Ancient Astronomy

We may think of astronomy as a recent advancement thanks to technology, but this science has in fact been in effect for thousands of years. The subject of ancient astronomy is a diverse and broad field that somehow also manages to retain an interwoven thread that connects the various cultures through time and space (no pun intended).

Ancient Greece is perhaps the best example of ancient astronomy practices. The Greeks saw the majestic figures in the sky and took them to be the gods that control the universe. Each constellation was given both a name and a back-story that tried to explain why this figure is now in the sky. Most of the constellations that we refer to today are actually the same ones that the Greeks revered and worshiped in ancient astronomy. Orion was a hunter who was punished and forced to stay up in the sky, never to rest below the horizon. This is why the constellation is always visible in the night sky. The constellations we know of as the Big Dipper and Little Dipper were to the Greeks the Great Bear and the Lesser Bear. We even keep the original Greek names: Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. The star Polaris, which is the last star on the handle of the Big Dipper, was to the Greeks a person who was always chasing the Great Bear around the night sky. This is why you always see it following the Dippers as they move along, according to the Greeks ancient astronomy.

The Egyptians also saw the constellations as Gods. The same constellation the Greeks took as Orion was known to the Egyptians as Osiris. This was their god of death and rebirth. Polaris was also important to this ancient astronomy. It was used as a marker to estimate when the Nile was going to flood.

To the Mayans, there was nothing more important than the Moon. It was studied and worshiped as their ultimate life-giver. This makes sense because learning the pattern of the lunar cycle helped the Mayans to understand the concept of time and use it as a jumping point for all kinds of future discoveries. The moon in fact plays a large part in the astronomy of nearly every ancient couple. This fact is evident when one notices that many cultures that were separated by vast distances still have calendars that are divided into months. The twenty-eight day cycle of the moon has served as a time measurement long before we adopted it.

While there are different names and purposes of the stars in the different kinds of ancient astronomy, there is clearly an understanding that runs through all of them that astronomy is both changing and repeating, and an understanding of the worlds beyond this world is necessary for a civilization to further itself.