The Emu In the Sky Constellation: Australian Aboriginal Astronomy
The sky is full of familiar constellations, such as Orion, Lyra, Ursa Major and Ursa Minor. Many of the constellations recognised in the Western world today were noted and named by Greek or Roman astronomers. However, other cultures have also turned their faces to the sky and described the things they saw there.
Astronomy is an important part of Australian Aboriginal culture. In addition to playing their part in mythology and folklore, the constellations also play a practical role in the traditional lifestyle of the Australian Aboriginal people.
The Emu in the Sky
The Emu in the Sky is a constellation that is recognized by many Australian Aboriginal groups. Rather than a constellation of stars, the pattern is made up of dark clouds in the bright area of the Milky Way. It resembles an emu - a large flightless bird that is native to Australia.
In Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, there is a carving of an emu. Once a year, the Emu in the Sky constellation appears directly over the carving. This indicates the date on which emu eggs are ready to be collected and eaten.
The head of the Emu in the Sky dark cloud constellation is known to modern astronomers as the Coalsack nebula.
It was also known to the Incas as "Yutu", which is the Inca word for a Tinamou, a partridge-like bird native to Central and South America.
Although most Australian Aboriginal groups identify the Coalsack nebula as an Emu, the Wardaman people in the Northern Territory of Australia describe it as the head of a "lawman" who watches over them. The nightly appearance of the lawman reminds everyone in the group that they must obey the traditional laws.
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