I love the constellations. I started doing my constellation series to discover and share more about them, and it's something I enjoy greatly. It's one of the key gateways into ancient Hellenic mythology, and they may have held significance for the ancient Hellenes. Ancient Origins reports on a recently discovered link between the constellations and the length of time by which the ancient Hellenes used them to tell apart the seasons.

A little background: an ancient Hellenic wine cup currently on display at the Lamia Archaeological Museum, may actually have the earliest known depictions of star constellations, a new study shows. The wine cup dates back to 625 BC, and was originally discovered near a temple in the acropolis of Halai, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) north of Thebes, Greece. The piece of pottery, which is known as a skyphos, depicts a bull, a snake, a hare or small dog, a large dog, a scorpion, a dolphin, and a panther or lion.

According to a news report in Live Science, the animal scenes captured the attention of John Barnes, a classical archaeology doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, who immediately noticed that the animals correspond to patterns of stars. While depictions of hunting scenes are common in ancient Greek art, Mr Barnes said that the combination of a dolphin with a land animal is odd, and representations of scorpions were usually only used on shield emblems. The atypical scene led him to believe the drawings were showing star constellations.

In a study published in the journal Hesperia, Barnes suggests that the bull corresponds to Taurus, the snake represents the constellation of Hydra, the rabbit is Lepus, the dog is Canis Major or Canis Minor, the scorpion is Scorpius, the dolphin is Delphinus, and the lion is Leo. Furthermore, Barnes maintains that the animals are arranged according to their seasonal associations, with the bull representing autumn, the rabbit and dog corresponding to winter, the dog (again) and the scorpion are spring, and the dolphin and lion signify summer. According to Barnes:

“If my proposal is correct, not just constellations but seasonal groupings, then that might suggest that they did in fact demarcate [set the boundaries] of the seasons of the year by associations with constellations. That's something we know they did later and had pretty good reason to suspect they also did in this more archaic period, but we hadn't been able to show it yet.”