Do you ever find yourself checking what your horoscope says every now and then to try and predict your future? Do you resonate with the “astronomy person” trope and try to judge people’s star signs based on their behaviours? Well, jokes aside, have you ever wondered where Astronomy actually stemmed from and what role Africa has played in this field? Let’s talk about it.
Since ancient times, Africans have been keeping an eye on the planets and stars. Africans have looked to the heavens for purpose, order, and knowledge of their place as people on earth for millennia. In some parts of Africa, astronomy is still used to measure time, seasons, cycles, direction, and naming rites.
Therefore, it is worth mentioning that several ancient African communities gave rise to astronomical discoveries - many of these are still our guiding principles. For example, Egyptian astronomers recorded the positions of the sun, stars, and moon cycles. They created a 365 1/4-day year-long calendar system by dividing the year into 12 equal pieces.
Different myths and legends such as San folklore, The Dancing Stones of Namoratunga in Kenya, the Dogon calendar system in Mali based on the phases of the moon, and the miniature megalithic Stonehenge of Nabta Playa in the Sahara have been shown to contain mathematical aspects in cultural astronomy.
This can be proven by the fact that located in modern-day Kenya, the African Stonehenge was a calendar built and operated using rock formations that was incredibly accurate when it was built around 300 B.C. Additionally, a vast collection of in-depth astronomical observations were accumulated by the Dogon people of Mali.
The Dogon were aware of the rings of Saturn, the moons of Jupiter, the spiral shape of the Milky Way, as well as the orbit of the Sirius star system. Through this system, they correctly predicted orbits up to the year 1990 hundreds of years ago.
In the status quo, African researchers are attempting to preserve this native African astronomical knowledge and data to eventually integrate both modern and traditional astronomical methods into contemporary Africa.
While Africa struggled with initiating further advancements in the field of Astrology earlier, things are looking up now. With the launch of a 64-MeerKat array in South Africa, the future of astronomy in Africa is shining brilliantly. The project that David Mabuza, South Africa’s Deputy President, initiated in 2018 motivates the populace's goals. The first in the SKA series, the South African MeerKat radio telescope, has been integrated into the mid-frequency portion of the SKA phase and is the largest radio telescope in Africa.
Despite significant advancements in numerous sectors, the history of science and technology in Africa has received less attention than that of other parts of the world. This blog is one of our many upcoming efforts to change that trend.