-century numbers were reduced to an estimated 200 to 300 due to disease.) Due to the sparseness of the country they were nomadic most of the time and were divided into a number of small local groups or bands, each with its own territory. The southern Aranda (south of Maryvale on the Hugh River) were almost a separate tribe. The Aranda identified the stars of the Crux (Southern Cross) as the Eagle's Foot. Likewise, in the astronomy of the Luritja speaking people/tribes of the Western Desert and the areas to the west and south of the town of Alice Springs the stars of the constellation Crux formed the Eagle's Foot.
The Euahlayi tribe who inhabit northwest New South Wales identify the stars of Corvus as a kangaroo.
Writing in 1857, Edward Stanbridge ("On the astronomy and mythology of the Aborigines of Victoria." (Transactions of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria, Volume 2, Pages 137-140.) stated that amongst the Booroung (now spelled Boorong) tribe (now vanished) inhabiting the Mallee country near Lake Tyrell the term Tourte meant star. The Boorong tribe saw the star Capella as a kangaroo named Purra. The kangaroo was pursued by 2 hunters Wajel and Yuree, the stars Pollux (beta Geminorum) and Castor (alpha Geminorum). (William Stanbridge was a pastoralist, newly arrived from England, who settled near Lake Tyrell in Victoria. (More accurately he was a Mallee squatter.) It appears he published only one additional (but lengthy) paper on the topic. It would appear that the Boorong formed a clan within the Wergaia language area.)
Both the turning round of the stars comprising Scorpio and the turning of the Milky Way were used as clocks.
(11) Diffusion and Inter-relatedness of Star Schemes
(1) Diffusion and Influence of Mesopotamian Astral Science
Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology reached most countries in the known world in antiquity.
From the 2nd-millennium BCE onwards Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology was translated and assimilated into many cultures and civilisations outside Mesopotamia, including: Persia, India, perhaps China, Anatolia (Hittites), Greece, Egypt, Judaea, and Rome. Basically, whatever fragments of Mesopotamian astronomy became available to these cultures and civilisations were collected and utilised. During the late 2nd-millennium BCE and throughout the 1st-millennium CE the pre-mathematical astronomical series Mul.Apin and astrological series Enuma Anu Enlil exercised great influence outside Mesopotamia. The influences could have been exerted anytime between the Early Assyrian Period and the Hellenistic Period (that is, in the Assyrian, Persian, and Hellenistic Periods).
Presently no satisfactory explanations have been put forward concerning the date, method, and means through which knowledge of Mesopotamian astronomy and astrology was transmitted to numerous countries throughout the known world. The activity of isolated individuals such as Berossus and Hipparchus is seen as an inadequate explanation to account for the amount of Mesopotamian material transmitted both westwards and eastwards, and its accuracy and popular acceptance. The extent of the Mesopotamian astronomical and astrological material transmitted is held to attest to a far more intensive transmission - likely closely connected with the media through which the knowledge was communicated. Prior to the recovered papyrus material from Roman Egypt almost nothing is contained in texts regarding how the diffusion of Mesopotamian astronomical and astrological knowledge was accomplished. (The Aramaic language is a possibly for transmission to Judaea. After Alexander the Great conquered Mesopotamia cuneiform texts were translated into the Greek language.)
Mul.Apin type astronomy was very popular outside Mesopotamia and this was undoubtedly due in part to the fact that fixed star information constitutes a dominant factor in the Mul.Apin series. Because it was a collection of practical, highly useful astronomical information the Mul.Apin series is believed to have played a significant role in the transmission process. It was the Mul.Apin series that formed the basis for inter-relatedness between astronomical systems in a variety of regions outside Mesopotamia.
The existence of so-called "Graeco-Babyloniaca" clay tablets offers some insight into (at least) late mechanisms of diffusion. There are approximately 20 "Graeco-Babyloniaca" clay tablets which have been dated from the 1st-century BCE to the 2nd-century CE. They have Sumerian and/or Akkadian script on one side and the same text transliterated into Greek on the other. The Hellenistic Greeks established colonies in Mesopotamia - basically in Uruk. (The city of Babylon was not a focus for Greek colonists.). They were interested in temple/cult issues and a number of them married "the locals." Some specialists are willing to speculate that cuneiform (including limited knowledge of Sumerian) to record mundane information might have lasted until the 3rd-century CE. Joachim Oelsner held that the so-called "Graeca-Babyloniaca" were the final form for the preservation of Sumerian and Akkadian texts when knowledge of cuneiform was extinct.
(12) Diffusion and Inter-relatedness of Constellations and Star Names
Babylonian star nomenclature passed down through the ancient Greeks and Romans, then through the Arab-Islamic and Latin (European) astronomers of the Middle Ages, to the present-day. The stars forming the constellation Cetus are an example. The Babylonians called the star forming our modern Western constellation Cetus mul UR.BE (= mul Ur-idim) "raging beast/dog." The Greeks (i.e., Ptolemy) called the constellation (of 19 stars) "the beast." The Arab-Islamic astronomers called the constellation (also of 19 stars) "the Wolf."
The influence of Babylonian star nomenclature on the ancient Greek constellation set is clearly evident.
Classical Greek individual (proper) star names included Sirius, Procyon, Castor, and Pollux. The star Arcturus had its classical name among the Greeks at least by the time of Hesiod. Early Roman (Latin) individual (proper) star names included Arcturus, Bellatrix, Regulus, and Vindemiatrix. Ptolemy's star catalogue listed only 7 (Greek and Latin) individual (proper) star names, in addition to the traditional use of their descriptor locations within the constellations. The 4 Greek names listed in Ptolemy's star catalogue are: Arcturus, Antares, Procyon, and Canopus. The 3 Latin names listed in Ptolemy's star catalogue are: Capella, Spica, and Regulus.
Both the Greeks and Romans called the star Regulus the "kingly star." The name for this star used by the Arabs also meant "kingly star."
Well-known classical Greek and Roman star names were revived during the European Renaissance and their use is continued today. Examples from Ptolemy's star catalogue are: Arcturus (Greek) (α Bootis) and Spica (Latin) (α Virginis). Others (not listed in Ptolemy's star catalogue) include: the Greek proper star names Sirius, Castor, Pollux, and Alcyone; and the Latin proper star names Bellatrix, Mira, and Vindemiatrix. The Latin star name Polaris was introduced in modern times. A number of recent Latin star names exist that derive from translations of Arabic star names during the Middle Ages. Examples are Ancha (θ Aquarii) and Graffias (β Scorpii).
(3) Arab-Islamic World
The breakup of the Roman Empire in the West occurred during the 5th-century CE. Considerable anarchy reigned throughout most of Western Europe until circa 1000 CE. By 1000 CE the Islam religion proclaimed by Mohammed in 622 CE had moved out from the Arabian peninsula and had spread over a large part of the globe.
"The star names used in the classical Islamic world were derived from two distinct sources: (1) the various (non-standardised) names originated by pre-Islamic groups of Bedouins (the nomadic desert Arabs of the Arabic Peninsula) (older body), and the main body (younger group) of indigenous Arabic star/asterism names were probably formed in the period 500-700 CE (prior to the introduction of Islam in the 7th-century CE); and (2) those transmitted from the Greek world. As Greek astronomy and astrology were accepted and elaborated, primarily through the Arabic translation of Ptolemy's Almagest, the indigenous Bedouin star groupings were overlaid with the Ptolemaic constellations that we recognize today." (Islamicate Celestial Globes by Emilie Savage-Smith (1985) Page 114.) "A third set of names derived from the Arabic were bestowals, often ill-based, by early modern Western astronomers even though they had never been used by Arabian astronomers. Most of these names have disappeared. Thuban, alpha Draconis, is an exception." (Early Astronomy by William O'Neill (1986) Page 162.) Both Emilie Savage-Smith and William O'Neill are reliant on the fundamental studies of Paul Kunitzsch. An example of the first category of star names of Arabic origin is Aldebaran from Al-Dabaran. An example of the second category of star names of Arabic origin is Fomalhaut from Fam al-Hut. An example of the third category of star names derived from Arabic is Thuban, alpha Draconis.
(4) Latin Europe
The movement of Arab-Islamic star names into Europe is rather complex. At first, Latin translations were made by European scholars from Islamic-Arabic translations of original Greek astronomical manuscripts. Soon after a number of Arab-Islamic astronomical and mathematical treatises were also translated into Latin. Somewhat later, with the discovery of Greek manuscripts in the Byzantine Empire, important Greek works were translated directly into Latin from the Greek.
A large amount of Arab-Islamic star nomenclature found its way into the Latin (European) astronomy of the Middle Ages. European astronomers and celestial map makers began to use Arabic star names in preference to Latin names circa 12th-century CE. This practice kept on increasing with the increasing ease of European access to Islamic texts and instruments. By the end of the 15th-century the process of European adoption of Arabic star names was essentially complete. The "Arabic" names were retained in the formal, scientific nomenclature until the end of the 19th-century. Due to Arabic influence on Europe during the Middle Ages several hundred stars now have proper names. (These are basically Latinised Arab-Islamic star names.) When Arab-Islamic astronomy reached Europe the Arabic names of stars and constellations were translated into Latin. However, both Latin and Arabic were used as scientific languages in Europe for some considerable time. On European celestial globes each constellation often had its name in Latin, Greek, and Arabic. However, numerous Arabic words in astronomy (including constellation and star names) were simply adopted in Europe without translation. As example: The star name Aldebaran (meaning "the follower"), the star name Rigel (meaning "the foot"), and the constellation name Aquila (meaning "the flyer").
Examples of prominent bright stars with Arabic names include: Altair, Algol, Betelgeuse, Deneb, Rigel, and Vega.
The Renaissance period saw the appearance of philological studies into the history of stellar nomenclature. The focus of these philological studies was the Arabic and Latin names of the medieval period but also included classical Greek and Roman names from a few recovered classical texts. During the Renaissance period (broadly the 200 years between 1400 and 1600), and also the post-Renaissance period (particularly the heyday of celestial mapping in the 17th- and 18th-centuries), European astronomers also searched through the philological studies for new individual star names to apply to the star charts and celestial globes they developed. One such philological work was A learned treatise of globes by the English scholar John Chilmead (Latin edition 1594; English translation 1638). Wilhelm Schickard, the astronomer and professor of Oriental languages at Tübingen, supplied the Arabic letters and star and constellation names for Coelum stellatum Christianum by Julius Schiller (1627). Julius Schiller's Christianised star atlas was a part of the Counter-Reformation attempt to de-paganise the heavens and substitute Judeo-Christian imagery.
The Italian Theatine monk, mathematician, and astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi (1746-1826) introduced nearly 100 new star names (mostly "Arabic") in his Palermo Catalogue published in 1814 (his 2nd star catalogue). These star names were derived by Giuseppe Piazzi from the philological study Tabulae longitudinum et latitudinum stellarum fixarum ex observatione principis Ulugh Beighi (1665) by the English Orientalist Thomas Hyde (1636-1703). The German historian, chronologist, and astronomer Ludewig Ideler (1766-1846) made an important and long-standing (but flawed) contribution to the philological study and historical explanation of Arabic star names. His Untersuchungen über den Ursprung und die Bedeutung der Sternnamen (1809) was used as a basic reference source for over 150 years. The basis of the book was Ideler's translation of the original 13th-century Arabic text Description of the Constellations by the Persian astronomer Al Kazwini, with Ideler's additions and annotations from classical and other sources. Due to the author's additional use of numerous unreliable and mostly secondary Arabic sources the book unavoidably contains numerous errors.
The majority of modern star names in the European languages are corrupt forms of the Arab-Islamic names (mainly due to linguistic adaptation and the inaccuracies of transliteration). About one-third of corrupted star names derived from Arabic (by early modern Western astronomers) had never been used by Arab-Islamic astronomers as star names. Most of these particular star names are no longer in use. An exception is Thurban (alpha Draconis). Most Arab-Islamic star names in use are contractions of Arabic terms for "the body part of the constellation figure." The star name Vega is a corrupt form of the Arab-Islamic [al-nasr] al-wdqi, "the swooping [vulture]" which has no counterpart in classical Greek star nomenclature. The star name Denbola is a corrupt form of the Arab-Islamic dhanab al-asad, "the tail of the Lion." This descriptor was exactly the way the ancient Greeks referred to this star.
In a few cases present-day astronomers have even used ancient Babylonian star names. As example: Girtab (θ Scorpii), Nunki (σ Sagittarii). Originally Nunki was the Babylonian name for the star Canopus.
(13) Origin of Constellations and Star Names in Latin Europe
(1) Ptolemy's Star Catalogue
The earliest Western star catalogue (as we understand the term) originated with Ptolemy. The culmination of Greek establishment of constellation (and star) names was contained in (Book VII and Book VIII) of Ptolemy's Almagest written circa 140 CE. In it Ptolemy listed 1025 (fixed) stars. (The Almagest contained no star maps.) The scheme was Aratean in origin.
The constellation list in Ptolemy's star catalogue standardised the Western constellation scheme. The constellation scheme described by Ptolemy consisted of 21 northern constellations, 12 zodiacal constellations, and 15 southern constellations.
The northern constellations: (1) Little Bear, (2) Great Bear, (3) Dragon [Draco], (4) Cepheus, (5) Ploughman, (6) Northern Crown, (7) Kneeler [Hercules], (8) Lyre, (9) Bird [Cygnus], (10) Cassiopeia, (11) Perseus, (12) Charioteer (Auriga], (13) Serpent Holder, (14) Serpent [Serpens], (15) Arrow, (16) Eagle, (17) Dolphin, (18) Forepart of Horse [Equuleus], (19) Horse, (20) Andromeda, (21) Triangle.
The zodiacal constellations; (1) Ram, (2) Bull, (3) Twins, (4) Crab, (5) Lion, (6) Virgin, (7) Scales [Claws], (8) Scorpion, (9) Archer, (10) Goat-horned, (11) Water-pourer, (12) Fishes.
The southern constellations: (1) Sea-Monster [Whale], (2) Orion, (3) River, (4) Hare, (5) Dog [Greater Dog], (6) Dog's Forerunner [Lesser Dog], (7) Argo, (8) Watersnake, (9) Bowl, (10) Raven, (11) Centaur, (12) Beast [Wolf], (13) Censer [Altar], (14) Southern Crown, (15) Southern Fish.
The classical Greek constellation set has proved resistant to change. Ptolemy's Almagest, and its star catalogue, became dominant and influential for many centuries both in the Islamic world and in Western Europe.
(2) Transmission of Aratean Constellation Figures
Depictions of the constellations formed virtually the only uninterrupted iconographical tradition from classical Antiquity through to the Renaissance. With the introduction of Arabic astrology in western Europe in the later Middle Ages, images of the 7 planets and other astronomical constructs/tools, such as decans and paranatellonta, were added to this inventory as well.
The Aratean-based illustrative representations of the constellations were established by the end of the Roman Empire. (Artistically, Aratean constellation imagery can be traced to the Atlas Farnese dated to the 2nd-century BCE. On the globe held by Atlas the images of the constellations appear minus their stars.) These were subsequently modified by illustrators in the Byzantine, Islamic, and Carolingian traditions. Knowledge of Greek culture and texts was lost to Western Europe by the early middle ages (the start of which is dated from the fall of Rome in 476 CE). The Classic Aratean tradition of constellations and constellation illustration was revived in Western Europe during the Carolingian period (circa 8th-century CE to circa early 11th-century CE). The Carolingian Renaissance peaked with the rulers Charlemagne and Louis the Pious in the 8th- and 9th-centuries. (There was an increase in the arts, literature, liturgical, and scriptural studies.)
In the Carolingian world, however, the Latin versions of the Phainomena of Aratus were treated primarily as literary sources. They were produced primarily for non-technical general interest. They were treated as catalogues of constellation names and constellation stories. The constellation figures that accompanied Carolingian Aratea manuscripts (1) usually did not accurately reproduce the proper positions of the individual stars in each constellation in accordance with the text; and (2) very often failed to reproduce the correct number of stars in each constellation in accordance with the text.
Under Charlemagne there was a deliberate classical revival in almost every cultural field (scholarship, literature, art, and architecture). The court of Charlemagne in Aachen systematised astronomical learning (and revived other aspects of classical knowledge). (The impetus was Charlemagne's claims to the imperial status of Roman emperors and his extension of Carolingian power into Italy. Charlemagne's quest was to establish a legacy of greatness that connected back to the Holy Roman Empire. As much as anything his efforts to revive the title of Latin Emperor had its basis in the vast realm that he reigned over. With his coronation on Christmas day 800 CE as Holy Roman Emperor, Charlemagne laid claim to his succession to the Roman emperors of antiquity, and indeed, to the classical past.) The Carolingian revival lasted for approximately 100 years, spanning the 9th-century, and largely involved the recovery, mostly from Italy, of as many classical scientific and literature texts as could be found.
Most of the classical Latin works that have survived were preserved through the copying efforts of Carolingian scholars (monastic schools and scriptoria (centres for book copying) throughout Francia (Western Europe). Most of the earliest manuscripts available for ancient texts are Carolingian. (Possibly most of the (surviving) recovered texts came from the city of Ravenna as it had remained a political and cultural power into the 6th-century CE. Charlemagne conquered North Italy and established himself as master of Rome.) Carolingian illuminators referenced classical styles and mythological meaning and carefully reproduced the classical constellation figures. (Charlemagne's scribes were responsible for copying more than 7,000 manuscripts that would otherwise have been lost.) However, the Carolingian illustrations of the constellations lack accuracy in their relationship to each other and consistency in terms of their projection.
(3) The Introduction of Arab-Islamic Star Names into Latin Europe
Ptolemy's Almagest was first translated into Arabic circa 827. The first competent (clear), thorough, non-mathematical (descriptive) summary of Ptolemy's Almagest into Arabic was carried out by the Egyptian astronomer and geographer Abd al-Abbas al-Farghani. Its title was Elements of Astronomy and was written in the period between 833 and 857. Al-Farghani was born in Farghana (present-day Fergana), Uzbekistan, and died in Egypt. He was a member of the House of Wisdom established by the Abbasid Caliph al-Ma'mūn in the 9th-century. The House of Wisdom in Baghdad became the centre for both the work of translating and of research.
The retransmitted Latin translation of Ptolemy's Almagest by Gherardo of Cremona in the 12th-century began the distorted use of Greek-Arabic-Latin words that appear in modern lists of star names. In Greek astronomy the stars within the constellation figures were usually not given individual names. (An exception was made for a few of the brighter stars.) Ptolemy did not identify the stars in his catalogue with Greek letters, as is done by modern astronomers. Each of the 1025 stars listed by Ptolemy (Book VII and Book VIII of the Almagest) was identified (1) descriptively by its position within one of the 48 constellation figures; then (2) by its ecliptic latitude and longitude; and then (3) its magnitude. When the Arabic astronomers translated Ptolemy's Almagest, and adopted the Greek constellations, they also applied their own star names to the listed stars. Beginning with Gherardo, when the Arabic texts of the Almagest were translated into Latin, the Arabic star names were retained but were frequently translated in a corrupted form. The medieval European astronomers adopted the system of using individual (Arabic) star names in their uranography. Hence the star names we use today were essentially introduced by the medieval European translators of Arabic texts of Ptolemy's Almagest, the translation from Arabic to Spanish of al-Sufi's Book of the constellations of the Fixed Stars (Kitab suwar al-kawākib), and also by the introduction of hundreds of Arabic astrolabes into Europe during this period.
The principal channel for the recovery of the Almagest in Western Europe was the Arabic to Latin translation by Gherardo of Cremona. It was made at Toledo using several Arabic versions and completed in 1175. It was widely circulated in manuscript copies before appearing as a printed book in 1515. (The European printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in 1440.) Gherardo's translation was the only version of Ptolemy's Almagest known in Western Europe until the later discovery of copies of the original Greek texts and their translation into Latin texts in the 15th-century. However, it was very literal and hard to follow. (Some translations from the Greek text were, however, made in medieval times. Ptolemy's Almagest in the original Greek continued to be copied and studied in the eastern (Byzantine) empire. Some years earlier to Gherardo's translation, circa 1160, a very literal translation of Ptolemy's Almagest was made directly from the Greek text into Latin by an unknown translator in Sicily. However, this particular version had little circulation and made no effect. The copy in the Vatican library came through the great Florentine book collector Coluccio Salutati.) In the 15th-century European scholars, first George of Trebizond and then Johannes Regiomontanus, independently translated Ptolemy's Almagest from copies of the original Greek text.
What resulted in Europe was a polyglot system of Greek constellations with Latin names containing stars with (largely) Arabic titles.
(4) The Replacement of Aratea by Michael Scotus
The works of Michael Scotus on the constellations, and his manner of illustrating them, caused a lengthy eclipse of Aratea during the latter Middle Ages.
In the 15th-century, the majority of the manuscripts referring to the constellations are astrological in content and included mostly the constellation illustrations devised by Michael Scotus. The constellation illustrations had little astronomical reality and were being used to show the details that were supposed to be important for their astrological interpretation.
Prior to the mid 15th-century star maps tended to be used to illustrate text in books. Free-standing celestial images were quite rare (and accuracy was usually sacrificed for art). During the Middle Ages pictures appeared illustrating the individual constellations. In these illustrations the classical constellations were separated from the celestial globe and also the individual constellation stars were often omitted. (The astrologer Michael Scot (Scotus), a contemporary of Peter of Abano (circa 1250-1310), included constellation figures in the margins of his 2-volume book on astronomy/astrology.) In the high Middle Ages, unlike the previous periods, the ancient constellation figures were transformed by illuminators to an almost unrecognisable degree. Traditional (classical) constellation representation (per the pseudo-classical Carolingian forms) was influenced by Romanesque and Germanic (Gothic) forms (and also Graeco-Arabic forms). (The end result was the classical subject matter was divorced from its classical form.) The height of this transformation of classical constellation representation occurred during the 13th-century.
In England the school of astrology under the leadership of the mathematician, philosopher, and scholar Michael Scotus (Scot) (born circa 1175 - died circa 1234) replaced the Aratean tradition almost completely. His book Liber de signis (containing a section on the constellations) set out a new set of constellations that differed from the set of 48 Ptolemaic constellations. Others imitated his new scheme of constellations. For example he was followed by Bartholomew of Parma in his Breviloquium de fructu tocius astronomie. (Bartholomew of Parma flourished circa late 13th-century and early 14th-century. Parma is a city in the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna.) This new constellation set appears to have originated from 12th-century CE elaborations of literal translations of Islamic-Arabic texts (on astrology).
The works of Michael Scotus (Scot) on the constellations, and his manner of illustrating them, caused a lengthy eclipse of Aratea during the latter Middle Ages. Michael Scotus' popular handbook for lay-people, Liber introductorius (circa mid 13th-century) formed the basis of one of the most popular traditions of constellation iconography of the 14th and 15th centuries, particularly in Italy and German lands. In the 15th-century, the majority of the manuscripts referring to the constellations are astrological in content and included mostly the constellation illustrations devised by Michael Scotus. The constellation illustrations had little astronomical reality and were being used to show the details that were supposed to be important for their astrological interpretation.
For his new constellations Michael Scotus borrowed from Arab-Islamic images of the constellations that had their origins in the Sphaera Barabarica. (Especially the decans and paranatellons.) The art historian Fritz Saxl showed that the representations of the planetary gods in the works of Michael Scotus can be traced back through Arab-Islamic sources to ancient Babylonian sources. Basically, the Arab-Islamic figures of the planets reflect the Babylonian gods: Nebo (= Mercury), Ishtar (= Venus), Ninib (= Mars), Marduk (= Jupiter), and Nergal (= Saturn). The transmission of an uninterrupted textual transmission was made possible by the survival, in certain isolated districts of Mesopotamia, of groups that invoked the Babylonian planetary gods and venerated their images, such as the Harranite Sabeans. Planetary illustrations in Arab-Islamic manuscripts match the planetary effigies which adorned Harranite sanctuaries. (The Harran region encompassed southeastern Anatolia and northern Syria.) The Arab-Islamic book the Picatrix, which was an essential intermediary in the transmission of Babylonian planetary figures, was a translation of the 11th-century CE book on magic, the Ghâya. The Picatrix, likely written circa 1200 CE, was translated in to Latin and was well known in Western Europe. The book had a major influence on magical thinking in Western Europe, especially from circa 1400 to circa 1600.
The illustrations introduced by Michael Scotus were an attempt at adaptation and fusion; an effort to make European forms out of the astral gods/goddesses of ancient Babylon. In this they shown the influence of Romanesque and Germanic (Gothic) forms.
Michael Scotus, who (as the surname signifies) was born in Scotland, lived mostly in France, Spain, and Sicily. In 1230 he visited Oxford, England where he had spent time studying as a young student. In his illustrations of the constellations he combined Graeco-Arabic and mythological imagery with Latin Aratean tradition. His illustrations of constellations supplanted the classical types of the Carolingian tradition. His work on the illustration of the constellation figures was very influential until the Renaissance period. Also, Michael Scotus undoubtedly had access to earlier, popular star lore. (During the Middle Ages in Western Europe classical mythological subjects were not usually represented within the limits of the classical style. The artistic forms under which classical concepts were continued during the Middle Ages were utterly different from the classical style.) During the Gothic period in Europe (circa 1100-1450 CE) there was a disinterest in illuminated astrological manuscripts.
It is probable that Michael Scotus (a polymath) was the finest intellect at the court of Emperor Frederick II (1194-1250) in Palermo, Sicily. He had gone there circa 1200 in the role of "court astrologer" after being enticed by the Norman king Frederick II to join his court in Sicily. (There is little evidence for Fredrick II having an interest in astrology. The title of Imperial Astrologer was given to Michael Scotus in the colophon to his Astronomia.) He then left (circa 1209) to work at the great Arab translation centre in Toledo (Spain) and then returned again to Sicily circa 1220. On his return he gave his attention to science and medicine. He remained there until his death. Though Frederick II was the ruler of both Germany and Sicily he preferred to live in Sicily. In 1220 he acquired the title of Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. It was in Sicily at this period that tolerance enabled the coexistence of European and Arab scholars.
The astrological text written by Michael Scotus (and containing his illustrations of the constellations) was widely copied throughout the late medieval period. However, by 1500 this text seems to have become somewhat forgotten. His texts include: Liber introductorius, Liber particularis, Liber phisionomie [the short title of this medical treatise is: Physionomia], and Liber de signis. In his two later books which followed Astronomia, the Liber introductorius and the Liber particularis, he set out a popular exposition of both astrology and astronomy. The extraordinary increase in the prestige of astrology in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages was due to the introduction of Arab-Islamic philosophy and science into Sicily and Spain.
(5) The Reintroduction of Aratea by Albert Dürer
The Renaissance period (at its height circa 1450-1550 CE) saw the reinstatement of the Aratean tradition of constellation illustration. (This could be described as the intention to reinstate 'mythological correctness.' This saw illustrators and artists turn to the pre-gothic period - to models closer to Graeco-Roman classical antiquity.) The Renaissance period saw a search for order amongst multiple transmissions of astrological works. Many illustrators began altering the non-classical constellation figures, such as those found in the astronomical/astrological manuscripts of Michael Scotus, with representations that looked more classical. In this they were strongly influence by the constellation depictions in the early 16th-century star charts drawn by Albrecht Dürer. (During the 15th-century CE German artists once again began to copy Carolingian manuscripts. An example of a relatively pure source of classical forms were the illustrations in the Carolingian copy of the 'Roman 'Calendar of 354.') During the Renaissance astronomical manuscripts obtained from Sicily provided an absolute standard for the illustration of the constellations. The process of importing constellation figures (with classical features) from Italy to Germany had begun circa 1450 CE. These constellation figures were beginning to be incorporated into stars charts produced in Germany prior to Dürer's constellation figures being developed.
Ultimately, the depictions of the constellations of post-Renaissance Europe derive from the constellation figures of the artist and engraver (printmaker) Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528). Albrecht Dürer was a native of Nürnberg (Nuremberg), Germany. (His father was Hungarian.) In 1515, in cooperation with Johannes Stabius and Conrad Heinfogel, he produced the first (scientifically rigorous) printed star charts (and they are considered the first modern star charts). The northern star chart (planisphere) was titled Imagines Coeli Septentrionales and the southern star chart (planisphere) was titled Imagines Coeli Meridionales. These mapped the constellations and the key stars of both the northern and southern heavens quite accurately. The constellation figures were portrayed in a classical style and this was followed by later European star chart makers. Dürer was an artist - not an astronomer. The constellations are depicted from the point of view of an external observer looking in towards the earth. It appears a key influence on Dürer were the depictions of constellation figures on Arab-Islamic celestial globes. (Because the Arab-Islamic constellation figures were neither Classical nor contemporary European the Latin illustrators basically ignored them and simply followed the text-descriptions of the constellations to make contemporary images.) On both of Dürer's sky maps (planispheres) the classical constellation figures appear (except Lyra) with their classical attributes correctly drawn.
The production of the star maps were the result of close cooperation between Johannes Stabius (mathematician and cartographer of Vienna in Austria), Conrad Heinfogel (astronomer), and Albrecht Dürer (artist). The accuracy of the star positions was due to Johannes Stabius and Conrad Heinfogel who plotted the star positions. The star chart projection was designed by Johannes Stabius and he also determined the stellar coordinates. The stars were placed by Conrad Heinfogel who calculated their positions on the maps. The constellations were drawn by Albrecht Dürer, who was the key influence on the constellation figures used. The star maps were ordered by Johannes Stabius who demanded they be made on the basis of a manuscript from 1503 written by Conrad Heinfogel (and others).
These star maps were reprinted numerous times (and Dürer's style was copied by numerous 16th-century star map makers) and the star charts were disseminated throughout 16th-century Europe. They were innovative for the 16th-century in combining accuracy of star placement with classical constellation figures. Both star maps were produced under the patronage of Emperor Maximilian I. (The coat of arms for Emperor Maximilian I appears in the top left-hand corner.)
(6) The Great European Star Atlases
Between the early 15th and the early 17th centuries, European star charts progressed from being imprecise, often decorative illustrations based on medieval manuscripts to sophisticated map projections with systematized nomenclature for the stars. Significant influences for this transformation appear to be the reimportation into Europe of technical classical texts such as Ptolemy's Almagest, as well as Islamic works such as al-Sufi's Book of the constellations of the Fixed Stars with its rather precise constellation maps. An analysis of extant manuscripts has shown that from the High Middle Ages (circa 1000-1300 CE) until the beginning of early modern astronomy circa 1750 CE there were several significant efforts made to bring together and assimilate the different sources of constellation iconography and tradition.
After Albrecht Durer published the first rigorous celestial charts in 1515 numerous other persons in Europe published accurate detailed star atlases.
There were 4 great European star atlases: Uranometria (1603) by the German lawyer and uranographer Johann Bayer (the first popular star atlas); Uranographia (1690) by the German brewing merchant and astronomer Johannes Hevelius; Atlas Coelestis (1729) by the English astronomer John Flamsteed; and Uranographia (1801) by the German astronomer Johann Bode. (The Uranographia by Bode actually appeared in 5 parts from 1797 onwards, but 1801 was the completion date. Bode was director of the Berlin Observatory.) After these atlases there was a transition from classical to scientific mapping.
From circa 1850 a key purpose of star catalogues has been to improve astrometric (positional) accuracy beyond being a simply inventory of stars to a given magnitude level.
Note: For his Uranometria (1603) Johann Bayer devised a practical star designation system for the approximately 6000 naked-eye stars. (He recognised that it was impractical to provide proper names for the some 6000 naked-eye stars.) Bayer's star designation system was based on the Greek alphabet and the classical Greek constellations. The brightest star in a given constellation is assigned the first letter in the Greek alphabet (Alpha), the second brightest star after the second letter (Beta), and so on.
(7) Modern Reforms to Constellation Depiction
A beautiful feature of early modern sky atlases is the remarkable variety of constellation figures and the ways they are embellished with details. Two modern atlases which influenced the elimination of the use of constellation figures were: (1) the Uranometria Nova by the German astronomer Friedrich Argelander published in 1843 and (2) Atlas Coelestis Novus by the German astronomer Eduard Heis published in 1872. Both atlases were the standard references for professional astronomers of the day, and both atlases de-emphasised the use of constellation figures (which only appeared in faint red).
It appears that in the late 19th-century the Permanent Commission of the Carte du Ciel, a project group that would later join with other organizations to form the International Astronomical Union (IAU), eliminated the use of most of the traditional elaborate and detailed constellation figures that were historically drawn to depict groupings of stars. It appears they implemented/substituted instead the simpler 'connect-the-dots' type constellation figure, using only the brighter stars. In the latter half of the 19th-century detailed sky atlas's were becoming widely available to the general public. The use of 'stick figures' made constellation tracing more appealing to lay persons.
The IAU was founded in 1919, as a merger of various international organisations and projects, including the Permanent Commission of the Carte du Ciel, the International Solar Union and the International Time Bureau (Bureau International de l'Heure). (See: "Presidential Address on International Co-operation in Astronomy." by F. J. M. Stratton (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, Volume 94, February, 1934, Pages.361-372).)
(8) The Introduction of Stick Figure Constellation Depictions
Stick figure constellation representations (ball-and-link (dot/point and line) convention) were used by the ancient Chinese in their star maps. Western European use is more recent. With the decline in the use of traditional constellation figures on star charts that were produced during the 19th-century the pages became a confusing mass of dots. The matchstick convention (comprising joining up the main stars in each constellation lines) helped users to easily identify the constellation shapes, and map makers increasingly adopted the method. According to Anthony Auerbach, and Ian Ridpath the first person to do this seems to have been Alexandre Ruelle, an assistant at Paris Observatory in pre-revolutionary France, with the publication in 1786 of his star chart titled Nouvelle uranographie. (Alexandre Ruelle, Nouvelle Uranographie ou Méthode très facile pour apprendre à connoitre les Constellations, (Paris: Dezauche, de la Marche et Jombert, 1786).) Earlier is the successful Atlas Céleste de Flamstéed, publié en 1776 of Jean Fortin (1750-1831) which showed constellation lines to some extent on Plate 30. However, these lines were only intended to enable an observer to easily navigate the starry sky rather than to depict the constellations themselves. The circumstances for Fortin being commissioned to produce a revised edition of John Flamsteed's Atlas coelestis (1729) are not known. Fortin was not an astronomer but an artisan, a globe maker for the French royal family. All of Flamsteed's 26 very large plates were re-engraved on a much smaller scale, so that they were easily usable. Fortin's French version of Flamsteed's Atlas celeste immediately became the standard star atlas. Joseph von Littrow's Atlas des gestirnten Himmels (1839), Plate II, depicts the matchstick constellation figures. Ruelle's matchstick method was only really adopted when revived by the French astronomy populariser and cartographer, Charles Dien (1809–1870). In 1831 Dien published a star chart (a small constellation atlas) with similarities to that of Ruelle's. Dien then followed this in 1852 with a full-scale Atlas Céleste of 24 charts incorporating linking lines. Dien's atlas went through numerous editions into the early 20th-century. (It is also mentioned that Dien's Atlas Céleste first appeared in 1864, with the co-operation of the mathematician and astronomer Jacques Babinet (1794-1872).) The later editions of Dien's atlas were revised and expanded by the French astronomy populariser Camille Flammarion (i.e., the 1866 edition of Dien's atlas was reissued (as a new edition) by Flammarion in 1877). (Some sources state the matchstick constellation figures appear with the 1904 edition but correctly it is the 1877 edition.) When the British astronomy writer Richard Proctor (1837–1888) adopted the linking-line convention in his popular books such as Half Hours with the Stars (1869, but 1884 edition) and Easy Star Lessons (1882), it gained wider and lasting acceptance.
An early example of the Chinese use of dots and lines method of constellation depiction is a painted ceiling mural in a Western Han Dynasty tomb from the mid-2nd-century (or perhaps 1st-century) BCE, discovered on the campus of Xi'an Jiaotong University. The configurations of all 28 lunar lodges are accurately represented in a circular band, interspersed with figures illustrating selected lodges. (See the discussion and illustration in: Lan-ying Tseng, Lillian. (2003). "Visual Replication and Political Persuasion: The Celestial Image in Yuan Yi's Tomb" In: Hung, Wu. (Editor). Between Han and Tang: Visual and Material Culture in a Transformative Period. (Pages 377-424).)
(14) European Constellating of the Southern Sky
The charting of the Southern Hemisphere created the need for new constellations. The 48 classical constellations of the Greeks did not map the entire celestial sphere. Until the end of the 16th-century CE European star charts contained only the 48 constellations canonised by Ptolemy in the 2nd-century CE. The stars of the southern sky which did not rise above the horizon of the ancient Greeks remained un-constellated on European celestial maps until the European voyages to the southern hemisphere in the 16th-century. The 16th-centuy has been termed the Age of Exploration. During the 16th- and 17th-centuries the Dutch, French, and English (and Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian navigators) made numerous voyages of discovery to the southern hemisphere. The result is the origin of the constellations surrounding the South Pole is involved in some obscurity.
The process of constellating the southern celestial sky was begun by Petrus Plancius. He included 2 new southern constellations (Crux (as a separate constellation, the stars of which are given in Ptolemy's Almagest) and Triangulus Antarcticus (Eridanus continued from Ptolemy's 34th star to α Eridani)) on his sky globe published in 1589 and then 2 more (Columba (the stars of which are given in Ptolemy's Almagest) and Polophylax (the figure of a man consisting of 7 stars)) on his sky globe published in 1592. These constellations appeared on his 1594 map of the world (the earliest existing map of the southern heavens) entitled "Orbis terrarum typus de integro multis in locis emendatus Pedro Plancio, 1594." Of the 10 constellations invented by Petrus Plancius 4 are still recognised today.
An influential voyage for the invention and naming of southern constellation on European sky maps was the first Dutch trading expedition of 4 ships which left Holland for the East Indies in 1595.The chief pilot (navigator) on the Hollandia (later on the Mauritius) was Pieter Dirckszoon Keyser (circa 1540-1596). The Dutch navigator Pieter Keyser was adept in both mathematics and astronomy and his cooperation to chart the southern sky was sought by Petrus Plancius. Keyser was trained by Petrus Plancius to chart (using an astrolabe or cross-staff given to him by Plancius) the southern stars in the constellation-free zone around the south celestial pole. Probably he mapped the stars of the southern sky from Madagascar and also perhaps near the island of Sumatra. He was apparently assisted in his observations by the Dutch navigator Frederick de Houtman (1571-1627). Keyser died during the voyage (in September 1596) while the trading fleet was at Banten (western Java). When the trading fleet returned to Holland in 1597 his catalogue of 135 stars, divided into 12 newly invented constellations, was given to Plancius. Plancius then added these constellations to his sky globe published in 1598. (Another version (incorrect) is that Plancius used Keyser's data to form 12 new southern constellations and these were added to his 1598 globe.) Petrus Plancius is the likely source for the southern constellations depicted in Johann Bayer's Uranometria.
The 12 southern constellations created were: Apus, Chamaeleon, Dorado, Grus, Hydrus, Indus, Musca, Pavo, Phoenix, Triangulum Australe, Tucana, and Volans. Some are named after exotic birds such as the toucan, peacock, and phoenix.
Initially the new southern hemisphere constellations appeared on a few celestial globes (1598 globe by Petrus Plancius, 1600 globe (some versions state 1599 or 1601) by Jodocus Hondius, and 1603 globe by Willem Blaeu.) Petrus Plancius (1552-1622) was a Dutch theologian and cartographer; Jodocus Hondius (1563-1612) was a Dutch cartographer; and Willem Blaeu (1571-1638) was also a Dutch cartographer. Jodocus Hondius included Petrus Plancius' new southern constellations on the celestial globe he published in 1600.
The first celestial atlas to include the 12 new southern constellations was the Uranometria by Johann Bayer (a German astronomer) published in 1603. Their appearance in plate 49 of Johann Bayer's celestial atlas canonised their acceptance and use. The Uranometria is considered the first great celestial atlas. It contained a separate plate for each of the 48 traditional constellation figures. It was also based on Tycho Brahe's newly determined star positions and magnitudes. (In his atlas Johann Bayer also devised a cohesive system for designating (labeling) the stars. The system of designating individual stars proposed by Johannes Bayer in 1603, and adopted into Western astronomy, comprises the brightest star in a constellation being called alpha, the second-brightest is called beta, and so-on. However, because many stars already had proper names their use continued and still remains popular. As example: alpha Gemini and Beta Gemini are called Castor and Pollux.)
In 1603 Frederick de Houtman published a Catalogue of Southern Stars at the end of his Malay and Madagascan vocabulary, entitled Spraeckende woordboeck Inde Maleysche ende Madagaskarche Talen met vele Arabische ende Turksche woorden. Houtman's catalogue consists of the right ascensions, declinations, and magnitudes of 303 stars. However, 107 stars were already given in Ptolemy's Almagest. The other 196 stars were new discoveries. The astronomer Edward Knobel ("On Frederick de Houtman's Catalogue of Southern Stars, and the Origin of the Southern constellations." (Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, 1917, Volume 77, Pages 414-432.)) concluded that Frederick de Houtman had published as his own work the southern sky observations of the recently deceased navigator Pieter Dircksz Keyzer. This conclusion was researched and supported by the astronomer Helen Hogg (Out of Old Books - "Pieter Dircksz Keijser, Delineator of the Southern Constellations." (Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, 1951, Volume 45, Pages 215-220)).
Plate 49 of Johann Bayer's Uranometria shows the constellations Phoenix, Hydrus, Tucana, Grus, Indus, Pavo, Apus, Triangulum Australe, Musca, Cham�leon, Volans, and Doradus. Bayer stated that these particular constellations were observed partly by Amerigo Vespucci, partly by Andrea Corsali and Pedro de Medina, but their places were determined by Petrus Theodorus. (In reality Amerigo Vespucci (Sensuyt le nouveau monde et navigations faictes par Emeric de Vespuce (1510)) contributed no constellations. Andrea Corsali (in two letters dated 1517) described the Greater and Lesser Magellanic Clouds, the 5 stars forming the Southern Cross, and 13 other stars which cannot be identified. Pedro de Medina (Arte de navegar (1545) only makes mention to the stars in the Crux (i.e., determining latitude in the southern hemisphere by observations of α Crucis.) In his Celestial globe, published in 1603, Willem Blaeu attributed all of these constellations to Frederick de Houtman. The eminent astronomer and historian Ludwig Ideler gave equal merit to Petrus Theodorus and Frederick de Houtman.
In 1612 Petrus Plancius published a new sky globe and introduced his 2 newly invented southern constellations Camelopardalis and Monoceros.
A later celestial atlas that introduced new constellations was the Firmamentum Sobiescianum by Johannes Hevelius (a German-Polish astronomer) (1611-1687) published posthumously in1690. It was engraved by Johannes Hevelius himself to accompany his catalogue of over 1500 star positions (and the catalogue was also published posthumously in 1690). Seven of the new southern constellations (visible from mid-northern latitudes) invented by Johannes Hevelius , Johannes (1611-1687) are still recognized today. One of the new constellations included Sextens (the sextant) named for one of his own astronomical instruments (and based on the octant, a measuring instrument). He made very accurate stellar coordinate observations without the use of telescopes.
The French astronomer and surveyor Nicolas Louis de LaCaille (1713-1762) invented 14 southern sky constellations which became standard and are still recognized today. The majority of these new constellations were named after new scientific inventions. Following his visit to the Cape of Good Hope (South Africa) in 1750 he introduced them in the Memoires of the Acad�mie Royale des Sciences in 1752 (published in 1756). In his southern star catalogue Coelum Australe Stelliferum, which was published posthumously in 1763) he also introduced the division of Argo Navis into 4 parts, the 4 smaller constellations named Vela (the sail), Pyxis (the compass (but literally "the little box" as there is no Latin word for compass as the Greeks and Romans did not have compasses for navigation)), Puppis (the stern), and Carina (the keel). This constellation change has persisted. (The French cartographer Didier Robert de Vaugondy (1723-1826) became the first to actually illustrate (in 1764) Nicolas LaCaille's 4 divisions of Argo Navis. These 4 constellations became the last new constellations to be officially recognised.
The star atlases produced by the 19th-century cartographers Friedrich Argelander (Uranometria Nova, published 1843), and Benjamin Gould (Uranometria Argentina, published 1877-1879), standardised the list of constellations to those we use today. They both followed Nicolas LaCaille and divided Argo Navis (the ship) (Ptolemy's largest constellation) into 4 parts: Vela (the sail), Pyxis (the compass), Puppis (the stern), and Carina (the keel).
The process of constellation invention was continued by numerous other astronomers of the 17th-, 18th-, and 19th-centuries but these constellations were never officially recognised or adopted and quickly disappeared.
The establishment of constellation sets covering the entire visible sky is not common to early cultures/civilisations. The appearance of elaborate constellation sets as reference systems covering most of the visible sky only originated with the development of complex societies. Complex constellation systems make their earliest appearances in the 2nd millennium BCE in the stable kingships of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. In these empires astronomy had become a state supported and state directed enterprise.
Present-day Western constellations, and star and constellation names, originated from a number of Near Eastern and Mediterranean cultures. The ancient Greeks are the main source of present-day Western star/constellation names. They named the most prominent stars and established the most obvious constellations by circa 800 BCE. The Greeks never thought of constellating the entire visible sky until circa the 5th-century BCE. By circa 400 BCE (likely under the influence of Babylonian uranography) the Greeks had, by borrowing and invention, established the majority of the 48 classical constellations. The Romans derived a considerable portion of their star lore and uranography from the Greeks.
The cuneiform evidence recovered since the mid 1800s indicates that Greek uranography borrowed from the earlier Babylonian uranography, established circa late 2nd-millennium BCE. Some late Egyptian influence is also indicated. Also, according to Paul Kunitzsch, the influence of earlier Babylonian nomenclature are sometimes discernable in the body (older group) of (non-standardised) star/asterism names of nomadic desert Arabs of the (pre-Islamic) Arabic Peninsula.
The constellation scheme established in Ptolemy's Almagest remained virtually unchanged until the European era of celestial mapping in the 17th- and 18th-centuries. (The cartographer Kaspar Vopel may have been the first person to add to the list of constellations handed down by Ptolemy. In 1536 he charted the constellations Coma Berenices and Antinous on a celestial globe (the globe still exists). Islamic star mapping mostly followed the Ptolemaic tradition. Ptolemy's star catalogue remained the standard star catalogue in both the Western and Islamic world for circa 1000 years. The dome of a bath house at Qusayr 'Amra, the only remaining building of an Arab palace in Jordan built circa CE 715, contains a unique hemispherical celestial map. The surviving fragments of the fresco show parts of 37 constellations and 400 stars. This celestial map furnishes a connecting link between the classical representations of the constellations and the later Islamic forms.
An additional source of star/constellation names originated with the groups of nomadic desert Arabs of the (pre-Islamic) Arabic Peninsula. In pre-Islamic times the early Bedouin Arabic people (i.e., the nomadic desert dwelling tribes of the Arabic Peninsula) gave individual names to the numerous stars. According to Paul Kunitzsch the influence of earlier Babylonian nomenclature are sometimes discernable in this body (older group) of (non-standardised) star/asterism names. Paul Kunitzsch also holds that the main body (younger group) of indigenous (pre-Islamic) Arabic star/asterism names were probably formed in the period 500-700 CE. The folk tradition of Arabic star names was preserved by later Arab-Islamic astronomers. This has ultimately influenced the naming of individual stars in Western constellations.
Whilst our inherited constellation names are basically Greek our European inherited star names are largely due to the influence of medieval (Arabic) Islamic astronomy on medieval European astronomy. The influence of Arabic names on Western star names dates from around the 10th-century AD when Arab astronomy flourished. (The Arabs (correctly Arab-Islamic astronomers) increased the number of individual star names. Most individual star names were introduced by al-Sufi when he published his own version of Ptolemy's Almagest in the 10-century CE.) After the demise of the Roman Empire most Greek scientific works were translated into Arabic (including Ptolemy's Almagest). Eventually these texts were re-introduced back into Europe (and into Latin and Greek) through Arab Spain. With the Arabs the influence of the Greek language was not very strong in the names of stars and constellations. Modern star names are mostly derived from Arabic translations (or use) of Ptolemy's Almagest, chiefly Shiraz astronomer al-Sufi's 10th-century book Kitab suwar al-kawakib (Book of Constellation Figures), and also the introduction of hundreds of Arabic astrolabes into Europe. Al-Sufi's book Kitab suwar al-kawakib is our best authority for post-Islamic Arabic star-names and constellations. It also included the folk tradition of Arabic star names.
The Renaissance period was the catalyst for their being mixed together and passed down to present-day in Latin characters. The retransmitted Latin translation of Ptolemy's Almagest by Gherardo of Cremona (Lombardy) in the 12th-century was an Arabic-Latin version. This began the distorted use of Greek-Arabic-Latin words that appear in modern lists of star names. It was the only version known in Western Europe until the later discovery of copies of the original Greek texts and their translation into Latin texts in the 15th-century. Commonly used present-day individual star names include: Aldebaran, Algol, Altair, Antares, Arcturus, Betelgeuse, Canopus, Capella, Dened, Fomalhaut, Mira, Pollux, Procyon, Regulus, Rigel, Sirius, Spica, and Vega.
Richard Allen in his highly influential book Star-Names and Their Meanings (1899) stated that European star names came chiefly from the Arabs. Allen, who had no real understanding of Arabic, also concluded that many Arabic star-names were actually translations of Greek descriptive terms transmitted through Arabic into Latin (and from Latin into English and other languages). When the linguist Maio Pei made a check of 183 English star-names he concluded that 125 were from Arabic, and 9 were from Arabic-Latin. (See: Story of the English Language by Mario Pei (1967; Page 225).) Paul Kunitzsch and Tim Smart (A Dictionary of Modern Star Names (2006; Page 11) write: "A statistical analysis of the 254 star names here presented reveals that (counting five double entries only once) 175 names (= 70%) are Arabic and 47 (= 19%) are are Greek or Latin." The modern authority on such matters is Paul Kunitzsch.
Another source of names derived from the Arabic were bestowals, often ill-based, by early modern Western astronomers even though they had never been used by Arabian astronomers. (Some European astronomers inventing their own constellations also invented their own Arabic star names.) The earliest likely example is the Dutch orientalist and mathematician Jacob Golius (1596-1667). Most of these names have disappeared. Thuban, alpha Draconis, is an exception.
The constellation scheme established in Ptolemy's Almagest remained virtually unchanged until the European era of celestial mapping in the 17th- and 18th-centuries. During this period astronomers added their own constellation inventions to the remaining gaps left in the sky. There was no agreed standardised set of constellations. (One celestial atlas had 99 constellations.)
(1) Definitive Establishment of Constellations and Constellation Boundaries
Historically, the irregularity of the constellation figures explains the irregularity of their boundaries. Up until 1928 the limits of the constellations were essentially arbitrary lines. Constellation schemes and boundaries remained unregulated until the early 20th-century. (Generally, celestial atlases in the early 20th-century varied between 80 and 90 constellations. Constellation boundaries also varied from atlas to atlas.) Until the 1920s astronomers used irregular curved boundaries (wavy-line boundaries) to demarcate the constellation areas. The earliest use of constellation boundaries was by Johann Bode. The German astronomer Johann Bode (1747-1826) in his immense celestial atlas Uranographia (1801) which contained over 100 constellations, was the first astronomer to add constellation demarcation lines (dotted wavy-line boundaries) to the symbolic constellation figures. Other cartographers followed the practice of enclosing a constellation with a dotted wavy-line boundary but these were arbitrary lines of demarcation that varied from celestial atlas to celestial atlas. The German astronomer Carl [Karl] Ludwig Harding, in his Atlas Novus Coelestis (1822), kept the constellation demarcation boundaries but left out the symbolic constellation figures. In 1841 the British astronomer John Herschel had suggested regular polygonal boundaries to the constellations. The Finnish-German astronomer Friedrich Argelander (1799-1875) in his Uranometria Nova (1843) had followed Ptolemy as closely as possible.
Friedrich Argelander's Uranometria Nova (1843) and Benjamin A. Gould's Uranometria Argentina (1879) standardized the list of Western constellations as they are known today. They introduced the division of Ptolemy’s largest constellation, Argo Navis (the ship), into four parts: Vela (the sail), Pyxis (the compass), Puppis (the stern), and Carina (the keel). (Also important was Atlas Coelestis Novus (1872) by the German mathematician and astronomer Eduard Heis.)
Only from 1928 were precise definitions established by the International Astronomical Union (Transactions, Volume 4, 1933) adopting the division of the celestial sphere into fields limited exclusively by arcs of hour circles and of circles of constant declination, corresponding to the celestial pole of 1875.
The issue of (1) the number of constellations, and (2) their boundaries, was taken up by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922. (The IAU was founded as a professional body for astronomers. Its purpose is to promote and safeguard standards in astronomy through international cooperation. However, during the early period of its existence the IAU did not permit Germany or its allies in WWI membership.) In a series of resolutions beginning in 1922 and ending in 1930, the International Astronomical Union (IAU) effected the division of the celestial sphere into 88 precisely defined constellations, complete with official spelling of names and use of abbreviations. In 1922, at its first General Assembly, the newly formed International Astronomical Union (established in 1919 as a member of the International Research Council formed immediately after WWI) officially adopted and regularised 88 official constellations (or at least took up the issue), and in 1928(9?) defined their boundaries - that is, at its meeting in 1928 the IAU approved Delporte's work. (Out of the 88 modern constellations, 36 lie predominantly in the northern hemisphere, and the other 52 predominantly in the southern hemisphere.)
In 1923, the Belgian National Astronomical Committee, at the suggestion of its president, Professor Paul Stroobant (who directed the Royal Observatory at Uccle, Belgium), examined the issue of the revision of the boundaries of the northern hemisphere constellations. The Congress of the International Astronomical Union, held in Rome in 1922, had already embarked on the initial stages of standardisation by codifying the abbreviations of the 88 constellations making up the entire sky. At the request of the Belgian National Astronomical Committee, the issue was placed on the agenda of the IAU 1925 Cambridge meeting (and was attended by Deporte who also presented a talk there). In 1922, the American astronomer Henry Norris Russell aided the IAU in dividing the celestial sphere into 88 official constellations. Where possible, these modern constellations reflected the names of their Graeco-Roman predecessors, such as Orion, Leo, or Scorpius. The aim of this system was area-mapping, i.e. the division of the celestial sphere into contiguous fields. (Two modern atlases which influenced the eventual list of 88 constellations adopted by the International Astronomical union were: (1) the Uranometria Nova by the German astronomer Friedrich Argelander published in 1843. and (2) Atlas Coelestis Novus by the German mathematician and astronomer Eduard Heis published in 1872. Both atlases were the standard references for professional astronomers of the day.)
In 1930, the boundaries between the 88 constellations were devised by Eugène Delporte (an astronomer at the Royal Observatory of Belgium) along vertical and horizontal lines of right ascension and declination. (The contour of the constellations followed as closely as possible the lines of the principal existing atlases.) In 1930 the Belgian-French astronomer Eugene Delporte (1882-1955) was commissioned by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) to create boundaries for all the constellations. Delporte was known for his work as a draughtsman. The IAU instructed Delporte to follow, as far as possible, the divisions which appeared in the principal celestial atlases then in use. Acting at the request of the International Astronomical Union the Belgian astronomer Eugène Delporte (1882-1955) then proceeded to draw up the definitive modern boundaries for these 88 constellations. He produced 2 maps that positioned the boundaries of the constellations. (For the final drawing of the charts, Delporte was assisted by Dr Raymond Coutrez, astronomer/calculator at the Royal Observatory of Belgium.) However, the data Deporte used originated back to epoch B1875.0, which was when the pioneering American astronomer Benjamin Gould (1824-1896) first made the proposal to designate boundaries for the celestial sphere, a suggestion upon which Delporte would base his work. (The practical reason for the epoch (equinox) 1875.0 being chosen was integration with Gould's charts of the southern hemisphere.) The consequence of this early date is that due to the precession of the equinoxes, the borders on a modern star map, such as epoch J2000, are already somewhat skewed and no longer perfectly vertical or horizontal. This effect will increase over the years and centuries to come. It is likely that by the beginning of the 22nd-century some necessary corrections will be implemented. (Gould's star catalogues which helped to fix the list of constellations of the southern hemisphere were: Uranometria Argentina (1879 (1876?, but correctly 1877-1879?)), and General Catalogue (1885). In his Uranometria Argentina (which extended up to 12½° north) Gould had followed Herschel's suggestions regular polygonal boundaries to the constellations.)
Due to the Variable Star Commission wanting to keep the variable stars within their traditional constellation designations the boundaries drawn are sometimes erratic.
Source: Astrophysical Journal, Volume 75, 1932, Page 68.
Delporte's work on the demarcation of the constellations was published in his book Délimitation scientifique des constellations (Tables et cartes) (1930, 2 Volumes), with texts, maps, and celestial atlas. The 2 volumes comprised Report of Commission II of the International Astronomical Union. The only complete text was published in French. (The later English-language translation is incomplete.) For the first time delimitation of constellations was fixed for the whole of the sky. The boundaries between the constellations were fixed along lines of right ascension and declination for the epoch 1875. (The boundaries between constellations were defined by arcs of hour circles and parallels of declination for a specific reference date, the equinox of 1875. This enables a simple adjustment for precession that enables the right ascension and declination of any star on any date.) Basically the constellation boundaries became rectangular borders. This made the use of traditional constellation figures obsolete. (An effect of Delporte's scheme on Flamsteed catalogue star names was some stars were now located in different constellations. As examples: 49 Serpentis is in Hercules, and 30 Monocerotis is in Hydra.) A transition to non-pictorial star maps had taken place with the 1928(9?) IAU decision on constellation boundaries. Note: It is a misconception that John Flamsteed introduced the so-called Flamsteed number system for identifying the stars in each constellation. This was actually done 1783 by the Frenchman Joseph Lalande in a French edition of Flamsteed's catalogue. Lalande added a column in which he numbered the stars consecutively in each constellation in the order that Flamsteed had listed them. It is this system that is meant when Flamsteed numbers are referred to. Stars are usually referred to by their Flamsteed numbers – for example 40 Cygni or 59 Ophiuchi – only when they are not already identified by a Greek letter.
Through the work of Delporte and the IAU the constellations and their boundaries finally became ratified in 1930.
Constellations are now defined by their boundary lines (rectangular borders), not by their historic figures. Instead of being star patterns they are now precisely defined areas of the sky. In modern astronomy, a constellation is a specific area of the celestial sphere as defined by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). This ensures that constellations now completely cover the sky and all stars lie within the boundary of a constellation. The irregularly defined areas occupied by the 88 constellations completely cover the celestial sphere and divide it into nonoverlapping sections. There is no scientific reason why there are exactly 88 constellations; they are only a convenient way to break up the sky to locate the position of celestial objects. Interestingly, precession is causing the constellation boundaries to tilt. (The boundaries of constellations marked on star atlases/charts are entirely artificial. Due to the absence of any other authoritative work on constellation boundaries Delaporte's book established the definitive system to which further changes could not be made.) Enclosed within modern constellation boundaries are both the stars in the traditional constellation figures and the neighbouring stars outside the figures. The 88 official constellations selected by the International Astronomical Union were all of European origin simply because the wide use of these constellations was already well established. Since 1030 the entire sky has been officially partitioned into 88 irregularly-shaped sectors, with a constellation assigned to each of the sectors. The constellations remain a convenient method of describing different directions/sectors of the sky.
The use of proper names for stars has decreased since the 19th-century when astronomers adopted a more systematic way of identifying stars (Bayesian designation, right ascension and declination).
Appendix 1: Forms of (Star and) Constellation Names
We have a system of Greek constellations with Latin names containing stars with Arabic names.
The Latin names we use present-day for the constellations are inherited from Renaissance use. Each Latin constellation name has two forms: the nominative, for use when you're talking about the constellation itself, and the genitive, or possessive, which is used in star names. For example, Hamal, the brightest star in the constellation Aries (nominative form), is also called Alpha Arietis (genitive form), meaning literally "the Alpha of Aries." The IAU also adopted three-letter abbreviations of the constellation names at its inaugural General Assembly in Rome in 1922. So, for instance, Andromeda is abbreviated to And whilst Draco is abbreviated to Dra. This system of abbreviation is convenient when space is at a premium. Alpha Arietis is written α Ari, using the lower-case Greek letter alpha and the abbreviation for Aries.
"Most constellation names are simple common nouns with obvious English equivalents. For instance, Leo is Latin for "the lion" or "a lion." The Greeks sometimes tried to associate the constellation Leo with some particular lion from their mythology, but there's every reason to believe that when they inherited this constellation from Mesopotamia, it was just a generic lion. Or, more precisely, the great celestial Lion — the Lion that Lives in the Sky. Other constellations are named after specific people or things. For instance, Eridanus is one particular mythological river, not the Latin equivalent of "a river" or "the river." The constellation Perseus is often nicknamed the Hero in English, but this is a little misleading, as that nickname could apply equally well to Hercules. Not surprisingly, there are plenty of intermediate cases. Thus, Cetus means just a sea monster, whale, or large fish, but it's very likely that the constellation's inventor was thinking of the particular monster that tried to eat Andromeda. And Gemini is the common Latin word for "twins" but also the special epithet of the mythological twins Castor and Pollux." ("Constellation Names and Abbreviations." by Tony Flanders (On-line Sky and Telescope, http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/Constellation_Names.html.)
Appendix 2: Modern Use of Star Names
In professional publications it is still usual to use the proper names of all 1st-magnitude stars – and other bright stars – historically visible from mid-northern latitudes and a few special cases. These star names are: Achernar, Aldebaran, Altair, Antares, Arcturus, Betelgeuse, Canopus, Capella, Castor, Deneb, Fomalhaut, Polaris, Pollux, Procyon, Regulus, Rigel, Sirius, Spica, Vega.
In amateur publications it is not unusual for the proper names of other bright stars (that are either close to 1st magnitude, occupy important locations stick figure depictions of constellations, or have special properties) to be used. These star names include: Albireo, Alcor, Alcyone, Algol, Almach, Alphard, Alpheratz, Bellatrix, Denebola, Elnath, Enif, Izar, Kochab, Merope, Mira, Mirach, Mirfak, Mizar, Vindemiatrix. As examples: Albireo is a famous double star and Algol is a famous variable star.
Appendix 3: Pronunciation of (Star and) Constellation Names
In the early 1940s a 3 person expert committee was established by the American Astronomical Society (AAS) (the major professional organization in North America for astronomers, other scientists and individuals interested in astronomy) to establish a uniform/standardised pronunciation of star and constellation names. The report of the committee (Committee of the American Astronomical Society on Preferred spellings and Pronunciations), titled Pronouncing Astronomical Names, on preferred spellings and pronunciations, was approved for publication at the New Haven meeting of the AAS in June, 1942. The AAS officially adopted the new list of pronunciations. The pronunciations in the report are all given in American English. The process was described in the article "Pronouncing Star Names." Science News Letter, Volumes 41-42, 1942, August 22, Page 125. The journal Sky & Telescope published the constellation pronunciations several times, first in the June 1943 issue of the journal and most recently (with some minor modifications) in the article "Designated Authority" by Ed. Krupp, May, 1997, Page 66.
Tony Flanders argues that the AAS report is deeply flawed. "It was inspired by the IAU's standardization of constellation definitions, but that was a very different situation. The IAU reforms were successful because they addressed an urgent need. Newly discovered variable stars are named after the constellation that contains them, and this only works if everyone agrees on the constellation boundaries. There's no comparable reason to standardize pronunciation. Experienced astronomers, both professional and amateur, pronounce constellation names in many different ways but have no trouble understanding each other. Moreover, the pronunciations chosen for the AAS report were somewhat arbitrary. There are several well-defined systems for pronouncing Latin, and the AAS pronunciations don't conform with any of them." ("Constellation Names and Abbreviations." by Tony Flanders (On-line Sky and Telescope, http://www.skyandtelescope.com/howto/Constellation_Names.html).
Appendix 4 Naming Stars Today
The art of giving stars proper names is now virtually redundant. In most cases stars are simply given a numerical descriptor to designate their position in the night sky. This designation is usually associated with a particular star catalogue. These catalogues group stars together by some particular property, or by the instrument that made the initial discovery of radiation from that star in a particular waveband. These star naming conventions are useful when searching for a particular type of star in a particular region of the sky, such as when undertaking research.
The first modern schemes for designating stars systematically labelled them within their constellation. One of the earliest examples is the Bayer designation system published by the German astronomer Johann Bayer in his star atlas Uranometria (1603). In this star atlas by Bayer most of the brighter stars were assigned their first systematic names. Later, full-sky star catalogues detached star designations from the star's constellation and simply listed all stars with apparent magnitude greater than a given value. One of the earliest examples is the Histoire Céleste Française (1801) which catalogued 47,390 stars to magnitude 9. Star designations (a modern number system) is officially controlled/done by the International Astronomical Union (IAU). Many of the star names in use today are inherited prior to existence of the IAU. However, in practice, different cultures world-wide use different (popular) names for the same star.
The IAU is the only organization with the official ability to name anything in the sky. This right derives from international scientific consensus and the mutual assent of astronomers world-wide, and is established by international treaty. The IAU is the international governing body for professional astronomy. The IAU functions as an international consensus maker in astronomy. Consensus building by the IAU began as early as 1922 at its first General Assembly, where the IAU adopted an official list of constellation names and their abbreviations. The IAU does not name stars after people. What the IAU does is control the designation of stars by a modern number system. By policy, the IAU does not actually name stars. The IAU names astronomical bodies, but does not name stars (and does not intend to do so). The IAU does set the rules and recommendations for how stars and (and other celestial objects) should be designated ("named"). These comprise the accepted astronomical naming conventions.
The IAU provides standard names, abbreviations, abbreviations, and boundaries for constellations to enable astronomers world-wide to have a common reference system when referring to celestial objects and their positions in the sky. With designations ("names") for stars and other objects the IAU guidelines ensure that names are only descriptive, consisting only of the type of catalog being defined and giving precise positions. Astronomers (both professional and amateur) use these numbers because they are easy to look up in databases or catalogs. Astronomers (both professional or amateur) agree that this type of naming is logical, informative, and not open to misuse.
Modern star catalogs basically use one of two styles of designation - sequential number or coordinate-based. The sequential number system generally starts at "1" (some astronomers prefer to start at "0"), and progress until the last object in their list (which has the highest number). Coordinate- based star names generally use the Right Ascension (R.A.) and Declination (Dec.) of a star as the name. When a coordinate-based system is used it is made clear which epoch (year) was used when computing the coordinates. This is due to the Earth's precession, and space motion of a star itself. The coordinates of a star in 1950 are very different than those in 2000. The most common modern systems in use are the Besselian 1950 and the Julian 2000 systems. By convention, star names based on J2000 coordinates contain the letter "J" in front of the coordinates.
Most of the stars that have actual (proper) names got them in antiquity. They are long-standing traditional names/historical conventions (usually derived from Arabic, but a few are derived from Latin).
A few stars are named for individuals. (Over the past few centuries, a small number of stars have been named after individual people.) These are mostly unofficial names that became "official" (but not sanctioned by the IAU) at some juncture. Customarily, the only time an object is named after a (then living) person is when that person (or persons) discover the object (e.g., Comet Levy was discovered by David Levy, Barnard's Star was discovered by Edward Barnard). The first occurrence (disregarding characters from Greek mythology) was Cor Caroli (α CVn), named in the 17th-century for King Charles I of England. The remaining examples are mostly stars named after astronomers. As example: Argelander's Star, Baade's Star, Barnard's Star, and Bessel's Star. "Formal" (Open) acceptance is achieved through usage in astronomical literature.
There are a number of problems with the several hundred named stars. Name spellings are often not standardised (Almach or Almaach or Almak or Alamak). Many stars have more than one name of roughly equal popularity Mirfak or Algenib or Alcheb; Regor or Suhail al Muhlif; Alkaid or Benetnasch; Gemma or Alphecca; Alperatz and Sirrah). Some stars in entirely different constellations may have the same name: Algenib in Perseus and Algenib in Pegasus; Gienah in Cygnus and Gienah in Corvus, Alnaier in Grus and Alnaierin Centaurus.
In modern astronomical practice, the traditional names are only universally used for the very brightest stars (i.e., Sirius, Arcturus, Vega) and for a small number of slightly less bright but "interesting" stars (i.e., Algol, Polaris, Mira). For other naked eye stars, the Bayer designation is preferred. In addition to the traditional names, a small number of stars that are "interesting" can have modern English names. For example, Barnard's Star has the highest known proper motion of any star and is thus notable even though it is far too faint to be seen with the naked eye.
Appendix 5: Star Naming Companies
The establishment of the internet has also seen the establishment of a number of star naming companies. They assign personal names to stars and operate as a commercial business in doing so. Upon application and payment of a small fee they will name a star named after a person. They have no official status given to them by any astronomical body within the astronomical community to assign personal names to stars on a fee for service basis. The primary and universally recognized authority on naming stars (and basically all things to do with astronomy) is the International Astronomical Union (IAU). The IAU does not recognize names given to stars by private commercial companies. The IAU is not involved with designating a star with a proper (personal) name. Formal (open) usage in professional astronomical literature has resulted the perpetuation of a star name used by an ancient culture, if one is known to exist. In the absence of an early star name being identified for use, important historical figures in astronomy (astronomers or astronauts) are usually chosen to be honored in this way, outside of IAU practice.
Return to top of page.
This web page was last updated on: Sunday, July 12, 2015, 7.30 pm.
This web page was created using Arachnophilia 4.0 and FrontPage 2003.
You can reach me here by email (but first delete the obvious attempt in the email address to foil the spammers):
Return To Site Contents Page