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Greek Dove
Greek Dove. Photo (cc) Kristie’s NaturesPortraits.

Scientifically speaking a negative result is as important as a positive result. Nonetheless while positive results which no-one expected are publishable, negative results – which people would have expected if they’d thought about it a bit – are difficult to get published.

As an example, I’m looking at connections between ancient Greek constellations and the Greek calendar. One nice correlation is that the dove migration season in Greece starts about the same time that the constellation Columba, the Dove, rises in the morning sky for the first time. It’s particularly neat because doves tend to fly at night, so as Columba took to the skies, so did the doves. It would have slotted nicely into my model. There’s a small problem.

Columba is Noah’s Dove and wasn’t invented till AD 1679. Not only that, but if you read Aratus’s Phaenomena, which is a description of the sky dating from the 3rd century BC, he goes on at great length how there’s no constellation in that region. Unlike modern constellations, the Greek constellations were figures not regions and not all stars were thought to be in constellations. Some were considered amorphoi or unformed. If I’d really been awake I wouldn’t have needed to look up the constellation, as there are already doves in the ancient Greek sky. The Pleiades are, among other things, doves. That’s what the name means.

It’s surprising how specific the ancient sources are about which stars are in constellations or not. It raises the question of whether constellations named in ancient texts existed in more archaic times, because stars don’t have to be in a constellation.