a students' magazine

Watching the sky in Australia: the discovery of an ancient astronomical observatory

Hello everybody!  Are you ready for journey into history?;-)

 Recently a very ancient stone arrangement, supposed to be an ancient  astronomical observatory,  has been discovered in the region of Victoria, in Australia. The investigation was led by a British astrophysicist, Ray Norris, supported by a team of archeologists and Aboriginal advisers, and the discovery of this place has been reported in a long article by the BBC. Actually, the place had already been discovered by European settlers, who had come to  Australia during the 19th century,  but only recently experts have recognized  its importance.

These megalithic stones haven’t been dated yet, but observing how deep the stones  have been set  in the ground, experts think they could even be 20,000 years old, so older than Stonehenge, the astronomical observatory famous all over the world, set on Salisbury plain , near Amesbury, England, which dates back to the Neolithic period (about 4000 b.C)!

The stones found in Australia are arranged in order to describe an elliptical figure which is very similar to that of an egg , 50 metres wide and made up of 100 basalt megaliths; being an astronomical observatory, the position of these stones is not casual: the tips of the ellipse, in fact, represent the points where the sun sets during the summer and the winter solstice, which are the longest and the shortest days of the year, while the axis of the figure, connecting the top to the bottom,  represents the position of the sun during the equinoxes, in which the day has the same length of the night; this correlation between the arrangement of the stones and the correspondence to the positions of the sun during the solstices and the equinoxes has been proved by Norris and the other searchers thanks to NASA technological instruments.

The megalithic complex, whose name is Wurdi Youang, was probably built by the Wadda Wurrung, the traditional inhabitants of that area, and its meaning is unknown because of the disappearance of the their language and culture. But how can  it be possible that such heavy stones are aligned in a such precise way? Unfortunately, we haven’t many documents about Aboriginal culture, so this fact is still a mystery; however, according to other studies, some of the songs and popular Aboriginal tales tell us about the incredible knowledge that these populations had about the movements of the sun, the moon and the stars in the sky (for example, in a fantastic tale they actually introduced the concept of solar eclipse, which in Europe was officially confirmed much after, in the 16th century). This further confirms the idea of the researchers that the arrangement of these megaliths is not a coincidence.

But what are the consequences of this amazing discovery? Well, probably, it will change the way in which the Aboriginal populations and in general primitive societies are often seen and judged by the people of our century. On the other hand, history is full of examples of ancient populations that, despite the age in which they lived, were very evolved  in their way of thinking, culture, knowledge of nature and scientific subjects as Mathematics and, like in this case, Astronomy (we can think of  the Mayas, Incas and Aztecs, to remember only some of the most studied cultures of the past).

In my opinion, history has taught and still has to teach us a lot.

And you? What do you think about this astronomical observatory? What are your considerations about  this discovery?


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