Astronomy and Agriculture
Why is agriculture the most important invention? Farming enabled people to grow all the food they needed in one place. And farming can sustain a much larger population than hunting and gathering. This led to the emergence of cities, the sharing of natural resources and of ideas and innovations. Astronomy and Agriculture, or food and the stars, are inherently connected. Most likely, astronomy developed when agriculture became significant in the Neolithic in the ancient Near East.
The term Neolithic Revolution or Agricultural Revolution describe the radical and significant period of change in which humans began cultivating plants, breeding animals for food and forming permanent settlements. The advent of agriculture separated Neolithic people from their Paleolithic ancestors.
The agrarian constellations were named from the existing ones, some were renamed or even regrouped. We point out that between the agrarian constellation, which rises and sets in agreement with the agrarian year, birds’ and snakes’ constellations show up. These animals are good weather predictors. In addition, birds and snakes mythological help the cycle of life by appearing in rituals (birth (baptism), adult (wedding), death (burial)), symbolizing life and death in the continuum of life. To keep up with agricultural work, and to have a rich harvest, the first appearance of marker stars such as Sirius, Aldebaran, Vega, Deneb, Altair, Regulus, Antares etc. needed to be predicted in advance.
These predictions could only be made by systematically watching the sky to detect the heavenly rules. According to Szücs-Csillik, these systematic and regular sky observations evolved astronomy into science.
Who first started agriculture?
Egyptians were among the first peoples to practice agriculture on a large scale. The agricultural revolution started in the pre-dynastic period from the end of the Paleolithic into the Neolithic, between around 10,000 BC and 4000 BC. And it was only possible because of the development of basin irrigation.
Before calendars (as we know them today) people had no way of determining when to sow, or harvest except by the stars. Constellations made the patterns of the stars easy to remember. The ancient peoples knew for example that when the constellation Orion started to be fully visible winter was coming soon.
Mythology and Agriculture
The myth of the Abduction of Persephone by Hades explained the seasons. During the time that Persephone spends away from her mother, Demeter, goddess of harvest causes the earth to wither and die. This time of year became autumn and winter. Persephone’s arrival to be reunited with her mother signals a renewal of hope in the bountiful spring.
The stars allowed farmers to plan ahead and form agriculture, and constellations made it easier to recognize and interpret the patterns in the sky. The constellations also helped with navigation. The best way to teach people was to create stories to go along with the stars- this was how we named the stars and constellations.
Astrology and astronomy were one and the same until recently. Just as the Moon’s gravitational pull causes tides to rise and fall, it also affects moisture in the soil. Therefore, it’s said that seeds will absorb more water during the full Moon and the new Moon, when more moisture is pulled to the soil surface.
Ancient cultures had commonalities with astronomy; Religion, Navigation, Time-keeping. As with many ancient cultures, the Egyptian astronomy began with recording the time of year for agricultural periods, and may well have served a navigational purpose, a common practice in the desert. These observations became imbued with religious significance and became incorporated into their architecture.
Determining the dates of the solstices and equinoxes was key to early agriculture; it allowed prediction of seasons, planning of planting and harvesting, and it could determine holidays.
Ancient calendars were big structures to monitor the path of the sun and other bodies. Stonehenge, ancient stone structure in England, used to determine exact day of summer and winter solstice and track the path of sun. Machu Pichu, Incan city, believed to be estate of the emperor Solar observatory / Sun temple.
By the time of the Greeks, mechanical calendars and calculators were being built and used for navigation and astrology. As well as the use of mathematics in astronomy. Antikythera Mechanism, discovered in 1901 in an ancient shipwreck built around 150-100 BCE. It could calculate position of moon, planets and stars for a given date.
The Greek goddess of farming and agriculture was known as Demeter. As much of ancient Greece was agrarian, Demeter was worshiped by many for bountiful harvests and fertility. She is the daughter of Titans, sister to Zeus, and mother to Persephone. Her Roman counterpart is Ceres, from which we get the word cereal.
Astronomy And Agriculture Today
Remote sensing satellites provide key data for monitoring soil, snow cover, drought and crop development. Rainfall assessments from satellites, for example, help farmers plan the timing and amount of irrigation they will need for their crops.
Here are a few of technological advances that are the legacy of astronomy:
- Computers, satellites and the smartphones
- Global Positioning System (GPS),
- Energy-efficient solar panels,
- Digital camera sensors,
- Airport security scanners,
- Portable X-ray machines,
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scanners
Haarmann, Marler, 2008; Szücs-Csillik et alii, 2019; Szücs-Csillik et alii, 2020.