Astronomy and Civilization

How long has mankind sat and looked at the stars, wondering about the universe and searching for truths? What effect has astronomy had upon the world as we know it today? Whole cultures rose and fell based upon celestial happenings. Just how important was ancient astronomy?

First, think about religions, a major factor in the world as it developed and exists today. Ancient civilizations used the stars to tell their stories and pass on their religions. How long have we been doing this? Longer than anyone knows! Several constellations and their stories are virtually the same throughout the world. Leo the Lion was the Crouching Panther to the Incas and a “Great Tiger” to Asians, but was always a giant cat. There are also birds, hunters and naked ladies running across the heavens, with most cultures using the same stars for the same things. They indicate a common beginning, but are these important?

These stories were used to perpetuate religion, teach the seasons and navigate across the deserts and over the open seas.

Religion gives morels and teaches the patterns by which people should live. It has helped to plan out lives and tries to predict the future. Newspapers today still practice the ancient art of “casting” horoscopes, though most don’t take them as seriously as the Romans! The Catholic Church published a book, “God’s Voice in the Heavens”, to tell about Christianity by using the stars; Islam had a ban on viewing images in the heavens as it might lead to the worship of ancient gods. Virtually every single culture looks to the stars to try to find God and determine His will!

The stars were important for determining the seasons. The Canuck Indians of North America felt that when the great bear was rising, Earth would be “springing to life”, time to plant. Winter was barren because the bear had been shot and was cold and lifeless. Many African tribes also learn to plant using astronomy. If people had been unable to reliably plant and harvest crops, would the world be like it is today? There would certainly be a lot less people!

Astronomy was, and still is, important for navigating today. Without navigation, there could be no trading of supplies and goods, or of ideas! People moved around and thus the world changed and progressed. Without new ideas, civilizations stagnated and died. Polaris, the North Star was always steady and showed the ancient travelers the way home.

“When you wish upon a star, it matters not just who you are” is a nursery rhyme throughout time that goes back to those Ancient Astronomers. The study of the stars has helped create the world as we know it today, and as we will see it tomorrow!