Astronomers believe that global myths about ‘Seven Sisters’ stars maybe 100,000 years old
In the northern sky in December there was a beautiful cluster of stars spotted known as the Pleiades or the “seven sisters.” If you are too observant, you may count six stars. So why is it said that there are seven of them?
Many cultures globally refer to the Pleiades as “seven sisters,” and also narrate identical tales about them. After analyzing the motion of the stars from close proximity, we assume these stories may date back 100,000 years to a time when the constellation appeared largely dissimilar.
The Sisters and the Hunter
According to Greek mythology, the Pleiades were the seven daughters of the Titan Atlas. He was compelled to hold up the sky forever and hence was couldn’t protect his daughters. To protect the sisters from being raped by the hunter Orion, Zeus converted them into stars. However, one of the sisters fell in love with a mortal and went into hiding, which is the reason we could view six stars only.
An Australian primaeval interpretation of the constellation of Orion from the Yolngu people of Northern Australia is that the three stars of Orion’s belt are three young men who went fishing in a canoe and caught a forbidden king-fish, represented by the Orion Nebula.
An identical story is heard among natives across Australia. In many Australian indigenous cultures, the Pleiades are a group of young girls and are often linked with pious women’s ceremonies and stories. The Pleiades are also significant as an element of Aboriginal calendars and astronomy, and for many groups, their initial rising at dawn marks the beginning of winter.
Near the Seven Sisters in the sky is the constellation of Orion, referred to as “the saucepan” in Australia. According to Greek mythology, Orion is a hunter. This constellation is also often a hunter in primordial cultures or a group of lusty young men. The writer and anthropologist Daisy Bates claimed people in central Australia recognized Orion as a “hunter of women,” and specifically of the women in the Pleiades. Many ancient stories claim that the boys, or man, in Orion, are chasing the seven sisters. One of the sisters is dead, or is hiding, or is too young, or has been abducted, so only six are visible.
The Missing Sister
Typical “lost Pleiad” stories are popular in European, African, Asian, Indonesian, Native American, and aboriginal Australian cultures. Many cultures consider the cluster featuring seven stars but acknowledge only six are ideally visible. They have a story to explain the invisibility of the seventh.
The reason why the Australian aboriginal stories have similarity to the Greek is that anthropologists felt that Europeans may have brought the Greek story to Australia, where it was improvized by aboriginal people to suit their own needs. However, the Aboriginal stories appear to be much older than European contact. There was the least contact between major Australian aboriginal cultures and the rest of the world for almost 50,000 years. Then, how come they share the same stories?
All modern humans have descended from people who stayed in Africa before migrating to the farthest corners of the globe almost 100,000 years back. That is why these stories of the seven sisters are not so old. Humans may have carried these stories with them as they travelled to Australia, Europe, and Asia.
Accurate measurements with the Gaia space telescope and others reveal the stars of the Pleiades are gradually moving in the sky. One star, Pleione, is now so near the star Atlas they resemble a single star to the naked eye.
But if we rewind 100,000 years, Pleione was further from Atlas and would have been easily visible to the naked eye. So 100,000 years back, most people really would have spotted seven stars in the cluster.
This movement of the stars can solve two puzzles: the link between Greek and Aboriginal stories about these stars, and the so many cultures call the cluster “seven sisters” even though we only view six stars today.