The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization

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9781441968029: The Power of Stars: How Celestial Observations Have Shaped Civilization

The "Power of Stars" fills a much needed niche in the literature, by providing a lively, richly illustrated survey of the human response to the sky across the centuries and across all cultures. The book covers all aspects of how civilizations studied and responded the sky. From the opening chapter, which gives a survey of visible phenomena from the sun, moon and planets, the book provides a multicultural perspective on the experience of the sky. The motions of the sun and moon across the sky and on the horizon were noticed by ancient people and the book describes their legends and skywatching practices. In Chapter 2, the book gives an overview of constellations from a wide variety of cultures, including the ancient Chinese, Egyptian, Hawaiian, Native American Chumash and Navajo tribes, the Inuit culture, and also covers the Southern skies, such as the Aboriginal Australians and the Incan cultures. In Chapter 3, Creation Stories from a wide variety of cultures are described, and in Chapter 4 their models of the universe or Cosmologies are described and illustrated. The wide variety of descriptions of the early universe, the the structure of the physical universe from ancient Greek, Egyptian, Chinese, Babylonian, Mayan and other cultures are explained and illustrated with original art. In Chapters 5 and 6 the evolution of timekeeping and calendars are described, including the dramatic stories of the Mayan 2012 cycle, the Harrison navigation clocks, and the development of modern atomic clocks and GPS systems.  Chapter 7 describes "Celestial Architecture" where temples and buildings (Stonehenge, Newgrange, and also cathedrals) are aligned with the sun and stars. The remaining chapters turn a lens onto our own culture, and describe how our modern cities contain within them cosmological symbolism and alignments, and how ancient traditions and modern technology coexist in the 21st century. The last chapter also gives a history of the development of the Modern Big Bang cosmology, and some of the remaining "unanswered questions" to be studied and explored by future astronomers.  The book provides a unique wide angle lens to the many ways that society understands and describes the stars, and in the process explores how that process reveals universal qualities of humankind.

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From the Author:

This book is one that I hope the public will enjoy. It is my first book, and my students, my colleagues and friends all contributed to this work, which is something of a kaleidoscope of world astronomy. In the book you will find original hand-drawn constellation figures from some of the many Pomona College students who taken my "Archaeoastronomy and World Cosmology" course. You will also see photographs taken by my friends in the faculty at Pomona College, who have visited sacred sites around the world, such as Chumash rock art sites, Newgrange in Ireland, and Stonehenge. I also include many original works of art, such as the installations of Sheila Pinkel that include an original sundial and Chumash seasons of the year mural for a Los Angeles area public library, and also extensive photos of James Turrell's Roden crater and Skycape installations. Being at Pomona College have given me a unique opportunity to experiment with this interdisciplinary subject, and share the ancient traditions of dozens of world civilizations with our students. I have taken the best examples from the course and mixed them together with lively illustrations to provide what I hope will be an accessible and rewarding exploration for anyone interested in the diverse ways that our fellow humans have viewed the stars, and responded to the immense power of the dark night sky -- the Power of the Stars.

From the Back Cover:

What are some of the connections that bind us to the stars? How have these connections been established? And how have people all around the world and throughout time reacted to the night sky, the sun and moon, in their poetry, mythology, rituals, and temples? This book explores the influence of the sky on both ancient and modern civilization, by providing a clear overview of the many ways in which humans have used the stars as an ordering principle in their cultures, and which today still inspire us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. The book explores constellation lore from around the world, celestial alignments of monuments and temples, both from ancient and modern civilizations, and the role the sky has played in the cultures of the Greek, Egyptian, Babylonian, Native American, Chinese, Mayan, Aztec, and Inca. Models of the universe from each of these cultures are described clearly, and each culture’s explanation of the stars, planets, and other celestial objects are described. The roots of astronomy and astrology are presented with original imagery and reproductions of ancient manuscripts that portray the structure of the physical universe as conceived by a diverse array of human cultures over the centuries. Our own scientific Big Bang cosmology and the origin of stars and elements are discussed in a philosophical context, to explore how we as modern people learn about the Universe, and incorporate the findings of science into our world views. A concluding chapter provides a summary of modern science's effort to unlock the celestial secrets from the sky and from past civilizations, and what these answers mean for us today.

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