xvi. The First Astronomers
Following a lengthy examination of Chinese astronomy for his French language book Uranographie Chinoise ('Chinese Star Charts'), published in 1875, noted Dutch Orientalist, philologist and ethnologist Gustave Schlegel (1840-1903) came to a quite astonishing conclusion. According to him, their stellar calendar reflected the night sky of the Northern Hemisphere between 16,000-15,000 BC, when Deneb, the brightest star of Cygnus, was Pole Star. His findings were verified by the US astronomer Julius Staal in a scholarly book entitled Stars of Jade (1984).
One of Chinese astronomy's most familiar tales concerns the Weaver Princess, or Spinning Damsel (the star Vega), who neglected her duties after falling in love with the king's herdsman (the star Altair). Thereafter the lovers were allowed to come together just once a year, at which time every magpie in the land would fly to heaven in order to create the so-called Magpie Bridge, formed across the Milky Way by the stars of Cygnus. Both Schlegel and Staal felt this story dated back to the time when Vega took over as Pole Star from delta Cygni in Cygnus around 15,000 years ago.
Yet how did Palaeolithic peoples some 17,000 years ago come to believe that Cygnus was the point of creation, and the destination of the soul in death?