Weather Channel could learn something from the Inca and their descendants

Weather Channel could learn something from the Inca and their descendants

When it came to predicting rain months ahead of the harvest, did the Inca’s foresight extend more than 400 light years to the star cluster Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, as part of a cosmic system of weather forecasting?

Disappearing from sight in the southern hemisphere around the end of April, not to return until mid-June around the solstice, Pleiades was scrupulously observed by astronomer-priests in the Temple of Qorikancha in Cusco.

 

Click on this link if you’re interested in a Cusco & Machu Picchu vacation with a special focus on Inca astronomy, mythology and the incredible constellations of the South American sky.

The heliacal rising was considered vital for planning the coming year’s harvest and to predict crop yields.

The practice has continued through the centuries. Across the southern Andes in late June, during the longest, coldest nights of the year, peasant farmers climb the high mountain ridges to dizzying heights and peer out, low into the northeast horizon.

As dawn approaches, they’re looking for Pleiades.

This Peruvian cosmological chart drawn in 1613 by indigenous chronicler Pachacuti Yamqui shows the Pleiades. The Seven Sisters were known as the Collca to the Inca. The star cluster was just one of many celestial elements depicted to try to explain the Inca Empire's cosmo-vision as it was practiced in the Temple of Qorikancha. According to their ancient beliefs, if the star cluster reappears large and bright, it portends a year of abundant rain and a plentiful harvest.

If, however, the Seven Sisters reappear small and dimmed in a celestial haze, that indicates the rains will be sparse and arrive late. The farmers then know to postpone planting by several weeks.

Viewing the heavens in June to predict rainfall months later couldn’t be anything more than quaint superstition, right?

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Podcast: The Planetarium Cusco. Click on the icon to hear the story of one Cusco family’s mission to reveal the Inca Cosmo-vision to the world.  A great Cusco activity for families traveling with children!

As it turns out, no. The Inca and their descendants were on to something.

In a fascinating cross-disciplinary study published in 2002 in the journal American Scientist, Benjamin Orlove, John C. H. Chiang and Mark A. Cane posed the question:

“How could the appearance of stars possibly be connected to rainfall? And how, indeed, could people even remember the appearance of stars from one year to the next? Their belief, and the agricultural practices connected to it, seemed as implausible as foretelling the outcome of a battle by examining the intestines of a sacrificed bull.”

What they discovered was a linkage between the oceanic and atmospheric phenomenon known as El Niño and a tropical cloud formation called high cirrus, which is usually so wispy-thin that it’s not visible to the naked eye.

During normal years, this cloud cover does little to obscure the night sky. But the Pleiades star cluster appears hazier from the farmer’s high mountain perch during an El Niño year. That’s because increased moister from the warmer Pacific Ocean carries into the upper atmosphere to feed the cirrus clouds.

Most remarkably, their assessment of the accuracy of this ancient weather forecasting system was around 65 percent.

“This exceeds the accuracy of modern scientific forecasts with similar lead times for precipitation over the Andean highlands, which ranges from 55 to 60 percent.”

Click Here if you would like to read the study: “Ethnoclimatology in the Andes”

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Authored by: Rick Vecchio

Rick Vecchio, Fertur’s director of development and marketing, was educated at the New School for Social Research and Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. He worked for Pacifica Radio WBAI and as a daily reporter for newspapers in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. Then in 1996, he decided it was time to realize a life-long dream of traveling to Peru. He never went back. While serving as Peru country manager for the South American Explorers from 1997-1999, he fell in love with Fertur's founder, Siduith Ferrer, and they married. Over the next six years, he worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press. Meanwhile, Siduith built the business, which he joined in January 2007. Now he designs custom educational and adventure tour packages for corporate and institutional clients, oversees Fertur’s Internet platform and occasionally leads special trips, always with an eye open for a good story to write about.

There is 1 comment for this article
  1. Walter at 6:58 pm

    The Incas, the amazing culture!!!!! Irá have been todo Cusco.

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