AAS 196th Meeting, June 2000
Session 14. SOFIA, Clusters, Education and History
Oral, Monday, June 5, 2000, 10:00-11:30am, Highland C/H

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[14.07] Prehistoric Astronomy in China

B.C. Chiu (Arlington, MA)

We do not have definite proof, but the situation is very interesting, so here is a summary of what we have from calculations and literature research. The ancient Classics of China were written in an archaic, terse language. But the philologist, Bernhard Karlgren, was able to argue that the constellations, (Niao, Huo, Hsu, Mao) were what the oldest stories referred to when the Sage Yao gave directions for agriculture by use of astronomy. Huo and Mao are now well-identified as the asterisms, Antares and the Pleiades. And using tables of precession, which we now have, we find that the text gives a date thousands of years earlier than previously thought. Together with results from studies in prehistory in the last two decades, we can form a plausible picture of how the Pleiades, and then Antares were observed, telling of the beginning of warming, and then the beginning of harvest.

We have had at least two obstacles to overcome: one, we had to show the stories were written earlier than one thousand years ago because the Chinese knew of precession then and could have made up the story. Secondly, that the `culmination' written about by Joseph Needham probably referred to a much later time.

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