My computer's hard drive died, so I am working, slowly, from a backup machine while I shop for a new computer, since the other parts, like the keyboard, the monitor, and the touch pad, aren't working so well either. The last time this happened, last year, I received a one-year warranty on the hard drive, and it lasted ten whole days past the end of the warranty before crapping out. Anyway, on to today's issue...
Regular readers will remember that last year a team of Australian researchers alleged that an Aboriginal Australian story accurately recalled the eruption of Budj Bim 37,000 years ago. Prior to that, Australian linguist Nicholas Reid claimed that Aboriginal oral history accurately recorded the state of the continent's coastlines ten thousand year ago. Now, another Australian has a new claim to beat them both.
Australian astrophysicist Richard Norris claims that Aboriginal traditions prove that the Pleiades received their common name, "The Seven Sisters," fully 100,000 years ago. Live Science reports that he made the claim in an article accepted for publication but not yet published in a scholarly journal. According to Norris, the presence of similar traditions among Aboriginal Australians and elsewhere in the world suggests that the name originated before Aboriginal Australians traveled to Australia. This places the origin of the name 100,000 year ago, in his estimation.
Norris bases his claim on the appearance of an Aboriginal story of Orion chasing the Pleiades across the sky, a story similar to one from Greek mythology. He claims that the story is too "embedded" in several Aboriginal Australian cultures (whatever that means) to have been the product of cultural diffusion from Europeans or white Australians. I would doubt that, since stories can and do change very quickly. Consider, for example, the "traditional" Native American stories about dinosaurs and woolly mammoths that were only recorded after paleontologists began unearthing the prehistoric creatures. Or, consider, the claims on Ancient Aliens that oral traditions record visits from spacemen, another set of supposedly traditional stories that did not exist before the 1960s. A hallmark of oral history is its adaptation, revising and rewriting material to meet modern needs. To prove a story is 100,000 years old needs more than faith.
Norris also alleges that the Seven Sisters usually appear as six stars in the modern era due to the brightness of the star Atlas, which sometimes--though he concedes not always--masks nearby Pleione. He claims that 100,000 years ago they were farther apart and more obviously two stars.
Live Science included a fairly convincing debunking of Norris's claims:
While noting that it's a "fun and evocative idea," astronomer and archaeo-historian Bradley Schaefer of Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, who was not involved in the work, did not think the explanation likely.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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