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More about “Songs from the Sky”

Songs from the Sky: Indigenous Astronomical and Cosmological Traditions of the World

Edited by Von Del Chamberlain, John B. Carlson and M. Jane Young

Ocarina Books / Center for Archaeoastronomy, 2005

ISBN 9780954086725 (pbk), xiv+379 pp.

Songs from the Sky

The long-awaited proceedings of the First International Conference on Ethnoastronomy, held at the Smithsonian Institution, Washington DC, in 1983. The chapters within this 380-page collection also serve as volumes 12 and 13 of the Center’s journal, Archaeoastronomy. All contributions are in English.


This substantial collection of papers on indigenous astronomical knowledge is quite unequalled in its scope and extent. The authors are drawn from a variety of academic disciplines, including anthropology, archaeology, astronomy, engineering, art history, history of science, history of religion, folklore, and mythology, and bring a variety of academic perspectives to bear upon aspects of celestial knowledge and perception in diverse social contexts from many different parts of the globe. Native voices speak alongside these academic ones, as indigenous art and folklore are presented for their own intrinsic value, as well as for the insights they offer into the cosmological traditions of their creators.

The Americas provide the main geographical focus, with twenty of the 32 papers concerning indigenous north American groups such as the Navajo, Lakota, Zuni and Blackfoot, the Mixe and Tzotzil Maya of southern Mexico, the Andean highlands and the Amazonian region of Peru, and southern coastal Brazil.

The remaining twelve articles extend to the Arab world, sub-Saharan Africa, southern India, Java, Melanesia, Australia and Polynesia, with a few addressing broader synthetic themes. For a number of the culture areas dealt with in some detail here, other published information about sky knowledge is extremely scant.


“The range of views, data and approaches to knowledge and its collection make this a fine read.”

Lesley Green, Social Anthropology (2007)

List of contents
I. Ethnoastronomy Perspectives
  The sky is an ethnographic treasure trove. Von Del Chamberlain
  The color of cosmic order. Edwin C Krupp
  Ethnoastronomy and the problem of interpretation: A Zuni example. M Jane Young
II. Western Astronomical Traditions
  Ethnoastronomy and the Arab agricultural almanac. Daniel Martin Varisco
III. Native Astronomical Traditions of the Americas
  The seven sisters. N Scott Momaday
  Raven’s universe. David Vogt
  Astronomy in Pueblo and Navajo world views. M Jane Young
  Using a planetarium to study Navajo star lore. Mark Bunker Peterson
  Black god: God of fire, God of starlight. Trudy Griffin-Pierce
  Origin and meaning of Navajo star ceilings. Von Del Chamberlain and Polly Schaafsma
  Transformations of the Mesoamerican Venus Turtle Carapice war shield: A study in ethnoastronomy. John B Carlson
  When is a month? The moon and Mescaleros. Claire R Farrer
  Ethnoastronomy of the North American plains. Alice B Kehoe
  Lakota star knowledge. Ronald Goodman
  Sky tales from the Anishinaubaeg. Basil H Johnston
  Venus in the east and west. Stanislaw Iwaniszewski
  Tzotzil Maya cosmology. Weldon Lamb
  Mixe calendrics, ritual and astronomy. Frank J Lipp
  Constructions of the ritual-agricultural calendar in Pacariqtambo, Peru. Gary Urton
  Mythic substitution and the stars: Aspects of Shipibo and Quechua ethnoastronomy compared. Peter G Roe
  Amahuaca astronomy and star lore. Joseph Holt Woodside
  Búzios Island: Knowledge and belief among a fishing and agricultural community at the coast of the state of São Paulo. Edmundo Magaña
  Arawak constellations: A bibliographic survey. Fabiola Jara
IV. Astronomical Traditions of the Non-Western World
  Monotomy and surprise in Tabwa cosmology. Allen F Roberts
  The moon besmirched. Dominique Zahan
  The haphazard astronomy of the Mursi. Clive Ruggles and David Turton
  Surya Puja temples of South India. J McKim Malville and R N Swaminathan
  The planetarium and the plough: Interpreting star calendars of rural Java. Gene Ammarell
  Applied ethnoastronomy: Navigating by the stars across the Pacific. Ben Finney
  The Woodlark Island calendar: Contexts for interpretation. Frederick H Damon
  Celestial lore of some Australian tribes. Norman B Tindale


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