(ORDO NEWS) — In December, a beautiful cluster of stars known as the Pleiades, or “seven sisters”, is clearly visible in the sky. Look closely and you will surely count six stars. So why do we say there are seven of them?
Many ancient sources around the world call the Pleiades “seven sisters” and tell very similar stories about them. According to astronomers, these stories may date back to a period of 100,000 years ago, when the constellation looked very different.
In Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the titan Atlas from his consort Pleiones, the Oceanian. The Pleiades were called Atlantis by their father, the Romans called them Virgils of the Atlas of Titan. He was forced to support heaven forever and therefore could not protect his daughters. To save the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus turned them into stars. But the story goes that one sister fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, so we only see six stars.
A similar story is observed in legends among Aboriginal groups throughout Australia. In many Australian Aboriginal cultures, the Pleiades are a group of young girls who are often associated with sacred women’s ceremonies and stories. The Pleiades are also important as an element of Aboriginal calendars and astronomy, and for some groups their first ascent at dawn marks the beginning of winter.
The constellation Orion is located in the sky next to the Seven Sisters. In Greek mythology, Orion is a hunter. This constellation is also often a hunter in Aboriginal cultures or a group of lustful young people.
Orion was regarded by people in central Australia as a “woman hunter,” especially the Pleiades women. Many Aboriginal stories say that Orion boys or men are chasing seven sisters – and one of the sisters died, or is hiding, or too young, or was kidnapped, so now only six sisters are visible.
Similar stories of the “lost galaxy” are found in the cultures of Europe, Africa, Asia, Indonesia, Native Americans and Australian Aborigines. Many cultures view the cluster as having seven stars, but admit that only six are usually visible, and then offer a story explaining why the seventh star is invisible.
An interesting question arises – how did the peoples scattered across the globe and located on different continents who did not contact each other knew that there were exactly seven Pleiades, but one “escaped” and therefore only six of them are visible in the sky?
Why are Australian Aboriginal stories so similar to the Greek ones? Anthropologists thought that Europeans could have brought Greek history to Australia, where the Aborigines adapted it for their own purposes. But Aboriginal stories are much older than European contacts. And there has been little contact between most Australian Aboriginal cultures and the rest of the world for at least 50,000 years. So why do they share the same stories?
Barnaby Norris and a group of researchers suggested the answer in the article “The Development of Cultural Astronomy.” Their hypothesis is as follows:
All modern humans descended from people who lived in Africa before they began their long migrations to the far corners of the globe about 100,000 years ago. All people dispersed around the world from one place and carried these stories of the “Seven Sisters” with them, traveling through Australia, Europe and Asia.
Careful measurements with the Gaia Space Telescope and other observatories show that the Pleiades stars move slowly across the sky. One star, Pleione, is now so close to Atlas that it looks like a single star to the naked eye.
But if we take what we know about the motion of the stars and rewind back 100,000 years, Pleione was farther from the Atlas and would be easily visible to the naked eye. So 100,000 years ago, most people actually saw seven stars in the Pleiades cluster.
This movement of the stars may help explain two mysteries: the similarity of the Greek and Aboriginal stories about these stars, and the fact that many cultures refer to the cluster as the “seven sisters,” even though today we only see six stars.
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