Astronomy played an important role in many ancient societies. Through this natural science, the ancients were able to make calendars, navigate during the night, and even explore the nature of the universe through mythology and philosophy. Some civilizations well-known for their astronomical developments include the Babylonians, the ancient Egyptians, and the ancient Greeks. The astronomy of many other cultures, however, has been side-lined, as a result of the prevailing Euro-centric view of astronomy, and civilization, in general. One of these is Australian Aboriginal astronomy – which is considered by some to be the oldest in the world.
Story Telling About the Night Sky
The first thing to note about Australian Aboriginal astronomy is that it was not just a science, but also involved story-telling. Stories were used to provide explanations for the heavenly bodies and the natural phenomena that happened to them.
For example, Torres Strait Islanders tell the story of a fisherman named Tagai. One day he set out with a crew of 12 zugubals (powerful spirits who influence the seasons, wind, and water). They weren’t having much success in catching fish that day, so Tagai left his crew and went to search for fish in a nearby reef. The day grew hot and the crew was thirsty, but there was nothing to drink in the canoe except for their leader’s water. They decided to drink it.