In the 21st Century, star registration has become a practice easily managed in the digital realm. Our very own star register is primarily based on the online, with the need for a paper trail almost vanquished by the power of the computer.
Yet it was not always so. star registration has its roots going back millennia and the ancient people long before modern astronomy did not have the advantage of specific technological advances that we take for granted. Yet it was these same societies that paved the way for the techniques of star registration as we know it.
So how did they do it? We'll take a brief look at the history of star registration and the ancient people who named stars with for special occasions with a significant meaning behind them.
Star Registration and Pre-history
From the first moments when humanity began to become self-aware, it has known of these strange glints of light which hang in the night sky. To register a star in these early times was to be able to literally spot it and distinguish it from others. What names in some unknown primitive language did early humanity give to the stars? Was there any kind of practice of star registration?
At this point, we can only speculate as the answers to those questions are lost to history. However, we do know that stone age man did place a lot of value in tracking the cycle of the summer and winter solstice. Using the Neolithic Britons as an example, it’s generally accepted that Stonehenge was used to help in tracking the position of the sun throughout the year.
For a society that was highly depended on the success of agriculture, this was essential to surviving. Knowing the right time to plant crops was crucial, planting at the wrong time could very easily lead to a famine which would carry the risk of wiping out the population. While this and other systems used by other early humans were not overly sophisticated by modern standards, it highlights an important fact that would lead to the very art of star registration as we know it; Early humans were capable of recognising patterns with the movement of the sun and were able to use this to plan how their year was structured. It lays the groundwork for how the civilisations that followed would track the stars and begin their own journey of star registration.
Star Registration and Ancient Civilizations
When humanity had successfully mastered agriculture we tended to settle in a single location permanently usually a farming village. Said villages lead to towns, towns lead to cities, connected cities lead to civilizations and thus humanity began developing more complex social and economic systems to maintain growing populations. The most famous of the early civilizations being Mesopotamia and Babylon. The Babylonians were among the first people who began to develop writing and they have some of the earliest recorded star catalogues which have been verified by modern astronomers as being highly accurate with their tracking of the movements of the stars and planets. These notes were so accurate that they could successfully predict daily, monthly, and yearly positions of a multitude celestial objects, showcasing that the Babylonians were highly adept at star registration.
Following on from the groundwork of Mesopotamia, the ancient Egyptians had a more religious function with their astronomy practices and star registration. One important thing they used the tracking the stars for was to predict the flooding of the Nile, which was essential in maintaining their crop supply.
Star Registration and the Classical Period
The next big leaps in star registration would come from the ancient Greeks. We even get the word Planet from the Greeks, “πλανήτης” (planētēs), meaning "wanderer". What made the Greeks so influential in the development of the star registration field was their attempts to build a model of the universe that could account what they observed. This was developed from the astronomical data that they reaped from the conquered civilisations of Egypt and Babylon.
They helped to anticipate the many ideas of modern astronomy, such as a Heliocentric model of the solar system (the model that describes the planets including earth rotating around the sun, instead of the sun & planets rotating around Earth), many years before Copernicus was able to prove it. Countless examples of their advancements in mathematics remain essential today in tracking the movement of the stars and star registration. Much of the Greek Mythologies were said to have been told in the stars as well and these continue to ensure to this very day.
By 146 BCE Rome had conquered the Greek city-states and the Romans became the dominant power in that region of the world. The Romans stagnated somewhat in the field of astronomy, making no notable advancements on what the Greeks had developed, yet the Romans did apply this knowledge and did have a good understanding of it. Thus their form of star registration took on a more mystical form, tied intimately to their own culture and religion. It wouldn't be until the Renaissance period that Europe would begin to make significant advancements in the art of star registration.
Star Registration in Asia and the Middle East.
While Europe entered the dark ages after the fall of the Roman Empire, the art of star registration was advanced by the civilizations in Asia and the Middle East. In China, their legacy of star registration went as far back as the 4th century BC with hundreds of years of detailed observations. It also believed by modern astronomers that the Chinese made the first observation of a supernova in 185 AD, referred to by Chinese astronomers as "unexpected stars".
In India, the astronomer Aryabhata managed to conclude that the Earth was rotating on its axis and also calculated the rotation time with almost total accuracy. Aryabhata’s work influenced many other Indian astronomers for years to come, all keen to improve the effectiveness and accuracy of Star registration, moving away from a mythical view and adopting a more scientific approach.
The Islamic world followed on from these advancements from India and combined them with the Greek discoveries, which worked to improve and develop their ideas. This was all part of an effort to rely much more on empirical evidence gained through observation and experiments instead of philosophy.
This social and scientific investment in astronomy remained a constant throughout the medieval ages and lead to the creation of some of the most advanced astronomical observatories, making star registration more effective than ever! The first of these being the Maragheh observatory, built in the 13th century.
Star Registration The Americas (Pre-colonisation)
While all the cultures mentioned above were very different and distinct from each other, they all were able to communicate and exchange ideas of Star Registration to a degree because there was a land bridge or an easily crossable body of water. The same could not be said of the American populations who were totally isolated and thus developed their own traditions for star registration.
The Mayan developed their famous Mayan Calendar from very detailed observations regarding the motion of the Sun, the Moon, the stars and the other planets. Like the Maya, the Inca also had their own calendars developed from careful observations of the sky. The Pleiades star cluster held a particular special significance for them and was said to indicate whether they would experience ample rainfall or a drought in the coming year. The Incas also used what they gleaned from star registration to determine when the most appropriate time would be to plant and harvest crops. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain exactly what the Inca are said to have understood as most of their knowledge about star registration culture was lost when the Inca Empire was destroyed at the hands of the invading Spanish conquistadors.
The Indian Tribes of North America were more rooted in oral tradition passing on their knowledge of the stars through stories and legends. Nevertheless, the Pawnee tribe has a star registration tradition where they used a group of stars called “The Council of Chiefs” (the Corona Borealis) to assist them in setting their agricultural patterns. There have been discoveries of petroglyphs and pictographs from other Native American tribes which show astronomical events such as eclipses and even a supernova.
More next week!
The history of star registration doesn’t end here though! Next week we’ll track the progress of star registration from the European dark ages up to the present day! You can find part two right here!
If you fancy winning your very own Star, check out this competition Instagram user @raisingrupert is hosting for us! You find the link for it here!
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