from an observation to some wild speculation

Earlier this week, Tuesday I think, I noticed something that I’d noticed many times before, but this time it sparked a question it hadn’t sparked before.

Winter is working its way towards us and so the sky was clear and the moon hung almost perfectly full, with only a slight fuzziness on its left hand side.  I’d noticed this fuzziness before but I realized I didn’t know whether the moon was waxing towards full in the next night or two, or whether the moon had just been full and was now waning.

I realized then the extent to which I’d lost the night sky.  I can remember being on camping trips as a kid, either family trips or as part of the local Boy Scout troop, looking up at the sky.  But for the past couple of decades I’ve lived in or near cities, and so it’s only the light of the moon, the planets and the brightest stars that survives the trip.

And that’s when I started to speculate.  And one thing I know is that others have speculated along these lines, and so one task for the new year is to go and see what they’ve written about all of this.

Go back far enough and the night sky was the television and the internet of the age, and perhaps a bit more.  Everyone had access to the night sky, and one question is whether we’ll be able to unpick how much of our mythology is tied up in our observations of the night sky, the movement of the planets, the precession of the equinox.

Just how observant were our distant ancestors and what mechanisms did they have for preserving their observations, before we had the written word?

And this is part of the difficulty.  Oral histories disappear with the people who are no longer around to tell their stories, and I don’t know what work’s been done, or can be done, to try and catch the echoes of these old stories in the stories we currently tell each other.

What I think is an even more interesting subject of speculation is, what were the stories our cousins, the Neanderthals and the Denisovians and all the others, were telling each other around their fires.  How did they see the night sky.  What for instance did they think of the planets, moving through the stars night after night, as though engaged in some grand quest?

And the big question, to which the answer is almost certainly no.  Are there any echoes of these cousin stories in our own myths and stories?  And how would we know?

 

~ by Jim Anderson on 25 November 2018.

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