Night Skies as a Cultural-Historical Resource

One of tte world's most famous paintings—Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night
One of the world's most famous paintings—Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night
When we look up at a dark night sky, we are essentially seeing the same sky that humans have looked upon for thousands of years. The same dark and starry sky has evoked countless myths, art, literature and music from cultures around the world. It is a timeless and boundless resource.

People were much more connected to the rhythms and wonders of the night sky before the widespread use of electric lighting. The sky marked the changing of seasons and passage of time. It represented order, yet was mutable. Throughout history the night sky has shaped the beliefs and traditions of societies, from the the myths of ancient Greece and the celestially-aligned architecture of ancestral Puebloan civilizations to agricultural harvest festivals and nautical navigation records of sea voyages to new and distant lands.
Aerial view of Chaco Culture National Historic Park, New Mexico
Aerial view of Pueblo Bonito, Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico. The ancient peoples who once built this civilization and lived here applied their knowledge of the night skies to their traditions, including agriculture, ceremonies, architecture and navigation. Photo NPS
Natural dark surroundings are part of the historic fabric of many national parks. Just as we keep historic structures intact and preserve surrounding landscapes as they looked during a given era, so, too, do we recognize the historic value of the natural lightscape — night conditions free of human-caused light. Experiencing the night as it was in older times helps us imagine Teddy Roosevelt sitting on his porch in his later years, Aldo Leopold hiking under full moon light, Carl Sandburg crafting poetic words amidst natural beauty, or hardscrabble homesteaders finding respite in the prairie sky after a long day's work.
A naturally dark setting enhances the impact of luminaries honoring the fallen soldiers at Shiloh National Military Park.
A naturally dark setting enhances the impact of luminaries honoring the fallen soldiers at Shiloh National Military Park, Tennessee.

NPS

The tradition of cultural astronomy continues today. When we point out the North Star to our grandchildren or take a scout troop out to sleep beneath the stars, we are keeping alive this natural affinity humans have for looking beyond our planet. This is the way of people;we only need a little darkness and a starry sky to gaze upon.

References

Rogers, J. and Sovick, J. 2001.The Ultimate Cultural Resource?, The George Wright Forum, 18:4. [38 KB PDF]
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    Last updated: September 14, 2016