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Explorations in the world of science.


Aboriginal Astronomy

October 3rd, 2011

Episode 96 of 558 episodes

Were Australia's prehistoric Aboriginal people the world's first true astronomers, predating European and ancient Greek and Indian astronomers by thousands of years? The stunning discovery of what is being called an "Aboriginal Stonehenge", the first of its kind to be found in Australia, could change that continent's history and with it our whole understanding of how and when humans began to accurately chart the night skies. The 50 metre egg-shaped arrangement of stones in a farmer's field in Victoria, was forgotten after the arrival of European settlers some 200 years ago and until recently overgrown by meadow grass. Now, the site called Wurdi Youang has got Aborigines and astronomers scratching their heads. How did its stones come to be perfectly aligned with summer and winter Solstices and the autumn and winter Equinoxes, like Britain's 4,500 year-old Stonehenge? The problem is that there are very few Aboriginal records in the literature and nobody left to explain what they meant and what they were used for. What is becoming clear is that Australia's ancient indigenous people had a command of astronomy and mathematics, and ability to observe and keep accurate astronomical records. The stones at Wurdi Youang will be a test of Australia's scientists and of Australia’s willingness to properly appreciate its ancient indigenous past.