And the dark skies. Oh let me tell you about the dark skies. No pollution of any kind to blot out the awe inspiring canopy of stars once night falls. Over us is our own galaxy, the Milky Way, so incredible with myriads of stars within the creamy mass. I knew very little about astronomy, still don’t know much, but I gaze in wonder every night on that sky so mysterious and rolling on with infinite glory. We leave in a Dark Skies status region, with the first Dark Sky Park in the UK a short drive away, the Kielder Observatory another even shorter drive in the opposite direction. Where I might have looked up and have seen 100 stars over the city, here I can see 1000 with the naked eye.
Stone Age humans will have gazed on the wondrous sky and felt the same awe we feel today. Over time humans began to piece together various factors which linked to their new farming skills, such as noticing the stellar patterns changed with the seasons. They would learn to plant crops when Virgo and her accompanying constellation appeared in the sky. When Orion arrives in the sky it is time to harvest and to prepare for winter. There are various stone circles in Scotland linked to religious and astronomical practices which helped early humans to feel more in control of their uncertain futures.
The earliest pursuit of mathematics that we have evidence of is 580 – 500 BCE when Pythagoras in Greece, a strict vegetarian, who believed in a silent order for the first 5 years of membership of his cult, recognized the existence of irrational numbers and he and his followers were interested in the relationship between music and mathematics.
Then Aristotle, Athens, a pupil of Plato in 384 – 322 BCE surmised the Solar System must be heliocentric, following his geometrical estimates of the relative sizes and distances of the Earth, Moon and Sun.
Eratosthenes of Cyrene (276-197 BCE) calculated a map of the world, a method for finding prime numbers called Eratosthenes’ Sieve, and estimated the circumference of the Earth.
Claudius Ptolemy, Alexandria (around 100 – 170AD) developed the most sophisticated mathematical model of the motions of the Solar System based upon the geocentric (Earth-centered) model and the principle of perfect circular motion.
Since then many great thinkers have lived in dangerous times due to religion dominating the minds of the population and people did not dare to disagree with proclaimed ‘beliefs’. Despite setbacks, over centuries of conflict and persecution, understanding has triumphed with present day breakthroughs such as ‘Curiosity’ the rover which successfully landed on Mars and is sending back pictures for us all to see with our Internet links. We can look up there and know that, building on the intelligence of mankind we have not only sent man to the moon, but have been able to build technology to explore planets millions of miles away from the Earth.
The first stone circle (so far located in Turkey) was built in 9000 BCE and they continued to be built around the world for thousands of years. No stone-circles appear to have been built in N. Europe after 1,500 BCE. But we have many in Scotland and it is has been shown that many required a strong geometrical and astronomical understanding. There are many recumbent circles in Scotland and these seem to be linked to lunar cycles. They are almost unique to Scotland. A website on the subject states:
Recumbent Stone Circles are one of the most definite proofs we have that Neolithic people were not only aware of the 18.6 year lunar cycle, but that they followed it closely. They demonstrate that the lunar cycle was considered an important part of the social complex in North-eastern Scotland c. 3,000 BC – 1,500 BC.
The intelligence of human beings can be traced through the constant revelations made by archaeologists using the latest technology plus expertise from across the sciences to analyse the findings.
Knowledge of our world should have led to us protect and value it, to respect one another and work toward benefits for all through intelligent and reasoned analysis. But our Achilles Heel is a human desire to retain power by restricting knowledge and ruling through fear of the unknown. So we say ‘knowledge is power’ and we expect only a selected few to grasp the reigns and ride over the rest of us.
Looking up at the universe in which we live can make any human wax philosophical. We feel so small and insignificant, and it is easy for a seemingly confident person to emphasise our impotence in the face of the overwhelming sense of ignorance most of us experience. We can be conned by so called ‘experts’ and lose sight of our own abilities to question and produce answers. Yet each of us has the spark within us to be curious, to explore, to try and understand this wonderful sense of being. Living in the Scottish Borders has given me a greater feeling of belonging to something so wonderful and available for me to discover in my own time with whatever abilities I possess. That is all any human being should aim to find time to do. I am glad I lived long enough to do it.