Placing The Shapes

By Bernie Bell

The piece I wrote about the Nebra Sky Disc , prompted a very thought-full response from Howie Firth ( Director of the Orkney International Science Festival  I was particularly taken with his thoughts on how the clusters of dots, in various contexts, could connect with an idea of order in The Universe.

Mike and I were discussing this, and I was, once again, saying – if the seven dots on the Nebra Disc, aren’t the Pleiades – (and they really don’t look like them you know!), what are they –  what do they represent?  Mike suggested a comparison with how bees make honeycomb shapes, where the shape they use maximizes use of the area they are in. Is this what is happening when the limpets make rosette shapes?  But – why did Neolithic people carve rosettes at, for example, Ormaig, and at the Ness of Brodgar – though I’m wondering was that particular ‘rosette’ carved there, or brought there as a piece to place in the wall of that building?

Then why did Bronze Age people place the seven dots on the Sky Disc? Is it to do with recognizing the importance of placing, of order in The Universe?

Shapes in nature, which are then seen as significant and copied by humans – such as the spiral ……

With his permission I’ll include Howie’s email, so you can see how his idea prompted our ideas, and might promote more ideas about this fascinating  subject……

“……..those “rosettes” do look like stars. And that is also fascinating to read your suggestion of a possible link with limpets, and if so it would be neat indeed, as it would be bringing something from the sky and something from the earth – or the sea and the earth – and then bringing in the ability of the limpet to stick tightly, after its travels.

Thinking further about limpets, and also their shape, they could fit well the image of “the Primordial Mound” which in some ancient worldviews is the first land that was thought to have appeared over the waters of chaos. The idea was studied in much depth by a remarkable man, John Irwin of the Victoria & Albert Museum. It pictures the waters of chaos, from the depths of which arises a clod of mud and clay which expands into our entire universe. The Primordial Mound is thus the emergence of order out of chaos.

And thinking of it, a limpet would encapsulate order so well. By its systematic life and precise pattern and ability to mark the rock with an imprint – and then by its ability to stick to the rock – it would be the perfect image.

This is amazing, I would never have thought of a limpet in this way, as it is one of the many parts of nature that we take for granted, but indeed it fits so well. And further, seashells have the remarkable ability to make order out of chaos through the beautiful mathematical shapes of shell that they produce, out of the flux of material that they take in from the sea.

This leads to a question for archaeologists. Limpets are quite often found on ancient sites, and from the great numbers and midden-like locations they are very likely to be remnants of meals. But are there any instances where single limpets have been found, particularly in a setting that looks as if they had been deliberately placed there? This would be extremely interesting to hear about.

And a couple of further thoughts. I wonder if the shape of the boat in the sky that you noticed could be related to the constellation Argo, the ship in the sky. For the Egyptians it was the ship of the dead, with Osiris as commander, and the star Canopus steering from the stern.

Also there was an old idea that the stars were simply holes in the firmament through which an external light shines through. A 13th-century text by a Persian author that was quoted in a lecture by Erwin Schrodinger describes life as like this, with a single spiritual light for which each human life is like a window allowing a little of the light to shine through.

One of the challenges for physics about the nature of light is that on the one hand we think of light as something we create, when for instance we strike a match, but the constancy of the speed of light means that it is something fundamental, built into the fabric of the universe, indeed maybe even the material that the universe is woven from. So it is difficult to see how to see how light can be something we create, but we can think that when we “create” light we simply scratch away a little of the material world and make an opening that allows a little of the light to shine through from a deeper level.

And so I’m wondering, again – if not the Pleiades – then what?  A representation of an acknowledgment of recognizing the need for order in The Universe and in our lives?   In those times that would have been vital for our existence.  It is now, but we appear to have lost track of that being so.

And Mike added……”Maybe the arrangement does represent stars, but an idealised form that reflects what is so often seen in nature.  That ideal, that order in the sky, could reflect that need for order that relates to the astronomical observations that mark off the changing seasons of the year – as embodied in the Nebra Sky Disc.”

Which got me thinking about idealised forms – Platonic Solids – the EOASSK – and then – I really take off into space!

A picture of The Pleiades……..


Ed’s note: readers may also be interested in Time by the Stars

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