Those Aboriginal Telescopes
November 19, 2020
Developments down-under – specifically, from a press release by Australia’s national science research agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation:
The 64-metre telescope is located on Wiradjuri country in central west New South Wales, approximately 380km west of Sydney. It received the name Murriyang, which represents the ‘Skyworld’ where a prominent creator spirit of the Wiradjuri Dreaming, Biyaami, lives.
It remains unclear whether the radio telescope, which relayed mankind’s first steps on the Moon, will be able to detect aboriginal creator spirits, rainbow serpents, celestial emus, or Barraiya, the aboriginal deity who, as you’ll doubtless be aware, created the first vagina.
Executive Manager of CSIRO’s Office of Indigenous Engagement, Louisa Warren, said giving the telescopes traditional names acknowledges and pays respect to the astronomical knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The particulars of that “astronomical knowledge,” also referred to as “ancient wisdom,” and its bearing on modern radio astronomy, are, alas, not shared in the press release. We are, however, told that the “telescope naming project,” which involved CSIRO staff, Wiradjuri Elders, the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group and various other bodies, required “over two years” of work. Readers intrigued by the promise of astronomy being enhanced with, and perhaps superseded by, ancient aboriginal wisdom can partake of this cosmic bong rip.
Update, via the comments:
As noted previously, it’s hard to miss the pretension around this “ancient wisdom,” the patronising dishonesty, and the implication that the rest of us are expected to pretend too. But the definition of astronomy – a branch of science that uses mathematics, physics and chemistry to study and explain celestial objects - is being stretched in order to flatter primitive mythology with zero scientific content beyond a very rudimentary calendar. And I’m not sure what’s achieved by gushing over the fact that what we now know as the constellation of Orion was referred to as a canoe by an arrested Stone Age foraging culture. A culture that, despite tens of thousands of years of purported “astronomy,” had bugger all to show for it.
While Galileo Galilei was calculating the heights of lunar mountains and discovering the moons of Jupiter, our aboriginal “astronomers” had little to say on the subject. And while Angelo Secchi was pioneering astronomical spectroscopy – and proving that the blinding disc in the midday sky must be the same kind of object as those twinkling specks seen at night, only much, much closer – and pondering what follows from that realisation - our aboriginal “astronomers” were still banging on about sky emus. No “Eureka!” moments there. What’s notable about aboriginal “astronomy,” and aboriginal culture more generally, is that it stayed primitive, all but prehistoric, for such an incredibly long time.