88 Constellations

I don’t know how many constellations I thought there were. 12? 24? I assume over the last quarter million years humans have ascribed a nearly infinite number of patterns to the scatterings of stars.

Today I learned that the International Astronomical Union officially recognizes 88 constellations. (Including the Serpent which seems pretty unimaginative, but it’s part of a larger constellation known as the Serpent Bearer.)

If I read the following correctly it sounds like a little over half were named by those living around the Mediterranean during the early bronze age, and the rest were named by Europeans during the second wave of European colonialism.

“Over half of the 88 constellations the IAU recognizes today are attributed to ancient Greek, which consolidated the earlier works by the ancient Babylonian, Egyptian and Assyrian. Forty eight of the constellations we know were recorded in the seventh and eighth books of Claudius Ptolemy’s Almagest, although the exact origin of these constellations still remains uncertain. Ptolemy’s descriptions are probably strongly influenced by the work of Eudoxus of Knidos in around 350 BC. Between the 16th and 17th century AD, European astronomers and celestial cartographers added new constellations to the 48 previously described by Ptolemy; these new constellations were mainly “new discoveries” made by the Europeans who first explored the southern hemisphere.” [source]

I googled around a bit for decolonizing cosmography and its variants and discovered Baltimore artist René Treviño has thinking about decolonizing the constellations, and discusses his work in this Walters Art Museum video.

I also found this very cool paper from 2012 titled An Early American Zodiac. In the article Robert McIvor proposes the following 13 Zodiac animals for the Aztecs:

  • python
  • vulture
  • scorpion
  • turtle
  • rattlesnake
  • lizard
  • jaguar
  • death
  • deer
  • frog
  • bird
  • peccary
  • butterfly

While the Aztecs had 18 months in their calendar, the author makes his case for thirteen Zodiac animals.

And, before I had to stop goofing around on the internet for the day, I found Native Skywatchers, a site created by Annette S. Lee to highlight indigenous stories of the celestial night sky.

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 079 of 100)

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