|12 February 2011
Stone ring may prove early Aborigines were astronomers
Is it just a pile of rocks placed in a semicircle, or proof that Aborigines were astronomers since ancient times? After years of meticulous examination, a group of Australia's most distinguished astro-physicists is starting to believe it's the latter.
Dubbed Wurdi Youang, the egg-shaped ring of stones, about 50m in diameter, has its major axis almost exactly East-West. At its Western end, at the highest point of the circle, are three prominent waist-high stones. In 2003, J. Morieson pointed out that some outlying stones to the West of the circle, as viewed from these three stones, seem to indicate the setting positions of the Sun at the equinoxes and solstices. In a study published five years later, astro-physicist Professor Ray Norris from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) et other researchers confirmed these alignments, showing that the straight sides of the circle also indicate the solstices.
Norris said the precise alignment of the stones proved it was constructed to map the movements of the sun. "This can't be done by guesswork, it required very careful measurements. If it goes back, let's say, 10,000 years, that predates the Egyptians, the Pyramids, Stonehenge, all that stuff," Norris said, adding that "There's enough evidence there that it looks like these people really did know about these special directions. The problem with all of this stuff is you are never 100% certain - are we constructing something with our 21st century minds that wasn't actually intended by the people who built it?"
In fact, skeptics raise some doubts: the outliers at Wurdi Youang are only accurate to a few degrees and being relatively small, they could have been moved. Third, besides the outliers indicating the solstices and equinox, there is an additional outlier whose significance is unclear. In any case, other stone arrangements in Victoria also indicate the cardinal points, from which we may conclude that the local Aboriginal people knew these directions with some precision, presumably by observing celestial bodies.
Edited from The Daily Telegraph, News.com.au (5 February 2011), Australian Aboriginal Astronomy, The Age.com.au
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