Monday, February 1, 2021

7 Sister stars reduced to 6

Why do faraway cultures have similar names for constellations in the night sky, and similar myths also?

New research tries to trace one myth:

Many cultures around the world refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters”, and also tell quite similar stories about them. After studying the motion of the stars very closely, we believe these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation looked quite different.

In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was forced to hold up the sky for eternity, and was therefore unable to protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus transformed them into stars. But the story says one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is why we only see six stars.

If so, this would be the oldest story on Earth.

They argue in their paper:

From 50,000 BC onwards the Aboriginal people enjoyeda continuous, unbroken culture, with very little contact without outsiders, other than annual visits from Macassan trepang-collectors to the far north of Australia over the last few hun-dred years. Aboriginal culture evolved continuously, withno discontinuities or significant outside influences, until thearrival of the British in 1788, making Aboriginal Australiansamong the oldest continuous cultures in the world (McNiven& Russell, 2005).

When the Australians and Europeans were last together, in 100,000 BC, the Pleiades would have appeared as seven stars. Given that both cultures refer to them as “Seven Sisters”,and that their stories about them are so similar, the evidenceseems to support the hypothesis that the “Seven Sisters” story predates the departure of the Australians and Europeans from Africa in 100,000 BC.

Maybe Orion just looks like a hunter, and multiple cultures independently came to that conclusion? That is hard to believe, but it is also hard to see how one story could travel the whole Earth and persist for 1000s of years, without anyone ever writing it down.

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