Star Clusters

How did ancient people use the Pleiades to mark seasons and calendar cycles?

On the other side of the globe, there is an Australian aboriginal folktale about the Pleiades that portrays the stars as a group of women being chased by a man named Kulu. Two lizard men, together known as Wati-kutjara, came to the rescue of the women. They threw their boomerangs at Kulu and killed him. The blood drained from Kulu’s face, and he turned white and rose up into the sky to become the Moon. The lizard men became the constellation Gemini, and the women turned into the Pleiades.

In many ancient cultures, the Pleiades was associated with the changing of the seasons. That is because in Earth’s northern hemisphere the Pleiades becomes visible in the sky at dawn in the spring and at sunset in the fall. This led it to be a symbol of the times of sowing and harvest. The ancient Aztecs of Mexico based their fifty-two-year calendar cycle on the position of the Pleiades. They began each new cycle when the Pleiades ascended to a position directly overhead at the sky’s zenith. At midnight on that day, the Aztecs performed an elaborate ritual celebrating the heavens and the earth.


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