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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Journal of Astronomy in Culture

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Astronomy, Indigenous Knowledge and Interpretation: Advancing studies of Cultural Astronomy in South Africa

The International Society for Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in Culture (ISAAC) Oxford X conference came to Africa for the first time in 2014. Oxford X exposed South African students and researchers to cultural astronomy data collection and analysis methods, as well as to potential mentors to further the goal of advancing the field. Cultural Astronomy studies in South Africa, however, remain in a nascent stage, which in some ways can be said for the entire field, but especially when it comes to studies of Africa. An overview of the debates within the field of cultural astronomy since the 1980s is presented along with ideas for advancing cultural astronomy in South Africa.

Viewing Formal Mathematics from Yoruba Conception of the Sky

Yoruba Cosmology resembles a generative system at the foundation of concepts. The traditional thought, which derives from the reality of the identical pair incorporated from cosmology into real life, exemplifies all kind of existing knowledge, culture and practices.  Previous studies by the author show in some detail the scientific interests in Yoruba cosmology. The present paper aims to view formal mathematics through the interpretation of Yoruba sky knowledge. It attempts to demonstrate that linguistic codes elaborated from the Yoruba conception of the sky are binary and hexadecimal codes that imply Algebraic Boolean structure or Group Structure. The system is in accord with classical mathematical properties of Group Structure. Finally, the review and interpretation of Yoruba cosmology may suggest the possibility of formal reasoning without any writing system in human history. The problem that has always been raised is that of knowing if symbols and configurations in the Yoruba interpretation of the sky are the result of implicit premeditated mathematical development. It is clear that behind the implicit oral discourse described hereafter lies a corresponding semiology elaborated with the corresponding formal mathematical reasoning that we claim.

Constellations and Time Keeping used by Indigenous Communities in the Northwestern Amazonian Region

This article is the result of research conducted from 2005 to 2007 in Brazil’s Amazon region. Relying on participant observation and ethnomathematics sources, on practical sky observation activities, and on classical sources about constellations observed in Brazil’s Amazon region, a sky mapping project was undertaken with Tukano, Desana and Tuyuka indigenous communities. At the Yupuri School, an astronomical calendar was created that integrates specific environmental and climate events based on descriptions of many constellations from different indigenous communities. This investigation found that in the northwest, Amazonian Indians mark rain periods, drought, planting and harvesting by the set and rise of major constellations. To complement these findings, non-Indian materials were also analyzed mainly from the researchers of the early 20th century who worked in the northwestern state of Amazonas.

Ojibwe Giizhiig Anung Masinaaigan and D(L)akota Makoċe Wiċaŋḣpi Wowapi: Revitalization of Native American Star Knowledge, A Community Effort

The Native Skywatchers research and programming initiative focuses on the revitalization of native star knowledge of the Ojibwe and Dakota people.  Activities include interviewing elders, culture and language teachers, and creating programming around traditional native star knowledge interlaced with Western science.  Star maps, curriculum, hands-on workshops, planetarium shows, and artwork have been designed and delivered.  Developed for native and non-native communities in light of the new Minnesota State Science Standards implemented in 2009, presented here are two native star maps that were created by the Native Skywatchers initiative: the Ojibwe Giizhig Anung Masinaaigan (or the Ojibwe Sky Star Map); and the D(L)akota Makoċe Wiċaŋḣpi Wowapi or (D(L)akota Star Map). This interdisciplinary project includes professional astronomers, professional artists, language and cultural experts, educators, community members and elders.

Discovering Discovery: Chich’en Itza, the Dresden Codex Venus Table and 10th Century Mayan Astronomical Innovation

A new reading of Dresden Codex Page 24, the “Preface” to the Venus Table, is presented, demonstrating a much-improved overall coherence.  This reading of hieroglyphic text, mathematical intervals, and calendric data specifically identifies the Mayan Long Count dates of the Venus Table’s historical correction.  The resulting Long Count placement of the manuscript’s Venus Table suggests that it was an indigenous astronomical discovery made at Chich’en Itza, possibly under the patronage of K’ak’ U Pakal K’awiil — one of the most prominent historical figures in the inscriptions of the city during its “epigraphic florescence.”  Revealing the logic underlying the construction of the page, the revised reading suggests a slightly less-accurate approximation to Venus’s synodic period than the traditional interpretation allows, but introduces a justification for the graphical layout of Page 24 that is more straightforward than traditional interpretations.

Solar Kingdom of Ryukyu: the formation of a Cosmovision in the Southern Islands of the Japanese Archipelago

On the Okinawa Island, the largest of the island chain, the Kingdom of Shuri was established around the 15th century A.D. Its political ideology was characterized by a Sun ritual, and the king was worshiped as a child of the Sun. Women had a sacred role on these islands, and priestesses had the role of introducing sacred power from the Sun to the royal palace. In the religious thought of this kingdom, Kudaka-jima Island was the most sacred. This tiny island in the southeastern sea off the shore of Okinawa Island occupied an important position in royal rituals, including an enthronement ceremony of the highest priestesses who were close kin of the king.  In the Urasoe Dynasty, predecessor of the Shuri Dynasty, it was possible to see the rising Sun of the December solstice behind the Kudaka-jima Island, and the ritual on the December solstice was probably performed for the re-birth of the king. During the proceeding Gusuku Period between the 13th and the 14th centuries, several castles were constructed there with gates that opened toward the June solstice. This custom was meant to introduce the strongest power of the Sun into the sacred place of the castle.  On Kudaka-jima Island facing these castles, there is a folk belief in celebrating both June and December solstices. This paper traces the process in which a primary folk belief of the Sun had been transformed into a political ideology in which the king himself became the Sun, radiating the land and the people.