Within the northern sky in December is a gorgeous cluster of stars often known as the Pleiades, or the “seven sisters”. Look rigorously and you’ll most likely depend six stars. So why do we are saying there are seven of them?
Many cultures world wide consult with the Pleiades as “seven sisters”, and likewise inform fairly comparable tales about them. After learning the movement of the celebs very intently, we consider these tales could date again 100,000 years to a time when the constellation appeared fairly completely different.
The sisters and the hunter
To save lots of the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus reworked them into stars. However the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we solely see six stars.
An analogous story is discovered amongst Aboriginal teams throughout Australia. In lots of Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Pleiades are a bunch of younger women, and are sometimes related to sacred girls’s ceremonies and tales.
The Pleiades are additionally essential as a component of Aboriginal calendars and astronomy, and for a number of teams their first rising at daybreak marks the beginning of winter.
Near the Seven Sisters within the sky is the constellation of Orion, which is commonly referred to as “the saucepan” in Australia. In Greek mythology Orion is a hunter. This constellation can be usually a hunter in Aboriginal cultures, or a bunch of lusty younger males.
The author and anthropologist Daisy Bates reported individuals in central Australia regarded Orion as a “hunter of ladies”, and particularly of the ladies within the Pleiades. Many Aboriginal tales say the boys, or man, in Orion are chasing the seven sisters – and one of many sisters has died, or is hiding, or is just too younger, or has been kidnapped, so once more solely six are seen.
Above: An Australian Aboriginal interpretation of the constellation of Orion from the Yolngu individuals of Northern Australia. The three stars of Orion’s belt are three younger males who went fishing in a canoe, and caught a forbidden king-fish, represented by the Orion Nebula.
The misplaced sister
Related “misplaced Pleiad” tales are discovered in European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American and Aboriginal Australian cultures. Many cultures regard the cluster as having seven stars, however acknowledge solely six are usually seen, after which have a narrative to clarify why the seventh is invisible.
How come the Australian Aboriginal tales are so just like the Greek ones? Anthropologists used to assume Europeans may need introduced the Greek story to Australia, the place it was tailored by Aboriginal individuals for their very own functions.
However the Aboriginal tales appear to be a lot, a lot older than European contact. And there was little contact between most Australian Aboriginal cultures and the remainder of the world for a minimum of 50,000 years. So why do they share the identical tales?
Barnaby Norris and I recommend a solution in a paper to be revealed by Springer early subsequent 12 months in a guide titled Advancing Cultural Astronomy, a preprint for which is on the market right here.
All trendy people are descended from individuals who lived in Africa earlier than they started their lengthy migrations to the far corners of the globe about 100,000 years in the past. May these tales of the seven sisters be so outdated? Did all people carry these tales with them as they travelled to Australia, Europe, and Asia?
Above: The positions of the celebs within the Pleiades immediately and 100,000 years in the past. The star Pleione, on the left, was a bit additional away from Atlas in 100,000 BC, making it a lot simpler to see.
Cautious measurements with the Gaia area telescope and others present the celebs of the Pleiades are slowly transferring within the sky. One star, Pleione, is now so near the star Atlas they seem like a single star to the bare eye.
But when we take what we all know in regards to the motion of the celebs and rewind 100,000 years, Pleione was farther from Atlas and would have been simply seen to the bare eye. So 100,000 years in the past, most individuals actually would have seen seven stars within the cluster.
We consider this motion of the celebs may also help to clarify two puzzles: the similarity of Greek and Aboriginal tales about these stars, and the very fact so many cultures name the cluster “seven sisters” regardless that we solely see six stars immediately.
Is it potential the tales of the Seven Sisters and Orion are so outdated our ancestors had been telling these tales to one another round campfires in Africa, 100,000 years in the past? May this be the oldest story on this planet?
We acknowledge and pay our respects to the standard house owners and elders, each previous and current, of all of the Indigenous teams talked about on this paper. All Indigenous materials has been discovered within the public area.