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Desert Diary
Culture/World's End


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We tend to sneer at so-called primitive cultures; at the ignorance of past times. Perhaps we should be a little less arrogant. Lots of things we now lay to superstition make a lot of sense, absent our present-day knowledge. We moderns know that the shortened days of winter are caused by the earth's tilted axis as the earth circles the sun. But we know that because a lot of people over many years have learned this—it's not something that would be obvious to us without those scholars.

Put yourselves in olden times, as the sun sank lower and lower in the southern skies; the nights becoming longer and longer. Ancient peoples, just as surely as we, could see the logical conclusion: perpetual night and the end of the world. True, it happened every year, but every year the drums were beaten, the prayers answered; only thus was disaster avoided. And among those who may have thought, "Perhaps the sun would return without our entreatment to the gods", what fool would be willing to take the chance?
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Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, Centennial Museum, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.