Japan’s legacy of the celestial cultural complex of Eurasia

Gold-leaf marked star chart mural of Kitora tomb (Photo: Asuka Village Education Board)

Japan has many prehistoric stone circles, dolmens, rock alignments and tombs with painting murals with stars or star charts. These relics are a legacy from the vast pan-Eurasian cultural complex. Often identified with the Scythian nomadic culture, the cultural legacy encompasses a lot more than the oft-highlighted nomadic art and jewellery seen in museums, including a celestial cosmology-cosmogony and worldview, astronomical knowledge and calendrical techniques, and megalithic technology.

Big Dipper?-incised-pottery from Tomb no. 2, Donohara iseki, Tottori Prefecture (Late Yayoi Period)

Somewhere in Eurasia is the probable birthplace of astronomy and megalithic culture. Mesopotamia has long been regarded one of the four cradles of civilization and the birthplace of ancient astronomy. But there is no longer consensus today that Mesopotamia is either of those things. There are now, in fact, other contenders for the honour of both of those titles.

Above: Achiyadaira stone circle site, Asahi, Niigata Prefecture

Megalithic culture, religion and astronomical beliefs

It is highly probable that the many menhir or standing stones and stone circles found in various parts of Japan, the dolmens in Kyushu and tombs with mural paintings including stars and constellations (the most notable examples being that of the Kitora Kofun and the Takamatsu Kofun), and the ancient star observatory that existed in Asuka, Japan in 675 AD (which is said to be modeled on the Chomsongdae one in Kyongju, Korea) — are all a part of the entire pan-Eurasian megalithic complex of stone henges or circles and dolmens which can be found in Russia, the Altai-Caucasus-Mongolian steppes, Manchuria, Vietnam, Korea-Japan and island South East Asia.

LEFt: MAP OF MEGALITHS IN SOUTHERN JAPAN

RIGHT: KUBOIZUMI-MARUYAMA DOLMEN PARK

Dolmens were the manifestations of the ‘megalithic’ global culture closely connected to the Neolithic and Bronze Age cultures across the world during the 2nd and 1st millennia B.C. Between 3,000 and 2,000 B.C., funerary and ritual monuments constructed of large stones (the “Megalithic Culture”) emerged and became landmarks on a global scale.  They are to be found in western China (Tibet, Sichuan and Gansu) and the coastal areas of the Yellow Sea basin (Shandong peninsula, north-western Kyushu). They arrived in the Korean Peninsula with the Bronze Age.

The prehistoric cemeteries at Gochang, Hwasun and Ganghwa contain many hundreds of examples of dolmens – tombs from the 1st millennium BC with the Korean Hwansun dolmen site claiming the earliest dates of 2,500 B.C. Dolmens at Daeshin-ri, Hwasun were radiocarbon dated to 2,500 ±80B.C. The Chungnim-ri group in Gochang is considered to date from around the 7th century BC. The greatest density of the megaliths is concentrated in Korea and Korean dolmens are estimated to number between 40,000-80,000.  According to the World Heritage Hwasun Dolmen Park site in Korea, the Asian group of dolmens resemble most closely the dolmens of the Russian Caucasus which has 2,400 known dolmens and which are thought to have emerged around mid-3,000 B.C.

Dolmen at Chukrimri-Gochang, Jeolla-bukdo, South Korea (Photo: Wikimedia)

Korean astronomy

In the online book “Fifty Wonders of Korea, Vol. 2. Science and Technology“, we may learn the following: “The Babylonian boundary-stones of Mesopotamia, with engraved images of  dogs, snakes, scorpions, and other symbolic creatures, were generally believed to be mankind’s earliest depictions of the stars. Hence, the Mesopotamian region has been regarded as the birthplace of ancient astronomy, and one of the four cradles of human civilization. However, recent research has confirmed that images  of constellations found on dolmens near the Taedong River date from 3000 BC, preceding the Babylonian charts by some 1800 years. In his book  The Seven Wonders of Korea, Professor Lee Jong-ho claims “The dolmen constellations provide concrete evidence that the ancient Koreans were leaders in cultural development together with the four cradles of civilization, and that these constellations are a significant scientific heritage, on a scale comparable to the wonders of the world. The dolmens with engravings of astronomical charts  are found mostly in Pyongyang, and number around 200. … Close examination of the arrangement of holes, however, revealed they were a representation of the constellations around the North Star.  The most well-known of these constellation patterns is found on the surface of a dolmen from Woesae Mountain in the South Pyongan Province. The cover stone of the dolmen tomb bears 80 holes, with a central hole representing the North Pole, and the others making up 11 different constellations. The size of the holes also varies throughout according to luminosity (brighter stars are larger), and when the observations were dated, taking the precession of equinoxes into account, it was determined that they represented the night sky from 2800 BC1. Constellation patterns found on a dolmen stone from the Pyongwon district in the South Pyongan Province were estimated to have been inscribed around 2500 BC, whilst the dolmen constellation found in the Hamju district of the South Hamgyong Province is dated to 1500 BC. When we look at the latter chart from the Hamju district, we can see that it is more accurate than the maps from previous eras. For instance, the holes corresponding to Great Bear and the Little Bear are more accurately distanced with reference to the pole star than in the Pyongwon chart, and stars down to the 4th-magnitude have been included. In total, 40 constellations are displayed on the 200 dolmens in the valley of the Taedong River, including 28 from the regions around the pole star, skyline and equator. These include all the constellations visible at night from Pyongyang at 39 degrees north latitude, as well as the Milky Way and clusters of the Pleiades (the Seven Sisters). The charting of so many stars, before the invention of telescopes, is an unmatched feat in the history of astronomy.

The history of astronomy in Korea is rich and varied, with over 20,000 observations of astronomical phenomena accumulated  over the course of 2,000 years. These records are a valuable source for modern astronomers, firstly for their historical reach, and secondly for their reliability. Of the main nations of East Asia, for example, Korean records of solar eclipses show the highest rate of accuracy.

The history of classical Korean astronomy spans over two millennia. Evidence of this past can still be seen today, such as Chomsongdae, the world’s oldest surviving observatory, and the star maps from the megalithic and Three Kingdoms period. …

Koreans paid close attention to celestial phenomena, as they believed that events in the sky were a mirror and guide for earthly affairs. Chomsongdae, the world’s oldest observatory, was built during the Silla period, and is rich in astronomical symbolism as well as being carefully designed for its scientific purpose. Built in the palace grounds, it was tall enough to offer a wide and unobstructed view of the heavens.

Why did Koreans observe and document celestial phenomena so carefully?

As a society, they believed that man should live in harmony with Nature. In the official  History of Koryo (918~1392), there is a section entitled the  Book of Astronomy which provides 5,000 highly reliable astronomical records taken during the dynasty. The foreword to the book states the reason for its publication as follows:

With signs thus expressed, the Heavens show fortune and misfortune, /

And the wise will give heed to what they show.

The belief expressed here is that the Heavens are like a mirror reflecting the human world, and they reveal good and evil through events and transformations in the celestial world. Therefore, the wise always pay attention to the Heavens as the world’s reflection, and try to understand its meaning and humbly follow its will.” (End of excerpt – source: Fifty Wonders of Korea)

Cheomseongdae – the world’s oldest surviving observatory

In the book “Ancient Solar Astronomy“, ancient Korea’s achievements in astronomy are noted thus:

“Perhaps the most noteworthy achievements of this period were the invention of  many  ingenious instruments for astronomy and horology,  as  described  in  The Hall  of Heavenly  Records,  compiled by Joseph Needham and other scholars (Cambridge University Press,  1986).

During his reign King Sejong also built a Royal observatory in the main palace  of  Seoul. He  arranged a series  of  astronomical and horological devices around the Kyonghoeru Pond in Kyongbok Palace. These included a simplified armillary sphere, a self-striking clock, a ”jade clock”, and a 40-foot high bronze gnomon to measure the exact altitude of the Sun. At least four kinds  of  sundials were invented under King Sejong’s reign. The most  distinguished is a sundial, shaped like a bowl. None  of the original sundials have survived. The peak of astronomical and calendarial advances made during this period was the compilation in 1442A.D.  of  a Korean version of the traditional calendar, called Ch’ilchongsan (on the calculations of the Luminaries). This work made it possible for scientists to calculate and accurately predict major heavenly phenomena, such  as  solar eclipses and other stellar movements.”

Chinese astronomy

A stone circle in Shaanxi, China (Photo: Wikimedia)

Close by to Korea, in what is now known as Shanxi Province China, stone circles, rarely to be seen, are found. More significantly, Chinese archaeologists have unearthed at the Taosi site the world’s earliest astronomical observatory and using 14C analysis dated it back to about 2,100 B.C.  The ancient observatory was a platform used not only to determine the seasons by watching the sunrise, but also for sacrificial rites.

The site belongs to the Longshan Culture (3000B.C.-2000 B.C.), the earliest cultivators of silk worms and also one of the earliest rice cultivating sites. The Chinese made the first record of the eclipse of the sun in 2136 B.C. And during the Han dynasty, (104 BCE – 220 CE) the astronomer Qi Meng is said to have promoted (or rejuvenated) a cosmic theory that had the planets, the Sun and stars floating freely in “infinite, empty space” and Chinese astronomers and astrologers depicted in their Horoscope the influences they saw coming from cyclical alignments (with base of 12 years maybe at early times and which is equal to the sunspot cycle, the sun `weather’ cycle and the sun’s magnetic field cycle) of the solar system’s planetary bodies. Like the Sumerians, the Chinese devised a Zodiac system and both the Chinese and Babylonians used the 19 year Sun-Moon cycle in their calculations – by the 6th Century B.C. Astronomical observation and the making of calendars are hallmarks of a civilization, so the Chinese or proto-Chinese Neolithic Culture may justifiably be considered one of the contenders for the birthplace of astronomy or of civilization.  The Longshan Culture may have influenced the development of both early Korean and Yayoi cultures of Japan given the cultural similarities in the grave goods of both cultures: the painted wooden coffins, jade, lacquer, copper bells and ritual black pottery.

Western Caucasus and Thracian-Bulgarian and Anatolian dolmens

Oven-like and holed dolmens are characteristic dolmens of the upper Kuban, Upper Black Sea coasts to the West  (said to number 3,000 or more), and in the Crimea and extend across the Caucasus (See Megalithic Galleries). In the Northwest Caucasus, there are five dolmen fields in what is the ancestral home of the Adyghe-Abkhaz tribes (formerly known as the Circassians) with about 200 whole and partly ruined dolmens. The Caucasus dolmens are said to have early archaeological dates from 8000BC as well as Bronze Age dates (Markovin) 7th-6th c.BC for North Caucasus dolmens.

A dolmen in the Caucasus complex, Zhane river , Russia

A dolmen in the Caucasus complex, near the Zhane river , Russia

Much more study needs to be made to look at the possible connection in terms of provenance of the Korean (and Japanese) dolmens (and astronomy) with the numerous dolmens and other megaliths that dot the landscape along the Eastern coast of the Black Sea, to see which megliths are older and study if the ancient builders might have been a bridge between East and West — see Bulgarian dolmens or vice versa. (Human genetic affinities have already been established for the Korean and Japanese with a population cline that begins from the Caucasus.)

The Bronze and Iron Age dolmens and other monuments dot the western Caucasus in groups of two to 500 laid out in square, trapezoidal, and circular plans. They are sometimes decorated with geometric designs whose meanings are unknown. It is thought the dolmens, which number in the thousands, were used for both burial and ritual purposes (Source: New Life for Caucasus Megaliths Archaeology 1999).

11th – 6th c. B.C. dolmens appear as a compact group in an area of Bulgaria contiguous to Thracian or Anatolian-Turkey, in which Anatolian-type objects were found (see Ancient Greeks West and East, p. 472 and Dolmens of Eastern Thrace, Lalapasha, Turkey). Bulgarian dolmens and Anatolian Thracian dolmens always occur in the presence of rock-cut tombs. The presumption made here is that dolmen technology came from Anatolia.

In Dolmens: Journey to the Cradle the Russians posit a rather different and possibly over-reaching theory of origins for the broad swathe of dolmen-building civilizations:

“it has already been precisely cleared up that the earliest world megaliths are in the West  Europe (Pyrenean peninsula and Brittany) their antiquity dates back to V century B.C. As for the Caucasus “dolmens appear only in the second half of III century B.C. and apparently thanks to the sea ties which as the archeologists suppose took place because of need in tin from Spain” (Iberia). (“Knowledge is Force” p. 122, №4, 2004). 

The native school of linguistics made a great contribution into accurate definition of the question. As to the Corresponding Member of RASC Sergei Starostin who discovered a new sino-Caucasian lingual macro-family that from IX to V century B.C. there was a common parent language among all sino- Caucasians. (Starostin S.A. – 2003). Its spreading range embraced wide areas of Europe, Central Asia, Siberia and Far East. Some groups of these tribes penetrated even into North America. On the basis of genetic cognation of the Basque language with the languages of the North Caucasian group as it was found out by philologists there appeared a supposition that ancestors of the modern Basques were the “authors” of the well-known in the Caucasus megalithic constructions of late Stone Age that is dolmens. This supposition confirmed the opinion of the Russian archeologist and connoisseur of the Caucasus Vladimir Markovin that the reason of beginnings of dolmen culture in the Caucasus was migration of dolmen builders by the seaway. And “mixture of Maikop tribes with newcomers for the Caucasus dolmen builders who by origin were connected with bearers of Iberian (Pyrenean) megalithic massive gave a real basis for appearing Adygei-Abkhazian ethic groups”. (Markovin V.I.- 1997)”

 

Indian astronomy

India too, claims the honor of having had the most advanced astronomers and astronomical observers in ancient times. India’s first accounts of astronomy are found in the Rig Veda which dates to 2000 B.C. and ancient Indian astronomers were ahead of other skywatchers elsewhere in recognizing that stars are same as the Sun and that the Sun is center of a universe we know as the Solar System. Indian astronomers may also have been the first to support the theory that Earth is a sphere; to recognize the Sun as a star; to predict eclipses, to understand the Sun is the moon’s source of light and to propose a Heliocentric theory of gravitation was one of the earliest – all preceding Gallileo and Copernicus by a thousand years.

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Shared cosmogonies of Japan and Eurasia’s Baltic, Siberian and Finno-Ugric-Uralic peoples.

One of the most fascinating things you will find in Japan is the wealth of cosmogonic myths and legends about the night skies – many of which are found throughout Eurasia to the Baltic Sea and Western and Central Europe. For example, cosmic ideas of the Milky Way as ‘the path of birds’, the moon with a water-carrier (the girl with pail seen on the moon) – these themes are similar to the Baltic-Finnish myth cycle found everywhere in the Eastern Baltic region (except for Slav-speaking populations).

The water-carrier / girl with the pail in the moon motif: there are two versions that are widely known. According to one, the Moon takes pity on an orphan girl, a poor step-daughter, or the like, who was sent to fetch water and so the Moon takes her up to herself. According to the second version, the Moon does this as punishment for a girl or young woman who was arrogant and boastful. Among the Karelians, the girl holds in her hands a milk-pail. In the Volga-Permian region, the version with an orphan girl is widely known, while the version with the woman who made fun of the Moon is absent. Bashkirs and Tatars have the story of the Moon who carried away the girl because he fell in love with her (Siberian Tatars have two versions). ‘The water-carrier on the Moon’  in its ‘poorstep-daughter’ version is known among the Kirgiz, the Khakas and Kazakhs.

Different groups of Buryats also seem to inherit the ‘water-carrier on the Moon’ from a pre-Mongolian sub-stratum. Among them this tale was recorded many times in a form which was near to the ‘poor step-daughter’: a girl’s stepmother or her own mother who married another man sends her to fetch water and expresses a wish that the Moon would take her.

In a tale of the Darkhats, who live in Mongolia near Khubsugul Lake and who are new converts to the Mongolian language, two boys went after water and ended up on the Moon. In other areas of Mongolia the motif is unknown, and it seems that it is connected only with Siberia, not with Central Asia. Among the Southern Selkup, it is a small girl who went to fetch water, or a young girl who teased the Moon and among the Khanty it is a small girl (alone or together with a boy) who teased the Moon and among the Mansi it is a girl with pail (but the story details are lost). The Altai region has an atypical motif that of the ogre Tilbegen who got to the Moon, and he went to fetch water and had a yoke and pails in his hands.

The motif is neither known among the Primorye and Sakhalin peoples nor among the  Northern Samoyeds nor the Northern Selkups who are also more recent arrivals to Siberia than the deeper Paleo-Siberian substratum populations.  The Nivkh version of the ‘poor step-daughter’ exists but it was recorded recently and the same image of a girl or a woman seen on the Moon and holding a pail is known to the Udihe.

Japanese Moon Maiden mythology has survived till the present day

According to the Ainu of Sakhalin and Hokkaido, they see on the Moon, a girl who went to fetch water and was taken by the Moon to become his wife or who was envious and insulted the Moon accusing her of being idle, or in another version, the Ainu see in the lunar disc a boy who insulted the Moon in the same way. The motif of a woman seen on the Moon with pails in her hands (no other details) is known in southern Japan, while myths recorded on the Ryukyu Islands (Miyako and Okinawa) explain how a man with a water-pail ended up on the Moon. The Ainu version is similar to Siberian text versions recorded among the Khakas, Tofa, Buryat, Ket, Selkup, Khanty, Yakut, Vakhan of Pamir, the Koryak and southeastern Evenki:  When the water-carrier was being taken up to the Moon, he or she tried to hold a bush and is now seen on the lunar disc holding both the pails and the bush. The same detail is present among the Vakhan of Pamir and the Koryak.

In Southern Siberia among the Teleut, Altai, and Khakas, instead of a water-carrier, there is an ogre who attempted to hold a bush to prevent being pulled up to the Moon.

Scholars have concluded that the central motif of a girl or young woman who went to fetch water and ended up on the Moon is widespread across Eurasia from the Eastern Baltic to the Sea of Okhotsk and also beyond to North America (where the ‘water carrier on the Moon’ is known to most peoples of the northwest coast and the story versions recorded are similar to the typical Eurasian variant of ‘woman insults the Moon’).

But like a game of Chinese whispers, on the fringes of these regions, there are variant versions such as the water to be fetched by a person is lost, or else the actors are a boy, a man, or two children instead of a girl. In Ireland, instead of the moon maiden, people saw on the Moon two boys who carried a stick with a pail of water on it, while in Northern Germany it was a man with a pitcher in his hands, a child with a pail, a thief who carried two stolen pails with water, or two men who held yokes with water-tubs. Among the Saami the Sun takes the girl to give her in marriage to his son and throws her onto the Moon where she is now seen with her yoke and pails. In Scandinavia, it was two children with a yoke and a pail or two old men who tried to drown the Moon with water.

The cosmonym for Milky Way as ‘the path of birds’ (‘path of cranes’, ‘birds’ path’, ‘trace of the route of birds’, etc.) is known mainly to peoples from three language families, i.e. Balts, Finno-Ugrians (but excluding Samoyeds) and Turks, the Letts and Lithuanians, Estonians, Finns, Saami,  Bashkir, Udmurt, Komi, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Karakalpak. The same cosmonym was known also to the Khanty and Mansi and to the Hungarians. The Russians call the Milky Way ‘path of geese’ in Vologda, Viatka, Perm, Tula, Smolensk, and Kaluga provinces and in Siberia. The ‘path of birds’ is also known to the Evenki of the Middle Amur area and in America to Algonkians who live to the north of the Great Lakes.  The absence of the ‘path of birds’ among peoples of the Sayan-Altai region as well as among Uzbeks (and most probably Uigurs) makes it doubtful that this cosmonym had a proto-Turkic origin. However, it is thought that this concept of the Milky Way as ‘path of birds’ that is so well known to the Finno-Ugrians must have appeared in Eurasia long before the split of Proto-Uralic into two major branches.

The cosmonym of the Milky Way as the “route of dead souls” is known among the native peoples of Alaska, North American Northwest Coast and some South American Indians, who do not know of the Milky Way as the ‘path of birds’. There is another bird cosmonym this time, for the Pleiades (not Milky Way) — that of ‘a duck’s nest’ or ‘a flock of ducks’ which is predominantly seen among northern Russians, among the Khakas, who speak a Turkic language,  and east of the Urals, where the Russians brought the ‘duck’s nest’ to Siberia. The myth cycle is a clear Uralic legacy of the pre-Slavic sub-stratum.

wATERFOWL OR DUCK HANIWA: lEFT – 5th CENTURY MOZU GROUP TUMULUS, sakai city (KOuRYU-MACHI EDUCATION BOARD);  middle: late 4TH cENTURY tsudoUshiROYAMA tumulus (PHOTO: FUJIDERA CITY EDUCATION BOARD); far right – 5th or 6th century gaya KINGDOM DUCK pottery (wIKIMEDIA)

This flying bird motif and by extension, the duck-swan-cranes cosmic motifs of Russia and the Urals are thought to be implied in many of the ritual and shamanic implements or bird totems excavated from Yayoi Period to the Kofun Period sites of Japan. The rituals may resemble those of Siberian shamans where the shamans are often transported away to the other world of the dead spirits on a bird (in lieu of the horse or deer).

Given the ritual or symbolism or funerary context of the Japanese bird totems, it is likely that Japanese bird imagery might be consonant with the variant interpretation of the Milky Way ‘path of birds’ as the heavenly ‘route of dead souls’. Though the two ideas are quite similar in meaning but the cosmonym ‘path of birds’ is still specific and distinctive enough differ from the image of the Milky Way (called the heavenly river or “ten-no-gawa” in Japanese) as a ‘route of dead souls’. (From the Nara period onwards, the literal watery “river of souls” becomes the more common imagery in local festivals.)

A variation of the bird cosmonym that is typically found in Western, Southern and Central Europe, the Balkans, Western Ukraines is however that of the ‘hen with its chickens’, ‘brood’, ‘chickens’, ‘pullets’ that is symbolic of The Pleiades. The cockerel which crows at dawn is said to be symbolic of the transition from night’s darkness to daylight and as a marker of time it is associated with birth, death and rebirth and thus is a symbol often seen on Greek and Italian tombstones. In several Celtic legends, the cock is a good luck charm that chases away ghosts and other night terrors by his crowing at dawn. The chicken played an important role among the Romans as sacrificial animals. Sometimes clay figurines were used as a substitute in their death rituals. Cocks were regarded as animals accompanying the god Mercury and votive offerings of clay were therefore often sacrificed in sanctuaries. As an intermediary between day and night, life and death or as a guard for the dead.

Outside Europe it is also found in North-East India, South-East Asia, West Africa and the Sudan. The chicken imagery is only absent across most of the territory of the former Yugoslavia, but the imagery is present among the Basques peoples of the Pyrenees. It is also thought that the Pleiades chicken cosmonym was also once known in the Near East and North Africa.

Replica of a early 2nd century AD cockerel terracotta originally deposited in the grave 2 of “Older Praunheimer burial ground” (Photo: Archaologisches Museum Frankfurt)

Chicken haniwa, 3rd century, Asadaiseki no. 3 Kofun tomb (Photo: Asahi Shimbun)

Curiously, this European cosmonym seems to be familiar to the Japanese – how it arrived at the opposite end of Eurasia and East Asia is not known (but possibly via the Bactrian Soghdians or the Saka-Iranian-Scythians – the latter being more likely – between the Yayoi and Kofun periods) — it is seen in the  symbolism of the funerary earthenware “chicken” haniwa seen in many of the Kofun tombs as well as at modern-day chicken and bird shrines of Japan as good luck symbols (niwatari jinja and otori jinja) and Rooster Day Market Tori-no-Ichi festival.

Procession of chicken and bird (among other animals) haniwa figurines, Hodota-hachimanzuka Kofun, Takasaki city, Gunma Prefecture (Photo: Kamitsukenosato Museum)

The symbolism interpretation of the cockerel leading the dead in their journey is further collaborated by the 4th century haniwa pottery incised depictions of a “boat of the dead with a bird perched on the prow”  found in the Higashi Tonozuka tomb from the Yamato Kofun group in Nara, as well by the late 6th century tomb mural with a similar motif found in the Mezurashiizuka Kofun (see below).

Drawings of the haniwa pottery incised pictures of the “boat of the dead” from the early 4th century Higashi Tonozuka Kofun, Nakayama-cho, Tenri city, Nara prefecture

“Boat of the dead with bird perched on prow” late 6th century tomb mural, Mezurashiizuka Kofun tumulus, Ukiwa city, Fukuoka

In the Eastern Baltic, the conception of Pleiades is not like a bird, rather it is viewed as a ‘a sieve’ and as an image of openings or holes in the sky firmament (or sieve) it is predominant only in Northern Eurasia, in the American Arctic and possibly in Borneo although the image of a particular star (usually Polaris) as an opening through which one can penetrate into the upper world is also known to many American Indians.  It should be noted that there are Siberian and Paleoasiatic variations of the Pleiades sieve motif — for the Saami the Pleiades are girls; among Chukchi and Koryak of the Asian North-East, the Pleiades cosmonyms Ke’tmet and Kä’tmäc have been translated them as ‘small sieve’, but among the Chukchi the basic image of the Pleiades was ‘group of women’.  In Yakut stories, the hero makes mittens of wolf skin to stop up holes in the sky from which the icy wind blows and these holes are the Pleiades.

Among the Orochi and the Uilta of Sakhalin the Pleiades, are also ‘seven openings’ but ‘seven women’ are more usual for the Lower Amur region. Japan appears to have inherited this Amur variation on the seven holes in the sky – the Pleiades for the Japanese are a star cluster with eta (η), Alcyone, as the principal star, situated on the shoulder of the Bull, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, or M45. Traditionally six of the stars are visible to the naked eye, another star is “lost” or “invisible” giving rise to stories and legends explaining the reason. In Japan they are called “Subaru” (source: “The Pleiades“).

Another name for the Milky Way which is widespread among Ob’ Ugrians is ‘ski trace’, connected to the myth about the hunt of the sky elk. It is either the only or the most dominant name among Samoyeds and the peoples of Eastern Siberia, Lower Amur and Alaska. Often a motif characteristic of Scythian art and jewelery, in the form of the White Doe or White Stag, the deer was often a messenger and guide from the Otherworlds. Following such an animal led the unsuspecting human into contact with supernatural beings. Celtic shamans may have copied the antlered headdress of Cernunnos as apparel in their rituals.

The deer-stag imagery is also known to ancient Japan, though in the form of rare pieces of Kofun haniwa and in the crown filigree motifs found in Kofun tombs which have a funerary context.

6th century stag haniwa, Hiradokoro Funkubo, Matsue city, Shimane Prefecture (Photo: Shimane Education Board)

Given that all three cosmic motifs (the Milky Way ‘the path of birds’; the motif of stars/Pleiades as sieve/sky-openings; and the ‘water-carrier on the Moon’) are typical for the Eastern Baltic and Middle Volga region and that all the motifs are also typical for some or for many of the northern Russian provinces and for most of Siberia, according to Yuri Berezkin in his paper “The Pleiades as openings, the Milky Way as the path of birds, and the girl on the moon: Cultural links across Northern Asia“, this makes his hypothesis of trans-Eurasian migration plausible. The ‘path of birds’ is known to all Finno-Ugrians and ‘the water-carrier on the Moon’ is known to most of them in some variation. Some of the motifs are not known to the peripheral regions such as for southern Russia or for the Ukraine or to some of the Altai-Sayan Turks or for later arrivals to Siberia (the Northern Samoyeds –  the Nenets, Enets and Nganasans – are not familiar with these three motifs) and the southernmost parts of Americas. In many instances, new images in Siberia and Eastern Europe did not displace earlier ones but were added to them. It is thus concluded that detailed ideas about the objects of the night sky had probably been forming in Northern and Central Eurasia since very early times during the Final Pleistocene – Early Holocene, and that small groups of migrants from the East were spreading the new cosmic ideas across most of Eurasia and to North America (The Algonkians to the north of the Great Lakes have ‘the path of birds’ and ‘the water-carrier on the Moon’, and also a possible parallel for the image of the Pleiades as an opening in the sky).

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In “An Introduction to Simorghian culture and Mithraism in the East Asia“, Tojo Masato states that Asuka culture shows influences from the ancient Aryan religion formed on the basis of Simorghian culture that had flourished and dominated in Central Asia and that held not only Mithraism and worship (cult) of Anahita, Daevas and other gods but also a branch of Zoroastrianism (Ahura Mazda worship). There was a possibility that it was influenced by Manichaeism and Mahayana Buddhism. Tojo writes of the newly arrived religion in Asuka from Central Asia: “In the Central Asia (present Afghanistan and Pakistan) Iranian religions met primitive Buddhism and made a syncretic new religious movement. The first is Miroku Buddhism 弥勒仏教, the second is Pure Land Buddhism 浄土教, the third is Esoteric Buddhism 密教. These three syncretic religions brought Simorghian culture and Mithraism to Japan. There is a scripture which is a definite attestation of its coming. The title of the sutra is Sukuyôkyô 宿曜経. Suku 宿 means the lunar mansions (manzils), you 曜 means the seven planets and kyou 経 means scripture (sutra). Therefore Sukuyôkyô means the Scripture about the Lunar Mansions and the Seven Planets. It was dictation of what a Buddhist monk Amoghavajra 不空 said by his disciple. … In this scripture the name of the seven planetary gods are listed … It is written that these are the gods worshipped by the Persians living in the Central Asia.”

In Takamatsu Zuka Kofun: An Ancient View of the Sky from a Tomb in Asuka, Japan, Renshaw and Ihara explain that the symbolism and significance of the tomb mural paintings and sacred animal motifs showed the importance of the Chinese Four Cardinal Directions and the North Pole (which is identified with Emperor Tentei) and the 28 moon or lunar stations.

Scholars are still trying to trace the beginnings of the body of astronomical knowledge but there is yet no consensus as yet on where it all began.

Where then is the Birthplace of Astronomy and Civilization?

The next few links and readings list some of the foremost theories as to whether the birthplace of civilization and astronomy might be Mesopotamia, nearby Armenia (Shengavit) and Amenian Highlands or Turkey’s Gobekli Tepe (near both Mesopotamia and the Anatolian plateau). India, China, Korea and island South East Asia (drowned Sundaland)’s maritime or neolithic populations (see Stephen Oppenheimer’s Eden in the East) are all contenders for the titles as well.

The Oldest Lunar Calendar

The archaeological record’s earliest data that speaks to human awareness of the stars and ‘heavens’ dates to the Aurignacian Culture of Europe, c.32,000 B.C. Between 1964 and the early 1990s, Alexander Marshack published breakthrough research that documented the mathematical and astronomical knowledge in the Late Upper Paleolithic Cultures of Europe. Marshack deciphered sets of marks carved into animal bones, and occasionally on the walls of caves, as records of the lunar cycle.

The Oldest Lunar Calendars and Earliest Constellations have been identified in cave art found in France and Germany. The astronomer-priests of these late Upper Paleolithic Cultures understood mathematical sets, and the interplay between the moon annual cycle, ecliptic, solstice and seasonal changes on earth. [Note: The Aurignacian Culture is thought to have reached Anatolia from Europe during the Upper Paleolithic and so could have spread to Armenia or the Fertile Crescent from there.]

Alexander Marshack proposed that the human recording of lunar phases began no later than around 28,000 BC and that it likely served a rough calendrical purpose. See his 1972″The Roots of Civilization: the Cognitive Beginning of Man’s First Art, Symbol and Notation“and his “The Taï plaque and calendrical notation in the Upper Paleolithic” (Source: Cambridge Archaeological Journal 1:25-61). Marshack is renowned and remembered for his controversial theory that the notches and lines carved on certain Upper Paleolithic bone plaques were in fact notation systems, specifically lunar calendars notating the passage of time. Using microscopic analysis, Marshack showed that seemingly random or meaningless notches on bone were sometimes interpretable as structured series of numbers. For instance, Marshack hypothesized that notches on the bone plaque from the Grotte du Taï in southern France (which dates to approximately 12,000 BP) were structured in subsets of 29 notches, thus suggesting that they were used to mark the duration between two lunations.

According to Gary D. Thompson however, beyond lunar calendars and simple star or star groupings (asterisms) charts of the early cultures, “The appearance of elaborate constellation sets as reference systems covering most of the visible sky only originated with the development of complex societies. Complex constellation systems make their earliest appearances in the 2nd millennium BCE in the stable kingships of Mesopotamia, Egypt, and China. In these empires astronomy had become a state supported and state directed enterprise.. ”

The Turkey-Gobekli-Tepe hypothesis:

Gobekli Tepe is situated on the highest hilltop point 35 miles north of Turkey’s border with Syria, in the vicinity of the Anatolian plateau, and north of the Mesopotamian plain, that stretches south hundreds of miles to Baghdad and beyond. The stone circles of Gobekli Tepe are just in front, hidden under the brow of the hill. The site itself is just outside the city of Sanliurfa (known as Edessa to the Crusaders — and which locals say is the Biblical city of Ur, birthplace of Abraham). The Euphrates flows eighty miles to the west, putting Gobelki Tepe smack in the middle of the Fertile Crescent. Gobekli Tepe is a puzzle that currently defies explanation because the megalithic techniques used are highly skilled, the dates for the technology earlier than pottery and far earlier than believed possible for a hunter-gatherer culture. Where are the cruder prototypes for the stoneworks?

Is Gobekli Tepe: The World’s First Temple?

Predating Stonehenge by 6,000 years, Turkey’s stunning 11,000 year old Gobekli Tepe upends the conventional view of the rise of civilization. The discovery of 20 T-shaped stone towers, carved with drawings of snakes, scorpions, lions, boars, foxes and other animals dating back to 9,500 BC, i.e. 5,500 years before the first cities of Mesopotamia and 6,000-7,000 years before the circle of Stonehenge.

Gobekli Tepe, Turkey – the world’s earliest megalithic circle (Photo: Biblioteka Pleyades).

Gobekli Tepe in Turkey a 12000 year old Temple Complex (by Nicolas Birch, Eurasianet.org) :

“None of the circles excavated (four out of an estimated 20) are more than 30 meters across. What makes the discovery remarkable are the carvings of boars, foxes, lions, birds, snakes and scorpions, and their age. Dated at around 9,500 BC, these stones are 5,500 years older than the first cities of Mesopotamia, and 7,000 years older than Stonehenge …But the site is devoid of the fertility symbols that have been found at other Neolithic sites, and the T-shaped columns, while clearly semi-human, are sexless. “I think here we are face to face with the earliest representation of gods”, says Schmidt, patting one of the biggest stones. “They have no eyes, no mouths, no faces. But they have arms and they have hands. They are makers.” For the best collection of photos on Gobekli Tepe’s megaliths and ritual figurines, see Matilda’s Anthropology Blog page.

According to the article “Gobekli Tepe: Making us rethink our ancestors” mentions that “theories such as a link to astronomy and astrology given the circular arrangement of the stones are being heatedly discussed. Others are a talking about how carved reliefs and pictograms on the pillars at Göbekli Tepe support Babylonian and Sumerian oral creation myth that suggest hunter-gatherers started god worship and temple building before agriculture. For Professor Schmidt, Göbekli Tepe allows us an insight into the organization of hunter-gatherer groups .”

In Stone Age temple may be birthplace of civilization (Fox News, November 17, 2008), according to the German archaeologist in charge of excavations at the site, Gobekli Tepe might be the birthplace of agriculture, of organized religion — of civilization itself. “This is the first human-built holy place,” said Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute.

The Armenian hypothesis:

Mesopotamia’s civilization originated in [Shengavit] Armenia (PanArmenian.net July 2, 2010)

Unique discoveries revealed as a result of excavations at Shengavit (4,000-3,000 B.C.) confirm that Armenia is the motherland of metallurgy, jeweler’s art, wine-making and horse breeding. A group of archaeologists studying the ancient city concluded that 4,000-3,000 B.C. Armenia was a highly developed state with exclusive culture. The glass beads discovered at the territory of Shengavit were found to be of a higher quality than the Egypt samples. The article concluded that “all the discoveries prove that around 6,000 years ago the culture of Shengavit has spread over the ancient world”.

See also Maximillien de Lafayette’s “Civilization and Arts of Armenia From Pre-history to the Present Day” whose central theory is that 9,000 year old Armenia (Uraštu “Urashtu” in Akkadian, Armina in ancient Persian, and Arminia in Arabic) is the true cradle of civilization, and not Mesopotamia.

“The Sumerians referred to Armenia as Ararat or Arrata, the birth of civilization. The Early Sumerian scribes acknowledged that the Arratans (Armenians) living on the high plateau of Armenia were their ancestors. Thus, civilization did not start in Mesopotamia or in any other part of the world, but in Armenia. The ancient Greek historians told us that the first to have worked with metals, iron, coper and bronze (Metallurgy) were the Armenians, often called Khaldi. The Anunnaki Ulema told us that the two oldest civilizations on Earth are Phoenicia and Armenia. By all means, Armenia is the cradle of our civilization, and one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.”

The Eurasian homeland-Scythian-Indo-European hypotheses:

In “In and Outside the Square: The Sky and the Power of Belief in Ancient China and the World, c. 4500 BC – AD 200Volume I: The Ancient Eurasian World and the Celestial Pivot“, John Didier argues that the beginnings of observing and remembering simpler celestial events, particularly the heliacal rising of certain bright stars, to establish,  for food-gathering and migratory purposes, seasonal and annual time, began long before that (i.e. 28,000 BC). Didier hypothesizes that astronomical observation and the mapping of the sky activities (including Shang China’s religious beliefs about highest and celestial polar power), and ancient Chinese and contemporaneous Eurasian  body of astronomical knowledge) that had resulted in the development of the calendar were just a part of the technological and cultural diffusion that was taking place across Eurasia during the Neolithic and Bronze periods — and a part of the  interacting “labyrinth of movements and influences that truly interconnected — at some level, either distantly or intimately, directly or indirectly — virtually all developing civilizations of Eurasia, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from Siberia to northern India, during the  period of approximately 9000–500 BC”.

Didier believed that the  influences that were seen were part and parcel of the vast cultural complex which he terms the “Skytho-Saka-Siberian complex” that spanned Eurasia from east of the Carpathians  through the steppe, the Caucasus, Anatolia, Syria, the Levant, Mesopotamia, and western Persia – as well as the Pontic-Caspian steppe, Central Asia, and eastern Persia. (Many aspects of this cultural complex can be seen in Japan, from Jomon times through Asuka and Nara times, but the starry-constellation motif is most arresting characteristic of the Kofun and Asuka tomb cultures).

On the Americas-Paleolithic Japan migratory connection – see Maria-Catira Bortolini et al 2003, Y-Chromosome Evidence for Differing Ancient Demographic Histories – Haplogroup Q has been found in approximately 94% of indigenous peoples of South America and Q-M120 is also found at low frequencies in China and Japan (as well as among Koreans and Tibetans). A Central Asian origin is postulated for the haplogroup Q. See Zegura SL, Karafet TM, Zhivotovsky LA, Hammer MF (January 2004). “High-resolution SNPs and microsatellite haplotypes point to a single, recent entry of Native American Y chromosomes into the Americas”Mol. Biol. Evol.21 (1): 164–75.doi:10.1093/molbev/msh009PMID14595095. The Central and South American native populations and Japan also share many of haplogroups A, C, D that are found in Siberian Asia, whereas the haplogroup B connection is shared only with Japan (China, Southeast Asia, Melanesia and Polynesia).] (There may be also some genetic basis or grounds for establishing a Caucasus-Altai-Siberian connection with ancient Japan in which Eurasian-Scythian-Siberian elements of astronomy/cosmology had diffused to all the way to Japan.

The subclade R1b1b2 (defined by the presence of SNP marker M269) generally found at low frequencies throughout central Eurasia, but with relatively high frequencies among Bashkirs of the Perm Region, also turns up in Japan.)

The North Caucasus-Anatolian origin of R1b hypothesis:

“The Pontic steppe was probably inhabited by men of mixed R1a and R1b lineages, with higher densities of R1b just north of the Caucasus, and more R1a in the the northern steppes and the forest-steppes. R1b almost certainly crossed over from northern Anatolia to the Pontic-Caspian steppe. It is not clear whether this happened before, during or after the Neolithic. A regular flow of R1b across the Caucasus cannot be excluded either. The genetic diversity of R1b being greater around the Caucasus so it is hard to deny that R1b settled and evolved there before entering the steppe world. … based on the antiquity and archaic character of the Anatolian branch (Hittite, Palaic, Luwian, Lydian, and so on) an northern Anatolian origin of Proto-Indo-European is credible. Furthermore, there is documented evidence of loan words from Caucasian languages in Indo-European languages. This is much more likely to have happened if Proto-Indo-European developed near the Caucasus than in the distant steppes. R1b would consequently have been the spreading factor of Proto Indo-Europeans to the steppes, and from there to Europe, Central Asia and South Asia.” (Source:Haplogroup R1b (Y-DNA) Eupedia)

Near Eastern origins of R1b:

According to “Origins, age, spread and ethnic association of European haplogroups and subclades” on R1b, some of the oldest forms of R1b are found in the Near East and around the Caucasus. Haplogroup R1* and R2* might have originated in southern Central Asia (between the Caspian and the Hindu Kush). A branch of R1 would have developed into R1b* then R1b1* in the northern part of the Middle East during the Ice Age. It presumptively moved to northern Anatolia and across the Caucasus during the early Neolithic, where it became R1b1b. The subclades R1b1b1 and R1b1b2 (the most common form in Europe) are closely associated with the spread of Indo-European languages, as attested by its presence in all regions of the world where Indo-European languages were spoken in ancient times … The histories of R1b and R1a are intricately connected to each other. Whereas R1b1 is found is such places as the Levant or Cameroon, R1b1b mostly likely originated in north-eastern Anatolia. (Source: “Origins, age, spread and ethnic association of European haplogroups and subclades” (Eupedia).

A 2010 study “A Predominantly Neolithic origin for European Paternal Lineages” maintains that R1b1b2 spread from a single source in the Near East near Anatolia and the statement of the finding that over a quarter of North Iraqi Jews, Armenians and Chaldean/Assyrian Christians have R1b y-dna.

Iberian origin of R1b hypothesis:

The origins of R1b are not entirely clear to this day. Most believe R1b to have originated in the Iberian Peninsula.

Stephen Oppenheimer’s theory is that the modern day people of Wales, Ireland and Cornwall are mainly descended from Iberians who did not speak a Celtic language. In Origins of the British (2006), Stephen Oppenheimer states (pages 375 and 378):

“By far the majority of male gene types in Britain and Ireland derive from Iberia(modern Spain and Portugal), ranging from a low of 59% in Fakenham, Norfolk to highs of 96% in Llangefni, north Wales and 93% Castlerea, Ireland. On average only 30% of gene types in England derive from north-west Europe. Even without dating the earlier waves of north-west European immigration, this invalidates the Anglo-Saxon wipeout theory … … 75-95% of Britain and Ireland (genetic) matches derive from Iberia … Ireland, coastal Wales, and central and west-coast Scotland are almost entirely made up from Iberian founders, while the rest of the non-English parts of Britain and Ireland have similarly high rates. England has rather lower rates of Iberian types with marked heterogeneity, but no English sample has less than 58% of Iberian samples …”

Oppenheimer (see here and here) also states, “there are actually two main R groups, which split tens of thousands of years ago outside Europe and had completely different modes of spread and present distributions in Europe. R1b expanded from the Basque Ice Age refuge and predominates in extreme western Europe, being found at only 20 per cent or less in Russia and the Baltic states. R1a1, on the other hand, predominates in eastern Europe, and to a lesser extent in Scandinavia. I deal with the spread of both major R lineages at length in chapters 3 and 4 of my book The Origins of the British.”  “… the re-expansion of paternal group R1b and maternal group H from the Basque Ice Age refuge spread up the coasts of all the countries facing the Atlantic, after the ice melted. The British Isles retained higher rates than the other countries, for several reasons related specifically to early movements directly from the Basque country rather than from general diffusion from western Europe. The means by which I could separate the R1b types in the British Isles from those on the other side of the channel is by the use of “Founder Analysis.” That is, looking at the detail of their gene types (so-called STR haplotypes). These revealed 21 founding clusters, which could only have arrived direct from the Basque country. Their descendant twigs are unique to the British Isles. Furthermore I was able to date the arrival of these individual clusters using their diversity.”

Readings and sources:

古代史発掘〈1996‐1998〉 (新遺跡カタログ)

Kitora Kofun: A Detailed Astronomical Star Chart in an Ancient Japanese Tomb by Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara

The Lunar Calendar in Japan by Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara (..”the two are “virtually identical”, with “the main difference being that besides the cyclical dating and chronology being tied to the reign of each emperor [Japanese emperor to Japanese calendar; Chinese emperor to Chinese calendar], a general year numbering system [was] used that dates from the Emperor [of Japan] Jimmu Tenno in 660 B.C.” For the most part, this is true. However, while calendar reckoning in Japan closely followed developments in China, lapses in acquisition of improved methods often led to a difference of at least a day or two between the two systems and often much larger “gaps”. A lunar calendar can be quite precise and synchronized with the seasons so long as correct astronomical data are used. While both calendar and navigational needs were important in the advancement of astronomy in Europe, it was improvements in lunar calendar reckoning that drove most of Chinese and later Japanese advances in astronomy. For both China and Japan, early calendars served more of an astrological function than one in keeping with accurate observation of astronomical phenomena.”

Japanese Calendar (The Samurai Archives, SamuraiWiki)

Astronomy in Ancient India (Crystalinks);

Indian Astronomy (Wikipedia);

Indian Astronomy (SpaceToday) India’s first accounts of astronomy may be found in the Rig Veda which dates to 2000 B.C. and ancient Indian astronomers were ahead of other skywatchers elsewhere in recognizing that stars are same as the Sun and that the Sun is center of a universe we know as the Solar System. An Indian astronomer is known to have worked at the famous Khagola-shastra Observatory in the 5th century.

Caucasus Dolmens Russia Deciphered as Astronomy by Andis Kaulins (May 31,2007) puts forward a map of the dolmens correlate to star constellations and his hypothesis of “the positions of these dolmens as representing the stars of the major northern stellar constellations”. The Caucasus-Zhane Valley group of dolmens date between the end of 4,000 B.C. and 2000 B.C. (New Dolmen Astronomy Youtube video)

Markovin, V.I. West Caucasus Dolmens Anthropology & Archeology of Eurasia, vol. 41, no. 4 (Spring 2002), pp. 68–88.

The Dawn of Civilization by V. Gordon Childe

Astronomy in Japan by Satio Hayakawa and Mamoru Saito

Stones of Wonder: The Monuments on how standing stones or stone circles can serve as astronomical markers. Ancient Astronomy: an encyclopedia of cosmologies and myth by Clive L.N. Ruggles (on stone circles and standing stones as astronomical markers; rock alignments; and the Babylonian legacy of astronomical knowledge and astrology. The author notes “the lack of consistent astronomy among the axial stone circles” and that the traditions could be modified or abandoned from place to place, but that there was sufficient and convincing evidence based on archaeology, ethnohistorical accounts and archaeo-astronomical data,  of the orientations and alignments.

Prehistoric observatory discovered in China (China View, 30 Oct, 2005);

See also Astronomical function and date of the Taosi observatory, Jia BiWu et. al (pdf version);  Taosi(China)]

Prehistorical Astronomy (Astro-eTwinning): “Archeologists and historians consider that stone circles and buildings were a specific expression of cult of primitive people for the deceased. The number of stones can vary between four and 60 purposely erected standing stones, and often contain burial pits or chambers. The stone circles usually have good astronomical orientation considering the direction from east to west that imples that primitive people could have advanced astronomical, mathematical and physical knowledge of the star and Sun’s movements.”

Calendar Zone

Gregorian Calendar (Wikipedia)

Stone Henge The stones are aligned almost perfectly with the sunrise on the summer solstice, and it is almost unquestioned that Stonehenge was built as a spectacular place of worship.” Stonehenge was built around 2950 – 2900 BC, in the Middle Neolithic period on the Salisbury Plain in southern England and has been thought to be possibly the earliest observatory or site for observing the Sun ever built.

UNESCO on Stonehenge, Avebury and Associate sites: Stonehenge, which was built in several distinct phases from 3100 to 1100 BC, is one of the most impressive megalithic monuments in the world on account of the sheer size of the menhirs, and especially the perfection of the plan, which is based upon a series of concentric circles, and also because of its height: from the third phase of construction on, large lintels were placed upon the vertical blocks, thereby creating a type of bonded entablature. … Although the ritual function of the monument is not known in detail, the cosmic references of its structure appear to be essential. The old theory that the site was a sanctuary for worship of the Sun, although not the subject of unanimous agreement among prehistorians, is nevertheless illustrated by the yearly Midsummer Day ceremony during which there is a folkloric procession of bards and druids at Stonehenge. …the alignment of the Stonehenge Avenue (probably a processional route) and Stonehenge stone circle on the axis of the midsummer sunrise and midwinter sunset, indicating their ceremonial and astronomical character. …they help us to understand Neolithic and Bronze Age ceremonial and mortuary practices. They demonstrate around 2000 years of continuous use and monument building between c. 3700 and 1600 BC.”

Ancient Solar Astronomy, Adam Feneley (Mar 5, 2009) “The oldest solar observatory in the Americas was found to have been created in 4th Century B.C., Many towers were built to mark the suns progress in the sky thanks to the Incan worship of the sun, this is the earliest solar astronomy that we know of. The observatory was found at Chankillo, a citadel in Peru and worked almost like a giant sundial. / Huge pillars were build to mark the position of the sun at what we now know as the June solstice and December solstice as well as the equinox, and with markers in between to demonstrate the changes in seasons the whole structure was semi-circular and used the suns position in the sky at a set time of day, this could have worked like a very early form of calendar.”

Hodota Hachimanzuka Kofun is a group of old tombs for a the ruling family of Kamitsuke-no-Kuni (which is also the ancient name for Gunma prefecture during the 5th century) dating from the 5th century to 6th century. At least three  old tombs have been discovered and earmarked as a National Historic site. It is famous for its haniwa featuring horses, deer and cockerels. [The important discovery of the Mitsudera Iseki (the ruins of a powerful ruler’s residence) is nearby]. More photos are available at the Japanese page and also at this conservation project site.

An Outline Sketch of the Origin and History of Constellations and Star-Names” by Gary D. Thompson (retr. online Feb 22, 2011)

Korea: Megaliths dolmens deciphered as astronomy (Megaliths.net) This page has a number of sample drawings illustrating the asterisms and constellations as depicted on Korean dolmens.

Astronomy in Japan by Steve Renshaw and Saori Ihara. Renshaw gives an excellent overview of the stars, star groupings and star lore that have loomed large in Japanese consciousness and culture and that were significant to agriculture or fishing, while noting the influence of Chinese astronomy in Yowatashi Boshi: Stars that Pass in the Night : Japan’s Cultural Heritage Reflected in the Star Lore of Orion . In Orihime, Kengyuu and Tanabata: Adapting Chinese Lore to Native Indigenous Purposes, he deals with the centrality of the stars Vega and Altair in the Chinese-derived popular Japanese legend of Tanabata, as well as the conception of the boatman of the moon making his way from the mouth of the Milky Way, the celestial River to ferry Kengyu to his beloved Orihime.

In Takamatsu Zuka Kofun: An Ancient View of the Sky from a Tomb in Asuka, Japan, Renshaw and Ihara explain that the symbolism and significance of the tomb mural paintings and sacred animal motifs showed the importance of the Chinese Four Cardinal Directions, the North Pole which is identified with Emperor Tentei (and its cluster of stars) and the 28 “moon stations”.

Kitora Kofun: A Detailed Astronomical Star Chart in an Ancient Japanese Tomb, is a good treatment of the symbolism of the star chart and other motifs found in the Kitora tomb.

Other references:

Dolmens. Journey to the Cradle by Oleg Tatkov, Irina Kozlova, Denis Ovsyannikov

Ancient Greeks West and East: Edited by Gocha R. Tsetskhladze

Early Calendars – Astronomical Observatories and Crytalinks’ Calendar Index

Calendars by L.E. Doggett (reprinted from the Explanatory Supplement to the  Astronomical Almanac, P. Kenneth Seidelmann)

The New World’s Oldest Calendar (Environmental Graffita) In 2005, excavators at a temple in Buena Vista, Peru discovered the “Temple of the Fox” which they believed to have functioned as a stone calendar 4,200 years ago. On the summer solstice, the sun would have risen over the rock when viewed from the temple and in the hours before dawn on the summer solstice, a starry fox constellation would have risen between two other large rocks that were placed on the same ridge. The fox has been a potent symbol among many indigenous South Americans (as in Japan), representing water and cultivation, it was speculated that the temple’s fox mural and apparent orientation to the fox constellation were clues to the structure’s significance.

[Note: DNA research indicates the strong likelihood of Paleolithic-Jomon common ancestral lineages with Ameri-Indian as well as South American indigenous populations, including Peru’s. It has long been speculated that there is a relationship between the megalithic structures and pyramids in Japan and those of Peru – see “The Ryukyuan Submerged Landforms of the Quatenary“, Ancient Solar AstronomyPyramids in Japan and Graham Hancock’s “Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilizations

By Aileen Kawagoe

6 responses to “Japan’s legacy of the celestial cultural complex of Eurasia

  1. Dear Ms. Kawagoe,
    Currently writing a cultural history of the Big Dipper asterism I would like to ask you for the bibliographical source of the Yayoi-pottery photo from Donohara Iseki grave 2. There are loads of “Big Dippers” from the 7th century onward but apparently some petroglyphs representing the asterism in Japan date much earlier. For this the vessel shown on your site is another indicator. Thank you very much and best regards from black forest, Germany, sincerely, Stefan Maeder

  2. The cosmonym for Milky Way as ‘the path of birds’ (‘path of cranes’, ‘birds’ path’, ‘trace of the route of birds’, etc.) is known mainly to peoples from three language families, i.e. Balts, Finno-Ugrians (but excluding Samoyeds) and Turks, the Letts and Lithuanians, Estonians, Finns, Saami, Bashkir, Udmurt, Komi, Kazakh, Kirgiz, Karakalpak.

    By “Turks” do you mean Ottoman/Turkey Turks? If so, I should point out that you are wrong, as there is no bird-related terminology for the Milky Way among them. The Turkish name of the Milky Way is Samanyolu, which literally means “path/way of straw” or “strawy way”. Samanyolu is either a translation either of the Persian name of the Milky Way, کهکشان (Kahkashān), which literally means “strawy round tent or dome”, or of the Arabic name of the Milky Way, درب التبانة (Darb Al-Tabbāna), which literally means “path/way of the straw seller”, or a combination of both translations, which is more in line with its literal meaning. BTW, there is an obvious connection between the Persian name and the Arabic name of the Milky Way, as both of them are straw-related.

    • Thank you for the factoid on the “path of straw”. From the conStext, I was referring to Sayan-Altai Turks (although Anatolian Turkish influence was considerable in the development of Scythian and PIE culture). . The source is Yuri Berezkhin’s paper (linked from within the article), in which he writes however, “among the Khakas, who speak a Turkic language, the Pleiades are also ‘a duck’s nest’ or ‘a flock of ducks’ (Butanaev 1975: 238)”. It is a little confusing, however, the Altai Central Asian region’s Turks are a rather late formation and the Turkish nomadic groups are supposed to have arisen out of the Ashina-Saka-Scythian groups that have admixed with East Asian Hun-Mongol tribes to varying degrees. Of the Near East Turkey, Berezkhin does however suggest “It is possible that in the past the same cosmonym was known in the Near East and North Africa (Volpati 1932: 195), though now the Persian-Arabic Soraya (‘chandelier’, i.e. a cluster of lamps) is the only word that is used for the Pleiades” [although I personally do not see the connection between lights/lamps and birds]. Thinking over what you have said, however, I do see a clear association or connection however, between the path of straw and the analogy of the Baltic-Slavic regions’ winnowing Sky Sieve (though it is the Pleiades of which they speak, and not the Milky Way). From Berezkhin’s paper: “…Lithuanians and the Laks: the sky sieve was used by God to winnow cereal grains (Khalidova 1984: 160; Nepokupny 2004: 77). Unfortunately, the Lithuanian mytheme is known only from a literary source (Mickiewicz 1955, book 8: 434), from which it is not sufficient to draw reliable conclusions. The position of Hungarian materials is also unclear as although the Hungarian word szita for the Pleiades is borrowed from Slavic (Mándoki 1963: 519–520), the constellation in the sky is really viewed as something with openings (Zsigmond 2003: 434). The fact that the Hungarians are the only people in the Balkans who have this concept makes it doubtful that such an interpretation of the Pleiades was borrowed from the Slavic population of Pannonia. And if the Hungarians brought it from the East, what was the source? In Western Europe the cosmonym ‘sieve’ (crivello) is recorded only in the Alto Adige district of Northern Italy (Volpati 1932: 206; 1933b: 21). It deserves to be mentioned that crivello is both ‘sieve’ and ‘shovel for winnowing grain”’. Given that Oghuz Turks ruled in Anatolia and Iran for a time… Berezkhin’s suggestion is not unreasonable…the Yuruks are Turkic people ultimately of Oghuz descent, some of whom are still semi-nomadic, primarily inhabiting the mountains of Anatolia and partly Balkan peninsula. Recent genetics research on populations in Turkey shows a clear and substantial component from Central Asia.

      • Anatolian Turkish influence in the developments of the Scythian and PIE cultures?! Anatolia began to be Turkic-speaking only 1000 years ago.

        Your theory of the formation of the Proto-Turkic people is problematic. The Ashina clan first appears in historical records rather late in time: during the 6th century CE, well after the formation of the earliest Turkic peoples. The Scytho-Sakan territories lie to the west of the Proto-Turkic homeland. Besides, there is no conclusive evidence of Indo-European (including Scytho-Sakan) influence in the Proto-Turkic language except at most some agriculture-related loanwords. It is clear from the deep-rooted commonalities (whether through common descent, areal interaction or both) between the Turkic and Mongolic languages that the Proto-Turkic and Proto-Mongolic peoples lived close-by.

        There is no bird-related terminology for the Milky Way among Turks (by “Turk”, I always mean Ottoman/Turkey Turks exclusively) and Azeris; they both use straw-related terminology for the Milky Way, just like Arabs, Iranic peoples, Armenians and some Balkan and Caucasian peoples. But, according to Brezkin’s article, Turkmens living in what is now Turkmenistan preserved a bird-related cosmonym for the Milky Way up to the middle of the 19th century. So, the Oghuz/Turkmens of 1000 years ago, a part of whom migrated largely by the direction of the Seljuq family from the territories of the then Oghuz country in what is now Kazakhstan during the times of the Great Seljuq Empire (the 11th and the first half of the 12th centuries) to what is now Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Anatolia and northern Arab lands and triggered the gradual linguistic Turkicization of parts of those regions, probably used bird-related terminology for the Milky Way then. But such a terminology has not been recorded among Turks and Azeris as far as I know.

        Lastly, the average Central Asian genetic contribution in Turks is estimated to be between 15% and a little below 10% according to the most detailed studies so far. The average Mongoloid admixture in Turks is lower than that: about 5%, as the incoming Turkic population was partially Mongoloid-partially Caucasoid.

      • BTW, Uyghurs, and probably also Uzbeks, too, use straw-based terminology for the Milky Way, no doubt a legacy of Islam.

        It seems from all the available evidence that the straw-based terminology for the Milky Way originated among Armenians, then was borrowed by Arabs after their occupation of Armenia during the 7th century CE, and then spread in many of the lands that came under Islamic rule and hence Arabic cultural influence. Kazakhs, the Kyrgyz, Karakalpaks, Turkmens, Bashkirs and Volga Tatars preserved their pre-Islamic terminology for the Milky Way (all of them bird-related) despite their Islamization probably because of the relative shallowness of their Islamization due to their nomadic lifestyle and/or their peripheral location in the Islamic world.

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