Astronomy in Ancient Times

Astronomy in Ancient Times

Human curiosity about day and night, the Sun, the Moon and the stars, led primitive men to the conclusion that celestial bodies seem to move in a regular way. The first usefulness of this observation was, therefore, that of defining time and orienting oneself.
Astronomy solved the immediate problems of the first civilizations: the need to establish precisely the appropriate times to plant and harvest crops and for celebrations, and to orientate oneself on journeys and journeys.

For the primitive peoples, the sky showed a very regular behavior. The Sun that separated the day from the night went every morning from one direction, the East, moved uniformly during the day and set in the opposite direction, the West. At night you could see thousands of stars that followed a similar path.

In temperate zones, they found that day and night did not last the same throughout the year. On long days, the Sun rose further north and ascended higher in the sky at noon. In the days with longer nights, the Sun went further south and did not rise as much.

Soon, the knowledge of the cyclic movements of the Sun, the Moon, and the stars showed their usefulness for the prediction of phenomena such as the cycle of the seasons, on whose knowledge the survival of any human group depended. When the main activity was hunting, it was crucial to predicting the moment when the seasonal migration of the animals that served them was produced and, later, when the first agricultural communities were born, it was essential to know the opportune moment to plant and collect the harvests

The alternation of day and night must have been a fact explained in an obvious way from the beginning by the presence or absence of the Sun in the sky and the day was surely the first unit of time universally used.

It must also be important from the start that the quality of the nightlight depended on the phase of the Moon, and the cycle of twenty-nine to thirty days offers a convenient way to measure time. In this way, primitive calendars were almost always based on the cycle of the phases of the Moon. As for the stars, for any observer, it must have been obvious that the stars are bright spots that keep a fixed pattern night after night.

The primitives, naturally, believed that the stars were fixed in a kind of vault on Earth. But the Sun and the Moon should not be included in it.

From Megalithic, engravings in stone of the figures of certain constellations are preserved: the Great Bear, the Ursa Minor, and the Pleiades. In them, each star is represented by a circular alveolus dug in the stone.

From the end of the Neolithic period, menhirs and stone alignments have reached us, most of them facing the rising sun, although not in an exact way but always with a deviation of some degrees to the right. This fact supposes that they assumed the Polar Star to be fixed and ignored the precession of the equinoxes.

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