EMU DREAMING – An Introduction to Aboriginal Astronomy

Posted: 4 februarie 2011 in astronomie/astrofizică


This book gives you an easy-to-read introduction to what we know about Aboriginal Astronomy, and the current state of research into this area.

Each of the 400 different Aboriginal cultures in Australia has a distinct mythology, ceremonies, and art forms, some of which have a strong astronomical component. Many share common traditions such as the “emu in the sky” constellation of dark clouds, and stories about the Sun, Moon, Orion, and the Pleiades. Several use the rising and setting of particular stars to indicate the time to harvest a food source, and some link the Sun and Moon to tides, and even explain eclipses as a conjunction of the Sun and Moon.

The Astronomy of Aboriginal Australians

by Professor Ray Norris, Australia Telescope National Facility, CSIRO

The ancient cultures of Aboriginal Australians have a strong astronomical component, linking their stories and ceremonies intimately with the sky, often in beautiful and fascinating ways. 

There are „constellations” such as the „emu in the sky” formed from the dark places between the visible stars. Songs and stories about the Sun, Moon, planets and stars connect ceremony and law to celestial cycles, providing essential tools for navigation, calendars, and life.

So were Aboriginal Australians the world’s first astronomers? We are trying to answer this question, using information from two main sources.

Once source consists of the thriving and vibrant Aboriginal cultures in the Top End of Australia, which embody an intimate knowledge of the sky. For example, the beautiful „morning star ceremony” is timed for the rising of Venus, while other stories explain tides and eclipses. Often the rising of particular stars or constellations were used to set the calendar, or warn when it’s time to move camp to harvest a seasonal food.

The other source consists of the artefacts of Aboriginal people of South East Australia. For example, crescent moons can be seen amongst the Sydney rock engravings, and an emu engraving seems to portray the „emu in the sky” rather than a real-life emu. One stone circle in Victoria appears to be oriented on the solstices and the equinox, and other stone arrangements seem carefully aligned on the cardinal points.

Aboriginal Astronomy is a new research field, but one which is rapidly growing, and perhaps helping us understand the depth and richness of Australian Indigenous cultures.

Ray Norris is an astrophysicist at the CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility (ATNF). Educated at Cambridge and Manchester, he has been Head of Astrophysics and Deputy Director of the ATNF, before returning to full-time research to study the formation and evolution of galaxies. He also researches the astronomy of Aboriginal Australians, for which he has been appointed as Adjunct Professor in the Dept. of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University.



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