Namoratunga

Namoratung'a II (or Kalokol) is an archaeological site close to Lake Turkana in northwest Kenya. It consists of a collection of nineteen small standing stones—basalt pillars—associated with two burial cairns. It achieved notoriety in the late 1970s as an ancient calendrical site marking the horizon rising positions in 300 B.C.E. of seven stars and star groups still used in the present-day calendar of the Borana, who live about three hundred kilometers (two hundred miles) to the east.

This interpretation serves as a warning against the dangers of heaping supposition upon supposition without paying enough attention to the broader evidence. Before the Borana were revisited by Italian anthropologist

Marco Bassi in the mid-1980s, the only first-hand account of their calendar was that obtained by the Ethiopian anthropologist Asmerom Legesse around twenty years earlier. Legesse's informants had said that successive months were recognized by the newly sighted crescent moon rising "in conjunction with" seven successive stars or star groups: Triangulum, the Pleiades, Alde-baran, Bellatrix, Orion's belt and sword, Saiph, and Sirius. Astronomer Laurence Doyle from NASA examined Legesse's account but could not make astronomical sense of it, unless "rising in conjunction" was taken to mean rising at the same horizon position, that is, in astronomical terms, at the same declination. The only problem was that this didn't work correctly in the present era; however, it would have worked perfectly in around 300 B.C.E. The answer, suggested Doyle, was that the present-day Borana calen-drical system derives from a more ancient calendar set up by Cushitic peoples around 300 B.C.E. A survey of alignments between the pillars at the Namoratung'a II site revealed alignments upon all seven of the Borana stars and asterisms at their rising points in around 300 B.C.E.

Unfortunately, subsequent reassessments challenged many aspects of this attractive picture: the actual dating and purpose of the Namoratung'a stones; their cultural connection with the later Borana; whether the alignment evidence was statistically significant (there exist a lot of pairwise alignments between nineteen stones); and whether the measured alignments were accurate in the first place. Finally, it is difficult to understand why, and how, the observational principles underlying the Borana calendar could have remained static for over two thousand years when they no longer fit the actual motions of the stars.

Taken together, these problems made the idea that the Borana calendar was some sort of frozen remnant of a much earlier calendrical system seem extremely shaky. The house of cards collapsed completely when Bassi's field-work confirmed that "in conjunction with" should be interpreted as "side by side with," in other words, in astronomical terms, "rising at the same right ascension as." When properly understood, the Borana system works perfectly well in the present day.

See also:

Calendars.

Borana Calendar.

Celestial Sphere; Declination.

References and further reading

Bassi, Marco. "On the Borana Calendrical System." Current Anthropology 29 (1988), 619-624.

Doyle, L. R. "The Borana Calendar Reinterpreted." Current Anthropology 27 (1986), 286-287.

Legesse, Asmerom. Gada: Three Approaches to the Study of African Society. New York: Macmillan, 1973.

Lynch, B. M., and L. H. Robbins, "Namoratunga: The First Archaeoastro-nomical Evidence in Sub-Saharan Africa." Science 200 (1978), 766-768.

Ruggles, Clive. "The Borana Calendar: Some Observations." Archaeoastron-omy 11 (1987), S35-53.

Ruggles, Clive, ed. Archaeoastronomy in the 1990s, 117-122. Loughborough, UK: Group D Publications, 1993.

Selin, Helaine, ed. Astronomy across Cultures, 457-460. Dordrecht, Neth.: Kluwer, 2000.

Soper, Robert. "Archaeo-Astronomical Cushites: Some Comments." Azania 17 (1982), 145-162.

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