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We explore 50 Australian Aboriginal accounts of lunar and solar eclipses to determine how Aboriginal groups understood this phenomenon. We summarise the literature on Aboriginal references to eclipses, showing that many Aboriginal groups viewed eclipses negatively, frequently associating them with bad omens, evil magic, disease, blood and death. In many communities, Elders or medicine men were believed to have the ability to control or avert eclipses by magical means, solidifying their role as provider and protector within the community. We also show that many Aboriginal groups understood the motions of the sun-earth-moon system, the connection between the lunar phases and tides, and acknowledged that solar eclipses were caused by the moon blocking the sun.
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Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 14(2), 103-114 (2011).
103
ECLIPSES IN AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINAL ASTRONOMY
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris
Department of Indigenous Studies, Macquarie University, NSW, 2109, Australia.
E-mails: duane.hamacher@mq.edu.au; Ray.Norris@csiro.au
Abstract: We explore about fifty different Australian Aboriginal accounts of lunar and solar eclipses to determine how
Aboriginal groups understood this phenomenon. We summarize the literature on Aboriginal references to eclipses.
We show that many Aboriginal groups viewed eclipses negatively, frequently associating them with bad omens, evil
magic, disease, blood and death. In many communities, elders or medicine men claimed to be able to control or avert
eclipses by magical means, solidifying their roles as providers and protectors within their communities. We also show
that some Aboriginal groups seem to have understood the motions of the Sun-Earth-Moon system, the connection
between the lunar phases and tides, and acknowledged that solar eclipses were caused by the Moon blocking the
Sun.
Keywords: Australian Aboriginal astronomy; solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, ethnoastronomy, Australian place names
1 INTRODUCTION
Aboriginal Australians were careful observers of the
night sky and possessed a complex understanding of
the motions of celestial bodies and their correlation
with terrestrial events, such as the passage of time, the
changing of seasons, and the emergence of particular
food sources (e.g. Fredrick, 2008; Haynes, 1992a;
1992b; Johnson, 1998; Norris and Norris, 2009). Abo-
riginal people used the sky for navigation, marriage
and totem classes, and cultural mnemonics (Johnson,
1998). The celestial world was an important and
integral aspect of the landscape, which was inseparable
from the terrestrial world. Aboriginal knowledge was
passed down to successive generations through oral
tradition, dance, ceremony, and various artistic forms,
including paintings, drawings and petroglyphs. Much
of this knowledge was restricted to particular genders
or totems, or was dependant on the initiation of an
individual into the higher ranks of the community.
As part of our continuing research into Aboriginal
Astronomy (Norris and Hamacher, 2011b; Norris and
Norris, 2009), specifically regarding transient celestial
phenomena (e.g. Hamacher and Frew, 2010; Hamacher
and Norris, 2009; 2010; 2011), this paper explores
Aboriginal knowledge of solar and lunar eclipses. We
do this to gain a better understanding of Aboriginal sky
knowledge and to determine the methods of scientific
deduction from an Indigenous perspective.
Many Aboriginal cultures were heavily damaged by
colonisation, and a significant amount of traditional
(i.e. pre-colonisation) knowledge about celestial phen-
omena has been lost. Most of the records available in
the literature are colonists’ accounts—few of which
come from professional ethnographers. Given that Abo-
riginal societies are extremely complex and exist in a
framework that is foreign to most Westerners, we
acknowledge our limitations in interpreting the avail-
able information, which is strongly influenced by the
biases, interpretations and legitimacy of the sources.
The sources from which we draw information include
traditional Aboriginal custodians and elders, Western
professional researchers, and amateurs with little or no
training in the recording or interpretation of Indigenous
knowledge.
In this paper, we examine five aspects of traditional
Aboriginal knowledge regarding eclipses: 1) Aborigin-
al perceptions of and reactions to eclipses, 2) Abo-
riginal explanations regarding the causes of eclipses, 3)
dating oral traditions using historic eclipses, 4) pre-
dicting eclipses, and 5) representations of eclipses in
Aboriginal rock art. We begin by discussing the
science of lunar phases, tides and eclipses. If the
account describes or is attributed to a known historic
eclipse, it is given an ‘Event #’, with the details of each
event listed in Table 1 (solar and lunar eclipse data
calculated using Espenak and O’Byrne, 2007a and
2007b, respectively). Meanwhile, in Table 2 we in-
clude those Australian place names that include the word
‘eclipse’, even if they have no direct link to Aboriginal
culture.
2 THE SCIENCE OF THE EARTH-MOON-SUN
SYSTEM
1
2.1 Lunar Phases
As the Moon orbits the earth, an Earth-bound observer
will see a different percentage of the Moon illuminated
by the Sun throughout a lunar month. These are re-
ferred to as lunar phases, and are divided into new,
waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full,
waning gibbous, last quarter, waning crescent, and
back to new moon (see Figure 1). When the Moon is
between the Earth and Sun, appearing near the Sun in
the sky from an Earth-bound perspective, it is essen-
tially invisible to us for about three days, which we call
the new moon. As the Moon moves towards solar
opposition, more of the surface is illuminated by the
Sun. When less than half of the Moon is illuminated, it
is called crescent, while more than half illuminated is
called gibbous. When the illuminated portion of the
Moon’s surface is increasing, we deem it waxing.
When the Moon is at solar opposition, the entire hemi-
sphere of the Moon facing the Earth is illuminated,
revealing a full moon. As the Moon fades, it is deemed
waning. The Moon rises at dawn during new moon
and dusk during full moon, with the first quarter moon
rising at midday and the last quarter moon rising at
midnight.
To understand the causes of eclipses, it is essential to
understand the relative motions of the Sun and Moon,
which cause lunar phases. By examining Aboriginal
oral traditions, we can determine whether Aboriginal
people in traditional times understood the relative
motions of the Moon-Sun system and their correlation
with events on the Earth, such as tides.
2.2 Eclipses
In the Earth-Moon-Sun system, there are two general
types of eclipses: solar and lunar. When the Moon pass-
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
104
Table 1: Eclipses discussed in this paper are given in this Table, which includes the event number (#), the date of the eclipse
(DD/MM/YEAR), coordinates of the location where it was seen, the eclipse type (T: S = solar, L = lunar) and subtype (ST: P = partial,
T = total, A = annular), the percentage of the Sun’s area eclipsed (Obs, only for solar eclipses), and the time of maximum eclipse (t,
in local time). Events 2 and 8 are of the same eclipse seen from two different locations. Data are calculated using Espenak and
O'Byrne (2007a; 2007b) with the following time zone conversions: WA = UTC +8:00; NT/SA = UTC +9:00; QLD/NSW/ VIC/TAS =
UTC+10:00 (Eucla, WA = UTC +8:45).
# Date Location T ST Obs t
1 30/07/1916 27° 20S, 126° 10 E S A 94.3 09:46:19
2 21/09/1922 25° 11 S, 133° 11 E S T 100 15:55:00
3 13/08/1859 34° 55 S, 138° 35 S L T 02:04
4 23/06/I899 16° 58 S, 122° 39 E L T 22:18
5 28/12/1917 30° 27 S, 131° 50 E L T 18:40
6 21/09/1922 32° 07 S, 133° 40 E S P 75.7 14:56:37
7 05/04/1856 19° 15 S, 146° 49 E S P 92.7 17:05:31
8 21/09/1922 28° 33 S, 150° 19 E S T 100 16:13:26
9 a 12/03/1793 31° 07 S, 138° 23 E S P 92.9 15:58:26
b 07/10/1782 31° 07 S, 138° 23 E S T 100 09:21:58
10 22/11/1900 16° 58 S, 122° 39 E S P 73.1 14:14:42
11 08/08/1831 33° 52 S, 151° 13 E S P 87.6 07:03:55
12 03/10/1819 13° 54 S, 126° 18 E L T 23:13
13 12/05/1873 22° 20 S, 131° 38 E L T 20:20
14 12/12/1871 18° 46 S, 146° 33 E S P 18.5 14:15:47
15 28/09/1791 35° 10 S, 117° 53 E S P 92.2 06:38:46
Table 2: The nomenclature behind place names in Australia that include the word ‘eclipse’. We were unable to locate any references
that explain the nomenclature behind two locations in Western Australia with the name ‘Eclipse Hill’, one near Buraminya (~750 km
east of Perth) and the other near Lennard Brook (~70 km north of Perth).
Name State Coordinates Event # Reference
Eclipse Hill WA 13° 54 S, 126° 18 E 12 Feeken & Feeken (1970: 230)
Eclipse Islands WA 13° 54 S, 126° 18 E 12 Feeken & Feeken (1970: 230)
Mount Eclipse NT 22° 20 S, 131° 38 E 13 Feeken & Feeken (1970: 164)
Eclipse Island* QLD 18° 46 S, 146° 33 E 14 Reed (1973: 87)
Eclipse Island WA 35° 10 S, 117° 53 E 15 Martin (1943); Reed (1973: 87)
*The local Aboriginal name of this island is Garoogubbee (Bindloss 2002: 330).
es between the Earth and Sun, an observer in the area
on the Earth that falls into the Moon’s shadow sees a
solar eclipse. During a total solar eclipse, the Sun is
completely blocked and day turns completely into night
(called totality). During totality, the Sun’s faint corona
as well as prominences may be observed. The shape
and intensity of the corona depend on the presence of
sunspots, which relate to the 11-year solar cycle (c.f.
Aschwanden, 2004). Total solar eclipses are rare, and
can be seen on average from a given point on the
Earth’s surface only about once every 410 years in the
Northern Hemisphere, while total solar eclipses in the
Southern Hemisphere are even rarer, occurring only
about once every 540 years (Steel, 1999: 351). If only
part of the Sun is covered, we see a partial solar
eclipse. While total eclipses are quite rare, partial
eclipses are far more frequent, with more than 30 such
events occurring every century. The Moon’s orbit is
eccentric, and if the Moon eclipses the Sun during
apogee the Moon will completely fit within the disc of
the Sun, leaving a ring of the solar disc visible, which
is called an annulus. Thus, this is referred to as an
annular eclipse.
There has been some debate regarding the visibility
of partial eclipses. Even when 99% of the Sun is
eclipsed, the remaining 1% is bright enough to cause
damage to the eye (Chou, 1981; Marsh, 1982). There
have been no studies that suggest what magnitude
would be required for people to notice a partial eclipse,
but Stephenson and Clark (1978: 39) claims that partial
eclipses that cover 98% of the Sun’s surface could go
unnoticed, unless they were known in advance, the
astronomer used an observing aide, or the eclipse was
near the horizon and/or the light intensity was reduced
by the presence of clouds (e.g. Newton, 1979: 101).
Mostert (1989) claims that no unambiguous hard
evidence exists that a partial solar eclipse has been
observed with the naked eye. If this were true, would
we expect accounts of solar eclipses in Aboriginal oral
traditions? We determine the frequency of total solar
eclipses over a 1000-year period from AD 900-1900
for 11 locations across Australia (see Table 3). An
average rate of 2.36 observed total eclipses from
Australia over a 1000-year period is roughly consistent
with the estimate of Steel (1999), or approximately
one every 400-500 years. Assuming an average pre-
European human lifespan of 35 years (Prokopec et al.,
1994), a total solar eclipse would only be seen once in
about every 14 lifetimes. Given this statistic, we would
expect to find very few accounts of solar eclipses,
either partial or total.
When the Moon passes through the shadow of the
Earth, we witness a lunar eclipse. When the Moon is in
the shadow it appears dark from half the Earth, so total
lunar eclipses are visible from a much wider area of the
Earth than solar eclipses, and they often occur more
than once per year. During a total lunar eclipse, longer
wavelengths of light from the Sun are refracted through
the Earth’s atmosphere and faintly illuminate the
Moon, causing it to take on a ruddy appearance, al-
though the colour may vary from red to orange, pink or
copper, depending upon the aerosol composition of the
Earth’s atmosphere at the time. This phenomenon was
noted by some Aboriginal groups.
3 ABORIGINAL ORAL TRADITIONS OF THE SUN
AND MOON
In most Aboriginal cultures, the Sun is female and the
Moon is male (Haynes, 1992a: 130; Johnson, 1998),
although this is not universal (e.g. see Meyer, 1846: 11-
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
105
Figure 1: Lunar phases as seen from the Earth (top) and from above the Earth with the Sun to the left (bottom). This image, which is
corrected for observers in the Southern Hemisphere, was reproduced under a Wikimedia commons licence agreement.
12). While the specific details vary between groups,
many Aboriginal communities describe a dynamic be-
tween the Sun and Moon, typically involving one pursu-
ing the other across the sky from day to day, occasion-
ally meeting during an eclipse (Johnson, 1998: 129;
Parker, 1905: 139-140; see next Section). Many stories
explain why the Moon gets progressively ‘fatteras it
waxes from new moon to full moon, then fades away to
nothing as it wanes back to new moon. For example,
the full moon is a fat, lazy man called Ngalindi to the
Yolngu of Arnhem Land. His wives punish his lazi-
ness (or, in some versions, his breaking of taboos) by
chopping off bits of him with their axes, causing the
waning Moon. He manages to escape by climbing a
tall tree to follow the Sun, but is mortally wounded,
and dies (new moon). After remaining dead for three
days, he rises again, growing fat and round (waxing
Moon), until his wives attack him again in a cycle that
repeats to this day (Hulley, 1996; Wells, 1964).
Because the lunar month is roughly the same length
as the menstrual cycle, the Moon is sometimes assoc-
iated with fertility, sexual intercourse, and child-
bearing. In some communities, young women were
warned about gazing at the Moon for fear of becoming
pregnant (Haynes, 1992b: 107). The Ngarrindjeri of En-
counter Bay, South Australia, saw the Moon as a prom-
iscuous woman (Meyer, 1846: 11-12) who became thin
and wasted away (waning Moon) as a result of her
numerous sexual encounters. When she became very
thin (crescent moon), the creator being Nurrunderi
ordered her to be driven away. She was gone for a
short while (new moon), but began to eat nourishing
roots, causing her to fatten again (waxing moon). A
similar account is given by the nearby Jaralde people,
except the waxing Moon represents the Moon-woman
coming to term in pregnancy (Berndt et al., 1993: 232-
233). Several other Aboriginal groups associate the
Moon with love, fertility and intercourse, including the
Koko-Yalanyu of the Bloomfield River, Queensland
(McConnell, 1931) and the Lardil people of Morning-
ton Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria (Isaacs, 1980:
163-166; Roughsey, 1971: 82-84; also see Johnson,
1998 and Fredrick, 2008: 102-104 for more examples).
The Moon and the Sun have a gravitational influence
on the ocean, causing tides. Higher tides than normal
(spring tides) occur when the Sun and Moon are
aligned or opposed, while lower tides than normal
(neap tides) occur when the Sun and Moon are at 90º to
each other as seen from the Earth, damping each
other’s gravitational influence. Many coastal groups
understand the relationship between lunar phases and
the ocean tides, including the correlation between the
spring tide and full moon. According to the Yolngu of
Arnhem Land and the Anindilyakwa of Groote Eylandt
(Hulley, 1996), when the tides are high, the water fills
the Moon as it rises at dawn and dusk (new and full
moon, respectively). As the tides drop, the Moon
empties (crescent) until the Moon is high in the sky
during dusk or dawn, at which time the tides fall and
the Moon runs out of water (first and last quarter).
Warner (1937: 368) claims that “… the Murngin
[another name for the Yolngu of Arnhem Land] have a
most accurate knowledge of the locational, seasonal,
and daily variation of the tides. Anyone who has taken
a canoe trip with them along the seacoast quickly
learns that this knowledge is immense in detail, well
organised, and held by all the men.” Warner
subsequently describes the important role of the tides,
Moon, and Sun in the Yolngu ceremonies and rituals.
Tidal data from Milner Bay (Groote Eylandt) and Gove
Harbour (Arnhem Land) show that semi-diurnal ranges
reach their maximum during the period of full and new
moon in coastal areas of the Northern Territory (see
Figure 2).
In addition to describing the lunar phases and their
relationship to tides, some Aboriginal groups believed
that the Earth was finite in expanse. The Yolngu tell
how the Sun-woman, Walu, lights a small fire each
morning, which we see as the dawn (Wells, 1964). She
decorates herself with red ochre, some of which spills
Table 3: The frequency of total solar eclipses as seen from
eleven different locations across Australia between AD 900-
1900. Information includes the name of the observation
location, the number of total eclipse events (N
e
) and the years
those eclipses were observed. Data are taken from Espenak
& O’Byrne (2007a).
City/Town State N
e
Years of Total Eclipses
(AD)
Alice Springs Northern Territory 0
Adelaide South Australia 5 1033, 1339, 1517,
1728, 1802
Brisbane Queensland 4 1134, 1308, 1554, 1831
Canberra Australian Capital
Territory 1 1247
Darwin Northern Territory 3 1191, 1242, 1256
Hobart Tasmania 3 909, 1064, 1728
Melbourne Victoria 2 1008, 1782
Perth Western Australia 1 1310
Cairns Queensland 0
Broome Western Australia 2 1712, 1737
Cobar New South Wales 4 1308, 1336, 1547, 1608
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
106
onto the clouds, creating the red sunrise. She then lights
her torch, made from a stringy-bark tree, and carries it
across the sky from east to west, creating daylight. Upon
reaching the western horizon, she extinguishes her torch
and starts the long journey underground back to the
morning camp in the east. When asked about this
journey, a Yolngu man told Warner (1937: 328) that
“… the Sun goes clear around the world …”, who
illustrated this by “… putting his hand over a box and
under it and around again.” Smith (1970: 93) notes
that some Aboriginal astronomers (elders who studied
the motions and positions of celestial objects) seemed
to know that the Earth was round, as a particular ref-
erence to a ‘day’ meant “… the Earth has turned itself
about …”, although the degree of cultural contamin-
ation by Westerners, if any, is uncertain.
These accounts reveal that some Aboriginal people
were aware of the motions of the Sun and Moon, and
some coastal groups were aware of their correlation
with ocean tides. Understanding this relationship is a
step towards determining the causes of eclipses.
4 ABORIGINAL REACTIONS TO ECLIPSES
4.1 Solar Eclipses
As with other transient celestial phenomena, such as
comets and meteors (e.g. Hamacher and Norris, 2011;
Figure 2: The tidal range (difference between high and low
tide) over the course of May 2011 in Gove Harbour, eastern
Arnhem Land, showing the data range that corresponds to
particular lunar phases (the day of and two days proceeding).
Data taken from Northern Territory Transport Group (2011).
2010), many Aboriginal groups held a negative view of
solar eclipses. They could be a warning of a terrible
calamity, an omen of death and disease, or a sign that
someone was working black magic (Mudrooroo, 1994:
59; Wood, 1870: 94). According to colonist accounts,
solar eclipses caused reactions of fear and anxiety to
many Aboriginal people, including those living near
Ooldea, South Australia (Bates, 1944: 211; Clarke,
1990), the Euahlayi of New South Wales (Parker,
1905: 139-140), the Yircla Meening of Eucla, Western
Australia (Curr, 1886: 400), the Bindel of Townsville,
Queensland (Morrill, 1964: 61), the Wirangu of Ce-
duna, South Australia (Bates, 1944: 211), the Ngadjuri
of the Flinders Ranges, South Australia (Tindale, 1937:
149-151), the Arrernte and Luritja of the Central Desert
(Spencer and Gillen, 1899: 566; Strehlow, 1907: 19),
the Kurnai of southeast Victoria (Massola, 1968: 162),
the people of Roebuck Bay, Western Australia (Peggs,
1903: 358, 360) and Erldunda, Northern Territory (Hill,
2002: 88). One colonist noted seeing Aboriginal people
run under the cover of bushes in a fearful panic upon a
solar eclipse (Curr, 1886: 400). In 1934, Aboriginal
informants of the Mandjindja language in the Western
Desert told Tindale (2005: 361-362) that they called a
solar eclipse Tindu korari, an event they claim to have
only seen once. They were struck with great fear at
first, but were relieved when the eclipse passed with no
harm having come to anyone. Tindale attributed this to
an annular eclipse that occurred on 30 July 1916 (Event
#1). The most recent annular eclipse visible from this
region occurred 246 years earlier, while the most recent
total solar eclipse occurred 1,082 years earlier, al-
though four partial eclipses that covered more than
80% of the Sun’s area were visible from this region
between 1900 and 1934 (in 1900, 1905, 1915 and 1922).
Although the specific eclipse the Mandjindja witnessed
is uncertain, the annular eclipse of 1916 is the best
candidate, as it covered 92.4% of the Sun’s surface.
To some Aboriginal communities of southeast
Australia, the sky world was suspended above the
heads of the people by trees, ropes, spirits, or magical
means. In Euahlayi oral traditions, the Sun is a woman
named Yhi who falls in love with the Moon man,
Bahloo. Bahloo has no interest in Yhi and constantly
tries to avoid her. As the Sun and Moon move across
the sky over the lunar cycle, Yhi chases Bahloo telling
the spirits who hold the sky up that if they let him
escape, she will cast down the spirit who sits in the sky
holding the ends of the ropes and the sky-world will
fall, hurling the world into everlasting darkness (Par-
ker, 1905: 139-140).
To combat this omen of evil, some communities
employed a brave and well-respected member of the
community, such as a medicine man or elder, to use
magical means to fight the evil of the eclipse. This
typically included throwing sacred objects at the Sun
whilst chanting a particular song or set of words. This
practice was common to Aboriginal communities across
Australia, including the Euahlayi, whose medicine men
(wirreenuns) chanted a particular set of words (ibid.)
and the Ngadjuri who threw boomerangs in each
cardinal direction to avert the evil (Tindale, 1937: 149-
151). Similarly, medicine men of Arrernte
2
and
Pitjantjatjara communities would project sacred stones
at the eclipsing Sun whilst chanting a particular song—
always with success (Rose, 1957:146-147; Spencer and
Gillen, 1899: 566). The act of casting magical stones
at the Sun strengthened the medicine man’s status in
the community since he was always successful in
bringing the Sun back from the darkness, averting the
evil and saving the people. A nearly identical practice
was performed in the event of a comet, which yielded
the same result (Hamacher and Norris, 2011). Among
the Wardaman of the Northern Territory, the head of
the Sun-clan is a man named Djinboon. He can
prevent or rescue the Earth from an eclipse of the Sun
by magical means, or allow it to occur and frighten the
people if laws are broken or if he does not receive the
gifts he desires (Harney and Elkin, 1968: 167).
Hill (2002: 88) explains that the Aboriginal people
near Erldunda, Northern Territory, reacted with a
combination of fear and joy to a solar eclipse that
occurred on 21 September 1922 (Event #2), with some
calling out jackia jackiawhile others sang, in a fear-
ful tone, the song You want to know what is my prize”.
However, not all Aboriginal communities viewed solar
eclipses with fear, as the Aboriginal people of Beagle
Bay, Western Australia, were apparently unafraid of
solar eclipses (Peggs, 1903: 340-341).
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
107
4.2 Lunar Eclipses
Reactions to lunar eclipses are similar to those of solar
eclipses. The Kurnai of Victoria saw a lunar eclipse as
a signal that someone they knew on a journey had been
killed (Massola, 1968: 163). Similarly, Mudrooroo
(1994: 58) explains that a lunar eclipse was an omen
that someone on a journey had a serious accident,
although he does not cite a specific Aboriginal group.
The Ngarrindjeri near the mouth of the Murray River
were fearful of the lunar eclipse of 13 August 1859
(Event #3), believing it to have been created by
powerful Aboriginal sorcerers living beyond the Euro-
pean colonial areas (Clarke, 1997: 139; Taplin, 1859: 2
Sept 1859). Aboriginal people in the Wellington Dis-
trict of Queensland believed a lunar eclipse to be an
omen of calamity to a distant relative and reacted with
fear and sorrow (Lang 1847: 460).
The perception that a lunar eclipse was an omen of
death was shared by the Aboriginal people of Beagle
Bay, Western Australia. During a lunar eclipse on 23
June 1899 (Event #4), an Aboriginal informant ex-
plained to Peggs (1903: 340-341) that the eclipse was
an omen of death to a man—if the Moon is hungry and
“… wants to eat someone (a man) …”, it becomes
dark—but it is not uninterested in eating a woman.
3
On the same night, an Aboriginal man from a nearby
community told Peggs that among his people, a lunar
eclipse represented a man who had become sick.
A Wuradjeri account of a dying ‘Clever Man’ is assoc-
iated with what is possibly a partial lunar eclipse. As
the man lay dying, 30 km away a corroboree
4
was
being held. When some of the people in the corroboree
looked up at the Moon, they saw the man’s warangun
(spirit) strike the Moon, followed by two dark patches
that began to cover the Moon, which was high in the
sky. The people in a corroboree stopped singing and
dancing, realising that a lunar eclipse was an omen that
someone had died. The next morning, they received
the message that the Clever Man had died during the
night. He had been lying on his back looking at the
Moon when he died—at the exact moment the people
in the corroboree saw the Moon go dark (Berndt, 1947/
48: 83).
In western Queensland, a colonist at Wymullah Sta-
tion on the Widgeewoggera River recounted a first-
hand story about how he exploited a lunar eclipse to
reclaim horses stolen by a local Aboriginal group
(McNeile, 1903). One day, his horses disappeared and
he had reason to believe it was a local group of
Aboriginal people. After failing to locate the horses,
McNeile approached an Aboriginal man named Jimmy,
who requested a ransom of rum, tobacco and clothes in
exchange for the location of the horses. Later that day,
McNeile read in the local newspaper that a lunar
eclipse was predicted to occur that night (20 December,
year not given). Using the event to his advantage,
McNeile told Jimmy that if he didn’t reveal where the
horses were, he would make the Moon disappear that
night. And if they were not returned by the next
morning, he would make the Sun disappear the next
day—permanently. After being ignored by Jimmy,
McNeile took a pair of bootjacks, went to the Abo-
riginal camp, and began dancing and chanting a song in
Latin (which he improvised on the spot). As he did
this, the people watched and laughed in amusement
until the Moon began to go dark, which caused con-
fusion and anxiety. As it reached full eclipse, panic
struck the people at the camp and they began scream-
ing and running into their huts. The next morning, he
found his horses in a nearby small pen. Jimmy inform-
ed him that the “Horses found themselves You no
put out big feller Sun now, boss? You leave ‘m all
right?” We attempted to identify a corresponding
eclipse using Espenak and O’Byrne (2007b) from vari-
ous vantage points across Queensland. We failed to
identify any lunar eclipses on 20 December between
1800 and 1903 in any area of Queensland, suggesting
the account was simply a fabricated story and not based
on an actual event. The similarity of the eclipse story
to Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King
Arthur’s Court, published a few years earlier, in 1889,
suggests that McNeile’s story is simply fiction, which
raises the critical issue of the veracity and accuracy of
some literary sources. All need to be critically evalu-
ated and assessed on their individual merits.
Although many groups viewed lunar eclipses as bad
omens, the Aboriginal people near Ooldea, South Aus-
tralia, held no negative views of lunar eclipses, which
they called pira korari. They had witnessed one at
Wynbring after colonists had built the Transcontinent-
al Railway and paid little attention to it, according to
Tindale (1934: 21-27). The Transcontinental (or Trans-
Australian) Railway was completed in October 1917.
In that year, there were three total lunar eclipses visible
from this region, suggesting the men witnessed the
eclipse on 28 December 1917, which was already eclips-
ing as it rose above the horizon (Event #5). The fre-
quency of total lunar eclipses visible that year (on 8
January, 5 July, and 28 December) may explain why
the event was downplayed by Tindale’s Aboriginal in-
formants.
In hunter-gather societies, the sharing of food was
essential for the survival of the community, and steal-
ing or hoarding food was normally taboo. The Lardil
of Mornington Island viewed the Moon as a greedy and
selfish man who steals food and gorges, getting fatter
(waxing Moon). As punishment for this action, he is
cut into pieces, getting thinner (waning Moon) until he
dies (new moon). The sudden and apparent ‘deathof
the Moon during a lunar eclipse (McKnight, 2005:
xxii) served as a mnemonic and warning to younger
generations about the Moon’s selfish nature, reinforc-
ing the taboo of food theft and gluttony.
5 CAUSES OF ECLIPSES: AN ABORIGINAL
PERSPECTIVE
5.1 Solar Eclipses
From the following accounts, it seems many Aborig-
inal groups had a firm understanding that during a solar
eclipse, an object was covering the Sun, although many
explanations were presented as to what that object was
and why it covered the Sun. However, these explana-
tions were dependent upon the person recording and
translating these descriptions, which were nearly al-
ways non-Aboriginal people, typically recorded as a
passing observation with little detail provided to the
reader.
We first present cases where the people understood
the Moon was the object covering the Sun. In Euahlayi
culture, the Sun woman, Yhi, was constantly pursuing
the Moon man Bahloo, who had rejected her advances.
Sometimes Yhi caught up with Bahloo and tried to kill
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
108
him in a jealous rage (which was when an eclipse
occurred). However, the spirits that held up the sky
intervened and drove Yhi away from Bahloo (Parker,
1905: 139-140; Reed, 1965: 130). The Yolngu people
of Elcho Island in Arnhem Land provided a similar, but
less malevolent, explanation for a solar eclipse: it was
an act of copulation between the Sun woman and Moon
man (Warner, 1937: 538). The Wirangu of South Aus-
tralia believed the solar eclipse on 21 September 1922
(Event #6) was caused by the hand of maamu-waddi, a
spirit man that covered the Earth during the eclipse for
the privacy of the Sun woman and Moon man while
they were guri-arra, or “… husband and wife together.”
(Bates, 1944: 211). Near Eucla, South Australia, the
Yircla Meening tribe believed solar eclipses were caus-
ed by “… the Meenings of the moon, who were sick,
and in a bad frame of mind towards those of Yircla.”
5
(Curr, 1886: 400). This account implies a link between
the Moon and Sun during an eclipse, although the
cause is not specifically stated. In all of these cases,
except for the last one, it is clear that the Aboriginal
people understood that the Moon covered the Sun dur-
ing the eclipse.
Such an understanding suggests that some Aborig-
inal groups were aware of the Moon’s position in the
sky through its various phases. Despite the fact that the
Moon is essentially invisible for three days during the
period of new moon, an observer who had been follow-
ing the position of the Moon throughout the month
would be able to predict its position during the new
moon phase.
Among other communities, it is clear that the people
understood something was covering the Sun during a
solar eclipse, but attributed that ‘something’ to various
objects or actions, including a large black bird cal-
led tia by the Arrernte (Strehlow, 1907: 19) or spun
pos\sum fur by the Luritja (ibid.). To some Aboriginal
groups in the southwestern region of Western Austra-
lia, a solar eclipse is caused by mulgarguttuk (sor-
cerers) placing their booka (cloaks) over the Sun, while
to some other groups they move hills and mountains to
cover the Sun (Bates, 1985: 232). A similar view is
held by Aboriginal people of the Central Desert who
call a solar eclipse bira waldurning and claim it is
made by a man (waddingga) covering the Sun with his
hand or body (Bates, 1904-1912: Notebook 6a, 74).
During an eclipse of the Sun on 5 April 1856 (Event
#7), a Bindel man told Morrill (1864: 61) that his son
covered the Sun and caused the eclipse in order to
frighten another person in the community. An earlier
Arrernte account attributes a solar eclipse (Ilpuma) to
periodic visits of the evil spirit Arungquilta who takes
up residence in the Sun, causing it to turn dark (Spen-
cer and Gillen, 1899: 566). The Pitjantjatjara of the
Central Desert believed that bad spirits made the Sun
‘dirty’ during a solar eclipse (Rose, 1957: 146-147)
while the Wardaman believed a solar eclipse was caus-
ed by an evil spirit swallowing the Sun (Harney and
Elkin, 1968: 167). The Wheelman people of Bremer
Bay, Western Australia, told Hassell and Davidson
(1934: 234-236) a story about how one day the Sun and
Moon fell to Earth, splitting it in half. The lazy people
were separated from the rest of the community to the
other side of the Sun. Sometimes they got bored and
wanted to see what was happening in this world. As
they tipped the Sun on its side to have a peek, several
of them would gather, blocking the Sun’s light, causing
a solar eclipse. They only do this for a short time—just
long enough for each of them to have a look, which
explains why the eclipse does not last long. Hassell’s
informant told her that “Yhi (the sun) hide him face
and Nunghar look down …” when storms come or the
sky becomes dark in the daytime (solar eclipse). These
accounts reveal an understanding that an object is
covering the Sun during an eclipse, whether it is by
natural or magical means, although the obscuration is
not attributed to the Moon.
Not all causes of solar eclipses were attributed to an
object covering the Sun. According to a community in
Turner Point, Arnhem Land, a solar eclipse was caused
when a sacred tree at a totemic site was damaged by
fire or carelessness (Chaseling, 1957: 163). As such,
sitting under the tree or even seeing it is reserved solely
for initiated elders. One final account provides no in-
sight to the cause of the eclipse, but provides an inter-
esting example of how tangible and nearby some
Aboriginal people thought the Sun to be. When astron-
omers in Goondiwindi, Queensland, were observing
and recording the total solar eclipse of 21 September
1922 in order to test Einstein’s General Theory of
Relativity, some Aboriginal people present thought the
astronomers were trying to catch the Sun in a net
(Menzel, 1949: 275, Event #8). Unfortunately, Menzel
gives no further information as to why the Aboriginal
people thought this, or to their reactions during or after
the eclipse.
5.2 Lunar Eclipses
We only find a few accounts describing the causes of
lunar eclipses. The Arrernte believed a lunar eclipse
was the result of the Moon man hiding his face behind
the possum fur that he is constantly spinning, which is
identical to the Luritja view of a solar eclipse (Streh-
low, 1907). As with a solar eclipse, Aboriginal groups
in the southwest region of Western Australia believe a
lunar eclipse is caused by mulgarguttuk placing their
cloaks or a hill/mountain over the Moon (Bates, 1985:
232). The Kayardild of Bentinck Island in the southern
Gulf of Carpentaria believed the Moon was a man who
used a net (halo of the Moon) to collect the souls of the
recently-dead during a lunar eclipse (jawaaja). As the
net filled, the Moon-man would disappear, as if he
himself had died, which prompted the people to hide
under fig trees, fearful that the Moon would kill them.
If the people did not seek shelter, they would be struck
with jiljawatha, a sickness that induced crusted sores
(Evans, 1995: 590-596). Róheim (1971: 53) suggests a
Eucla Dreaming that describes a man ascending to the
Milky Way who can only be seen when he “… walks
across the moon …” may describe a lunar eclipse,
showing an understanding that an ‘object’ (the earth’s
shadow) covers the Moon during lunar eclipses.
The generally reddish colour of the Moon observed
during a total lunar eclipse, as discussed in Section 2, is
noted by some Aboriginal groups, including the Abo-
riginal people of the Clarence River, New South Wales,
who thought a lunar eclipse revealed the Moon-man’s
blood (Mathews, 1994: 60) and the Kurnai of Victoria
who believed a red Moon signified that someone had
been killed (Massola 1968: 162). The Lardil of Morn-
ington Island believe the Moon man’s blood is visible
during a total lunar eclipse, prompting elder people to
shout out “… don’t kill him!” (McKnight, 1999: 105).
Strehlow (1907) notes that the Luritja believed the Moon
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
109
sometimes goes into the graves of the recently dead
and eats the entrails of the bodies. He then emerges
into the sky, blood red in colour, so everyone can see
what he has done. However, Strehlow claims this
account has nothing to do with lunar eclipses but is
instead referring to the new moon. The Moon can take
on a reddish hue when it is low on the horizon, because
the shorter wavelengths of light are reduced as they
pass through the atmosphere at a low angle, allowing
the longer wavelengths to dominate the colour.
In the Ungarinyin culture of Western Australia an
unfriendly medicine man causes the face of the Moon
to be covered with blood, which greatly frightens the
people (the text is unclear how this is done, but is
presumably by some magical means). A friendly medi-
cine man then ascends into the sky during a dream.
Upon his return, he informs the people that he made the
Moon “… better.” (Elkin, 1977: 126).
6
6 DATING ORAL TRADITIONS FROM HISTORIC
ECLIPSES
The age of a story that includes a description of a
natural event may be estimated by identifying the date
of that event. Tindale (1937: 149-151) believed that a
Ngadjuri story from Parachilna, South Australia,
described a solar eclipse, which he dates to 1793. In
the story, an elderly female being came from the
northwest accompanied by two dingoes who behaved
as men—one with reddish fur and the other with black
fur. Two brothers, Wulkinara and Kudnu of the lizard
totem, succeeded in killing the dingoes and burning the
old woman. As a result, the Sun disappeared, causing
fear among the people. Members of the community
tried diligently to bring the Sun back from the
darkness, but eventually collapsing, exhausted and in
tears, and fell asleep. Kudnu awakened during the
darkness and cast magic boomerangs into the sky in
each of the cardinal directions. The first three—to the
north, south, and west—failed, but the fourth, cast
towards the east, was successful and the Sun appeared
again. Tindale attributes this event to a total solar
eclipse that passed over Parachilna on 13 March 1793
(see Figure 3). Using Espenak and O’Byrne (2007a)
and the Starry Night astronomical software package,
we calculated that the solar eclipse that passed over
Parachilna actually occurred a day earlier on 12 March
1793, and was a partial eclipse that covered ~93% of
the Sun’s area (Event #9a) with the path of totality
more than 200 km to the north of Parachilna (although
Tindale may have considered what was visible from
Parachilna as ‘total’). However, there was a total
eclipse visible from Parachilna just eleven years earlier,
on 7 October 1782 (Event #9b). Although there were
no other total eclipses visible from Parachilna between
1701 and 1782, there were six other partial eclipses
that covered 75% or more of the Sun during that time.
The most recent total solar eclipses prior to 1793, aside
from the 1782 event and a few annular eclipses, were
in 1608 and 1610. A better candidate for Tindale’s
explanation would be the total solar eclipse in October
1782 that passed over Parachilna. Alternatively, perhaps
some of those who witnessed the 1793 total eclipse
later migrated to Parachilna, or else passed on details
of the eclipse to those living there. Since we are
unclear of Tindale’s definition of a ‘total eclipse’, there
will be some ambiguity with these interpretations. In
areas where the 1793 total eclipse would have been
visible, such as at Lake Eyre, the planet Mercury would
have been clearly visible just 1.5° above the Sun during
totality, but there is no mention of this in the account.
However, the story described the woman as coming
from the north-west and the 1793 eclipse was visible in
the west-northwest sky, while the 1782 eclipse was
visible in the east-northeast sky.
A problem arises with Tindale’s interpretation of this
story as representing a solar eclipse: the story describes
the people falling asleep while the Sun goes dark and
waking sometime later with the Sun still dark. Under
the best conditions, the Sun will remain in totality
(completely covered) for no more than 7.5 minutes.
The total duration of the 1782 eclipse was ~2.5 hours,
with totality lasting only ~2.5 minutes. The people
would have been in total darkness for only a couple of
minutes—not long enough to exhaust oneself into
sleepthen wake sometime later with the world still in
darkness. Another explanation would have been heavy
cloud cover, although it seems unlikely people would
react in such a fearful panic to mere clouds.
Figure 3: The path of the total solar eclipse that occurred on 12
March 1793 as calculated by South Australian Government
Astronomer Mr G.F. Dodwell that Norman Tindale believed
was the source of an Aboriginal story about the Sun becoming
dark.. Dodwell’s calculation was out by one day, and the total
eclipse was not visible from Parachilna (after Tindale, 1937:
152).
7 ABORIGINAL PREDICTION OF ECLIPSES
To understand the cause of eclipses is to understand the
relationship between the motions of the Sun and Moon
over time. If these motions are understood with
sufficient accuracy, an eclipse can be predicted in
advance. However, the required accuracy is very high,
requiring carefully-constructed instruments to make the
necessary measurements. We found only one account
that mentioned such a prediction: A.J. Peggs (1903:
358, 360) presents letters that she wrote to C.J. Tabor
whist living in Roebuck Bay, Western Australia, be-
tween 1898 and 1901. In a letter dated December 1899
Peggs (1903: 358) wrote: “We are to witness an eclipse
of the sun next month. Strange! all the natives know
about it; how, we can’t imagine!” Peggs asked a local
Aboriginal woman named Mary about the eclipse, who
responded “Him go out all right.” It is unclear from
her account how she concluded that Mary had predict-
ed the event—whether it was Mary’s comment or by
some means not described in the letter. The comment
by Mary, however, may have been misleading, as she
may have merely been acknowledging what happens
during an eclipse. Peggs later wrote:
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
110
The eclipse came off, to the fear of many of the natives.
It was a glorious afternoon; I used smoked glasses, but
could see with the naked eye quite distinctly. There
seemed such a rosy hue surrounding the sun, at times
changing to yellow. After a good deal of persuasion
Jack convinced Mary to look through glasses, but she
was half afraid.
Given that the letter was dated December 1899, we
searched for any solar eclipses during this period. Be-
tween 1891 and 1900, only one solar eclipse was
visible from this region, a partial eclipse that covered
73% of the Sun’s disk, which occurred on 22 Novem-
ber 1900 (Event #10).
Reasons for doubting the veracity of this story in-
clude (a) the inconsistency in the dates, (b) the lack of
evidence that Aboriginal people made sub-arcminute
precision measurements required for eclipse prediction,
despite evidence elsewhere for Aboriginal astronom-
ical alignments accurate to a few degrees (e.g. Wurdi
Youang, see Norris and Hamacher, 2011b; stone rows,
Hamacher and Norris, 2011); and (c) a reaction of fear
to something they would have anticipated seems
counterintuitive. Once again this example raises the
issue of the credibility of some of the sources at our
disposal.
8 REPRESENTATIONS OF ECLIPSES IN
ABORIGINAL ROCK ART
Astronomical symbolism is found in Aboriginal rock
art across Australia (see Norris and Hamacher, 2011a).
Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, north of Sydney, is
home to a number of Aboriginal rock engravings, some
of which depict crescent motifs (see Figure 4). Tradi-
tionally, archaeologists (e.g. McCarthy, 1983) refer to
these motifs as boomerangs. However, we are cur-
rently conducting a detailed study to determine, statist-
ically, if these shapes more likely represent crescent
Moons, boomerangs, or an eclipsing Sun. An engrav-
ing at Basin Track in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park
depicts a man and woman, their arms and legs over-
lapping, with a crescent shape above their heads.
While other engravings depicting a man and woman
partially superimposed are found in the region, with
only their arms and legs intersecting (see McCarthy,
1983) the crescent above their heads is found only at
Basin Track. In other cases, the male figure is holding
a crescent in one hand and a fish or shield in the other
and some engravings show a single figure with a
crescent above the head. The meaning of these motifs
is unclear, as few ethnographic records regarding these
engravings and ceremonial sites exist. In the case of
the Basic Track engraving, Norris and Norris (2009)
speculated that the motif might represent the Moon-
man obscuring the Sun-woman during a solar eclipse.
7
Near the man-woman is an engraving of a herma-
phrodite figure, which could represent the Sun and
Moon in full eclipse (John Clegg, personal communi-
cation, 2009). If we speculate that this motif represents
a solar eclipse as seen from that location in the
direction of the engraving (i.e. a straight line from the
feet of the figures through their heads and crescent,
towards the horizon), the eclipse must occur near
dawn, as the petroglyph faces 55 ± east of north.
We examined solar eclipse events visible from the
region in the nineteenth century using the Starry Night
software package. One eclipse candidate occurred at
dawn on 8 August 1831 (t
start
= 06:45, t
max
= 07:03, t
end
= 08:13), which covered ~85% of the Sun’s disk (Event
#11). At mid-eclipse, the Sun closely resembled the
crescent engraving, with the cusps of the crescent point-
ing downward (see Figure 5). The engraving aligns to
the general direction of the eclipse as viewed from this
location (i.e. between due east and 45° north-east), but
unfortunately we have no supporting ethnographic evi-
dence and dating a rock engraving is problematic (as
engravings were typically re-grooved during ceremon-
ies—see Stanbury and Clegg, 1996). Therefore, this
interpretation remains speculative.
9 DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION
Given the low probability of witnessing a total solar
eclipse in Australia, we expected to find very few
accounts of total solar eclipses. And since a partial
eclipse can pass without notice because of the Sun’s
intense brightness, and because of the damage to the
eye that can result from directly looking into the Sun,
we did not expect to find many accounts of partial
eclipses, either. Of the four accounts that we can attrib-
ute to a specific solar eclipse, three of them are partial
eclipses, with some obscuring as little as 75.7% of the
sun’s disk. We also find a number of Aboriginal words
and descriptions of solar eclipses, despite our initial
predictions. This shows that Aboriginal people did
observe some total and partial eclipses and the memory
of these events remained strong in many areas. We
cannot attribute any partial eclipses that covered less
than 75% of the sun’s disk to oral traditions and would
use this as an estimated lower limit to what people
could reasonably notice, although observing the Sun
even when 75% is eclipsed would still cause retinal
damage. However, we acknowledge that other factors
can reveal partial eclipses, such as diffraction by tree
leaves, sufficient cloud-cover, or low-horizon partial
eclipses where the intensity of the Sun’s light is re-
duced (Figure 6).
The available data reveal that some Aboriginal groups
may have understood the mechanics of the Sun-Earth-
Moon system and the relationship of lunar phases to
events on the Earth. The Yolngu people of Arnhem
Land provide the most complete ethnographic evi-
dence, in that their oral accounts demonstrate that they
understood that the Sun and Moon move in an east to
west motion, the Moon goes through repeated phases
that affect the ocean tides, the Earth is finite in space,
and the Moon covers the Sun during a solar eclipse.
Particularly important are the accounts that Aborig-
inal people understood that lunar eclipses were associ-
ated with the Sun (Johnson, 1998; Reed, 1965). It is
not surprising that someone familiar with the relative
motion of the Sun and Moon might notice that a solar
eclipse occurs when the Moon is close to the Sun, and
deduce that a solar eclipse was caused by the Moon.
But it would be an impressive intellectual feat for an
individual to recognise that a lunar eclipse was con-
nected with the position of the Sun. It is therefore
important to get further independent evidence of know-
ledge of this association from historical accounts, in
order to corroborate the account by Reed.
While conducting ethnographic fieldwork in 2006,
one of us (R.P.N.) was with a Yolngu ceremonial leader
during a lunar eclipse. The leader (name withheld) told
me that his clan had no oral tradition about the eclipse.
However, it is possible that the leader did not want to
share this information, as it may have been considered
sacred and secret.
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
111
Figure 4: (Top) Aboriginal rock engravings at the Basin Head Track, Ku-ring-gai Chase National
Park, taken from Stanbury and Clegg (1996), with photographs by D.W. Hamacher of the man and
woman engraving (A) and the hermaphrodite figure (B).
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
112
Figure 5: (A) A partial solar eclipse that occurred on 8 August 1831 as viewed from Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park just after 07:00
during mid-eclipse (Event # 10). Image taken from the Starry Night astronomical software package. (B) The Basin Head Track
engraving of a crescent shape above the heads of a man and woman who are partially superimposed. The blue and white stick
shows the orientation of magnetic north, which is 12.5° east of true north from this location (photograph by R.P. Norris).
Figure 6: Tree leaves acting as pinholes on 3 October 2005 in St. Juliens, Malta, allowing one to observe a partial eclipse without
looking at the Sun (image reproduced under Wikipedia Commons license).
Overall, the cosmos is predictable, with most changes
occurring gradually and slowly, such as the change in
stellar positions over the night or throughout the year,
the phases of the Moon, or the positions of the planets.
The night sky served many important functions and
roles within Aboriginal communities, including time-
keeping, food economics, navigation, social structure,
marriage classes and as a mnemonic device. Surprising
transient phenomena, such as eclipses, are relatively
rare. This is probably the reason that eclipses are met
with reactions of fear and anxiety and why they are
generally associated with negative attributes, such as
Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
113
death and disease—a reaction common to other sur-
prising transient phenomena, such as meteorite im-
pacts, fireballs and comets (see Hamacher and Norris,
2009; 2010; 2011, respectively). These perceptions are
shared by many other cultures of the world.
Some interpretations presented in this paper are solid
examples of ‘Aboriginal Astronomy’ in that they clear-
ly display an understanding of the motions of the Sun
and Moon and their relationship with eclipses, includ-
ing those of the Yolngu, who had a clear understanding
that the Moon covered the Sun during a solar eclipse.
Other groups, such as the Wirangu and the Euahlayi,
understood that something was obscuring the Sun dur-
ing a solar eclipse, although it is not clear whether they
defined that object as the Moon.
10 NOTES
1. While the material in this Section is well-known to
astronomers it is included here because copies of
this paper will be given to various non-astronomers.
2. Among the Arrernte (Anglicised as Aranda or Arun-
ta), eclipses are caused by periodic visits of an evil
spirit-magic called Arungquilta that takes up resi-
dence in the Sun. Arungquilta is also found in
meteors and comets (Hamacher and Norris, 2010;
2011).
3. He also noted that if a child were born during a
lunar eclipse, the child would be a boy.
4. A corroboree is a special ceremonial gathering of
people from neighbouring communities, and often
involves song and dance.
5. Yircla was the name of the community (Eucla) and
also that of the Morning Star (Venus).
6. Although Elkin does not identify whether the
heavenly object is the Sun or Moon, we interpret
the account to refer to the Moon since the Moon
turns red during a lunar eclipse.
7. While earlier illustrations of the engraving show the
woman covering the man, the engraving itself is
less clear. The engraving lines that comprise the
arms and legs of the man and woman cross each
other with no special reference to superposition.
11 ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
The authors would like to acknowledge the Wal-
lumedegal People (the Traditional Custodians of the
land on which Macquarie University is situated), Yol-
ngu Elders, N.S.W. Parks and Wildlife, Dr David
Frew, John Clegg and the Mitchell Library in Sydney.
This research made use of the Starry Night® astronom-
ical software package, the ‘Eclipse Explorer’, develop-
ed by Fred Espenak and Chris O’Byrne (NASA), and
Google Earth. Hamacher was funded by the Macquarie
University Research Excellence Scholarship.
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Duane W. Hamacher and Ray P. Norris Eclipses in Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
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Duane Hamacher is about to complete a doctoral
thesis on Aboriginal astronomy in the Department
of Indigenous Studies at Macquarie University in
Sydney (Australia). Previously he graduated in
physics from the University of Missouri and obtain-
ed a Masters degree in astrophysics from the Uni-
versity of New South Wales. Duane is also an
astronomy educator at Sydney Observatory and,
Macquarie University
Professor Ray Norris is an astrophysicist at CSIRO
Astronomy & Space Sciences in Sydney and an
Adjunct Professor in the Department of Indigenous
Studies at Macquarie University. While obtaining
his M.A. and Ph.D. from Cambridge and Manchest-
er Universities respectively he began researching
the archaeoastronomy of British stone arrange-
ments. Ray is the Secretary of the International
Society of Archaeoastronomy and Astronomy in
Culture (ISAAC) and enjoys working with Australian
Aboriginal groups such as the Wardaman and
Yolngu.
... Among most of the aboriginal societies, the sun is considered female and the moon as male (Hamacher & Norris, 2011) although this is not universal. Many cultural stories explain the reasons why the moon gets gradually "fatter" as it waxes to full moon from a new moon, and later gets fade away to nothing as it decreases back to the new moon. ...
... Moreover, as the lunar month is approximately of the similar length as the menstrual cycle, the moon is occasionally associated with childbearing, sexual intercourse and fertility. Among some of the cultures, owing to the fear of getting pregnant the young women were warned to not to gaze at the moon (Hamacher & Norris, 2011). There is a gravitational influence of the moon and the sun on the ocean that causes tides. ...
... Modern Science has its inclination to understanding every phenomenon because it believes on a practical base, not the theoretical base, therefore, lunar eclipse and their effects on the human body are different. It cannot believe that lunar eclipse can affect human beings but it is just a psychological and sociological problem not related to the eclipses, while physical science has cleared that there are no harmful rays of the lunar eclipse that can affect pregnant women (Battros, 2014;Brown, 2000;Hamacher & Norris, 2011). It has for some reason restricted the looking at the solar eclipse with the naked eye probably for the safety of the eyesight. ...
Article
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The lunar eclipse is a natural phenomenon, but in different societies there are different perceptions prevalent regarding lunar eclipse among the people. To understand the social, cultural, medical science and religious implication of lunar eclipse and its consequence on children, women, and men, this study was undertaken to analyze the existing perceptions, believes, superstitions and indigenous healing practices of society about lunar eclipse in Shikarpur village. The study used purposive sampling, key informant, in-depth interviews and focus group discussion tools to collect the information from society, effected cases of lunar eclipse and medical doctors. In results, it was found that people perceptions about lunar eclipse are influenced by religious superstitions and they attribute its occurrence to the anger of God due to human sins and immorality. The socioeconomic condition of the affected cases was also confusing. Such persons were not given proper rights and care as compared to a normal child. Poverty, illiteracy, and the larger family size were the main hurdles in their rehabilitation and quick recovery. And all unfortunate things were attributed to God's will and eclipse, instead of adopting any scientific attitude.
... Among most of the aboriginal societies, the sun is considered female and the moon as male (Hamacher & Norris, 2011) although this is not universal. Many cultural stories explain the reasons why the moon gets gradually "fatter" as it waxes to full moon from a new moon, and later gets fade away to nothing as it decreases back to the new moon. ...
... Moreover, as the lunar month is approximately of the similar length as the menstrual cycle, the moon is occasionally associated with childbearing, sexual intercourse and fertility. Among some of the cultures, owing to the fear of getting pregnant the young women were warned to not to gaze at the moon (Hamacher & Norris, 2011). There is a gravitational influence of the moon and the sun on the ocean that causes tides. ...
... Modern Science has its inclination to understanding every phenomenon because it believes on a practical base, not the theoretical base, therefore, lunar eclipse and their effects on the human body are different. It cannot believe that lunar eclipse can affect human beings but it is just a psychological and sociological problem not related to the eclipses, while physical science has cleared that there are no harmful rays of the lunar eclipse that can affect pregnant women (Battros, 2014;Brown, 2000;Hamacher & Norris, 2011). It has for some reason restricted the looking at the solar eclipse with the naked eye probably for the safety of the eyesight. ...
Article
Full-text available
The lunar eclipse is a natural phenomenon, but in different societies there are different perceptions prevalent regarding lunar eclipse among the people. To understand the social, cultural, medical science and religious implication of lunar eclipse and its consequence on children, women, and men, this study was undertaken to analyze the existing perceptions, believes, superstitions and indigenous healing practices of society about lunar eclipse in Shikarpur village. The study used purposive sampling, key informant, in-depth interviews and focus group discussion tools to collect the information from society, effected cases of lunar eclipse and medical doctors. In results, it was found that people perceptions about lunar eclipse are influenced by religious superstitions and they attribute its occurrence to the anger of God due to human sins and immorality. The socioeconomic condition of the affected cases was also confusing. Such persons were not given proper rights and care as compared to a normal child. Poverty, illiteracy, and the larger family size were the main hurdles in their rehabilitation and quick recovery. And all unfortunate things were attributed to God's will and eclipse, instead of adopting any scientific attitude.
... Changes in these characteristics are observed and interpreted to predict weather and seasonal change (Parker and Lang 1905: 73-74). Transient phenomena, including meteors, cosmic impacts, and eclipses, are often incorporated into oral tradition, serving as mnemonics for obeying traditional law and avoiding social taboos (Hamacher and Norris 2010, Hamacher and Goldsmith 2013, Hamacher and Norris 2011a. ...
... For comparison, much rarer astronomical events are well known in Aboriginal traditions. Examples include bright comets, which are visible approximately once every ten years (Hamacher and Norris 2011c), total solar eclipses, which are seen every few hundred years from a given location (Hamacher and Norris 2011a), and crater-forming meteorite impacts, which occur every few thousand years (Hamacher and Norris 2009). ...
... In Lardil traditions of the Wellesley Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, red meteors were seen as an omen of sickness, while white or other coloured meteors were seen as a sign of good news (McNight 2005: 209). In Lardil traditions, the red colour of a total lunar eclipse is associated with blood and death (Hamacher and Norris 2011a). Across Australia, the ruddy colour of the Aurora Australis is associated with war, blood, and death (Hamacher 2013). ...
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Full-text available
Aboriginal Australians carefully observe the properties and positions of stars, including both overt and subtle changes in their brightness, for subsistence and social application. These observations are encoded in oral tradition. I examine two Aboriginal oral traditions from South Australia that describe the periodic changing brightness in three pulsating, red–giant variable stars: Betelgeuse (Alpha Orionis), Aldebaran (Alpha Tauri), and Antares (Alpha Scorpii). The Australian Aboriginal accounts stand as the only known descriptions of pulsating variable stars in any Indigenous oral tradition in the world. Researchers examining these oral traditions over the last century, including anthropologists and astronomers, missed the description of these stars as being variable in nature as the ethnographic record contained several misidentifications of stars and celestial objects. Arguably, ethnographers working on Indigenous Knowledge Systems should have academic training in both the natural and social sciences.
... This agency is often symbolic, representing a physical manifestation of ancestor spirits, or denoting divine punishment and malevolent omens (e.g. Hamacher and Norris 2009;2010;2011a;2011b). The anthropological study of the interaction between humans and their environment, including astronomical and geological events, has a number of practical applications. ...
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Full-text available
English: To the Meriam Mir people of Mer (Murray Island) in the eastern Torres Strait, bright meteors are an important element of death customs and beliefs. We draw from a combination of ethno-historic studies and interviews with Meriam elders to understand the role of bright meteors (Maier) in Torres Strait traditions relating to spiritual elements of death rites using a framework of symbolic anthropology. We find that bright meteors serve as symbolic representations of death and mortuary purification practices and show how the physical properties of meteors are incorporated in ritual, belief, spirituality, and custom. Meriam Mir: Meriamgize maier oditautlare nade eud onagri a mokakalam eud kerker. Kemerkemer daratkapda kikem kerkerira pardar, dorge a oka nako Torres Straitge eud tonar bud ueplare. Debe bibi maieride onatager eud ia onagri a nalu tonar able maierira seri/kakaper a dum able tonar umerem a simir akedrem.
... This traditional knowledge extends well beyond mere symbolism, and many Aboriginal cultures contain evidence of a detailed understanding of the sky. For example, within traditional songs can be found explanations of tides, eclipses and the motion of the celestial bodies (Hamacher and Norris, 2012;Norris, 2007;. Practical applications of this knowledge include the ability to predict tides, as well as navigation, time keeping and the maintenance of a calendar (Cairns and Harney, 2004;Clarke, 2009). ...
... We identify this as a reference to a partial lunar eclipse visible on 23 August 1831 that reached mid-eclipse at 22:00. The perception of the eclipse by Truganini, Woorrady, and Robinson's guides is roughly consistent with other Aboriginal views of eclipses from across Australia (Hamacher and Norris, 2011). ...
Article
Full-text available
The canopy of stars is a central presence in the daily and spiritual lives of Aboriginal Tasmanians. With the arrival of European colonists, Tasmanian astronomical knowledge and traditions were interrupted and dispersed. Fragments can be found scattered in the ethnographic and historical record throughout the nineteenth century. We draw from ethnohistorical documents to analyse and reconstruct Aboriginal astronomical knowledge in Tasmania. This analysis demonstrates that stars, the Milky Way, constellations, dark nebula, the Sun, Moon, meteors, and aurorae held cultural, spiritual, and subsistence significance within the Aboriginal cultures of Tasmania. We move beyond a monolithic view of Aboriginal astronomical knowledge in Tasmania, commonly portrayed in previous research, to lay the groundwork for future ethnographic and archaeological fieldwork with Aboriginal elders and communities.
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Comparative religion is a field of study through which views of various religions about a particular topic or sets of topics can be collated, interpreted, and systematically compared for attaining useful insights and broadening the understanding of religious beliefs, behaviors, and actions [i]. The current research furthers the study of comparative religion by elaborating the conceptions or myths related to eclipses as found in various religions and cultures in the world. Written as a narrative literature review, it aims to collate these conceptions and opinions for comparative analysis. In this paper, we have studied the ‘myths’ and ‘mythology’ of the religions and cultures spread across Australia, Asia, the Americas, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. It is found that some common themes exist in the beliefs held by various people and religions. However, if we compare these themes with each other, they are found to be considerably different indicating that they have not come from a common source; people have been creating them at various points in history. However, very different to them is the Islamic perspective on the topic. It profoundly differs from the conceptions held in other religions. It does not say that the eclipses are caused by some giant creature eating up the sun, or because of the sun being imprisoned, or because of a fight between some ‘gods’, and so on. It rather explains them as a phenomenon of nature that invites reflection and pondering. This raises a very important question to ponder upon: Why did Islam not adopt any myths to explain the concept of eclipse unlike any other religion even though it could use them for its benefit? This paper answers it by explaining the nature and objective of the Prophet of Islam and the source of his knowledge which was that very Creator who created the sun and the moon and everything else. Another important point that the current research highlights is that there is an inseparable connection between the fields of history, science, religion, politics, culture, and psychology; none of them can be separated from each other if one wishes to obtain a holistic understanding of this topic as well as many other matters of the past, present, and future.
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How a discipline's history is written shapes its identity. Accordingly, science communicators opposed to cultural exclusion may seek cross-cultural conceptualizations of science communication's past, beyond familiar narratives centred on the recent West. Here I make a case for thinking about science communication history in these broader geotemporal terms. I discuss works by historians and knowledge keepers from the Indigenous Australian Yorta Yorta Nation who describe a geological event their ancestors witnessed 30,000 ybp and communicated about over generations to the present. This is likely one of the oldest examples of science communication, warranting a prominent place in science communication histories.
Conference Paper
Moon and sun is causative agent in the formation of tides. Tidal is a natural phenomenon caused by the gravitational force of attraction between moon and sun. The sun activity in ionospheric layer affects the variation of total electron content (TEC). This paper presents the relationship between total electron content (TEC), tidal phenomenon and the position of the moon and sun during the full moon and new moon occurrence in Selangor. The analysis was carried out from May 2013 until May 2014. The TEC were obtained by using GPS Ionospheric Scintillation and TEC monitor (GISTM) at UKM Bangi station while the tidal readings were capture from Port Klang. TEC and tidal reported consistent with a negative correlation. The gravitational effect of the new moon is equal to the full moon and based on the result, the highest tide value has been recorded on the 31 st January 2014 which found to be the day which moon is closes to the earth and earth is closes to sun. This paper states the outcome of moon and sun position ratio to earth against TEC. In reference to the result obtained, the TEC value increased with the position ratio during new moon occurrence while during the full moon occurrence, the TEC value decreased with the position ratio. In regard to this analysis, it can be concluded that the TEC is directly proportional to the ratio of the position of moon and sun from earth.
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Song and dance are a traditional means of strengthening culture and passing knowledge to successive generations in the Torres Strait of northeastern Australia. Dances incorporate a range of apparatuses to enhance the performance, such as dance machines (Zamiyakal) and headdresses (Dhari). The dances, songs, headdresses and dance machines work together to transfer important knowledge about subsistence survival, social structure, and cultural continuity. This paper explores how celestial phenomena inspire and inform music and dance.
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Skeletal material consisting of 165 individuals (120 from Trench A, which is most fully documented), excavated by the S.A. Museum from a sand dune at Roonka Flat on the Lower Murray River near Blanchetown, is described. The oldest skeletons have been dated by carbon sample, associated with one of the graves to about 8,000 to 7,000 years B.P. It is believed, that the youngest graves have been added before about 200 years B.P. Grave orientation and skeletal position in the Roonka graves have been compared with data from Victoria published by Blackwood and Simpson. Stature was estimated to have been about 167 cm in males and 156 cm in females. Demographic structure has been pre-sented separately for Trench A and separately for the total population. Paleopathological observations gave evidence of a hard life in the social and natural environment and of health hazards due to probable agression with neighbours and due to diseases. It is evident that, as far as survival is concerned, the Roonka people had mastered well the conditions they found at the Murray River. Conclusions, based on multivariate analysis of a small series of complete or reconstructed male skulls, may be made about the morpho-logical changes over time. It seems that the population from the distant past was more rugged but did not differ substantially from the population of the more recent past in that area. This view was also supported by dental evidence and by cultural evidence – ritual evulsion of the front teeth has been found in the oldest as well as (but less frequently) in the youngest skulls from Roonka. Avulsions of incissors in males from the Roonka II period belong to the oldest reported in Australia (Roonka 8,000–7,000 year B.P., Lake Nitchie skeleton (Macintosh 1971) about 7,000 years B.P.).
Book
The series builds an extensive collection of high quality descriptions of languages around the world. Each volume offers a comprehensive grammatical description of a single language together with fully analyzed sample texts and, if appropriate, a word list and other relevant information which is available on the language in question. There are no restrictions as to language family or area, and although special attention is paid to hitherto undescribed languages, new and valuable treatments of better known languages are also included. No theoretical model is imposed on the authors; the only criterion is a high standard of scientific quality. © Copyright 1995 by Walter de Gruyter & Co., D-10785 Berlin. All rights reserved.
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Sir Baldwin Spencer (1860-1929) was a British/Australian biologist and anthropologist, best known for his work amongst the indigenous Aboriginal tribes of Australia. After graduating from Exeter College, Oxford in 1884, Spencer was elected a fellow of Lincoln College, Oxford, before being appointed the Professor of Biology at the University of Melbourne. In 1896 Spencer joined his friend and co-author Francis James Gillen (1855-1912) to undertake fieldwork during the Aboriginal tribal gathering known as the Engwura. This pioneering volume, first published in 1899, is the result of this fieldwork. Spencer and Gillen were initiated as members of the Arunta tribe and became the first Europeans to witness many tribal customs and social structures. The kinship structures, marriage and burial ceremonies and religious beliefs of several tribes are described. This fascinating volume influenced contemporary ideas concerning palaeolithic society and the origins of art and religion.