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How ancient cultures explained eclipses
01:31 - Source: CNN

Editor’s Note: For complete coverage of the Eclipse of the Century go to Watch live, in virtual reality, as the eclipse moves coast to coast Monday.

Story highlights

Before there was an understanding of solar eclipses, cultures around the world feared them

Eclipses have helped to shape history and verify scientific theories

CNN  — 

Sky wolves, star demons, human sacrifice – many ancient cultures spun elaborate stories to explain the phenomenon of a solar eclipse.

Since ancient times, humans have looked up at the sky with both reverence and fear. When the United States experiences a total solar eclipse Monday, many astronomers expect that it will evoke a sense of awe, excitement and even unity.

But imagine that you didn’t understand what an eclipse was and the sun disappeared from the sky unexpectedly, plunging the daytime into darkness. In ancient China, people would bang drums and pots and shout to scare off the dragon that was eating the sun.

“In ancient times, every culture had a sun god, and it was usually one of the chief gods of their whole pantheon,” explains Bradley Schaefer, astronomy professor at Louisiana State University. “Humans couldn’t touch what’s in the sky, so they believed it must be where the gods are. When you have a total solar eclipse, it looks like the death of a god, and to them, that couldn’t be a good thing.”