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This constellation is one of the 12 figures formed by the Dutch navigators Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman from stars they charted in the southern hemisphere on their voyages to the East Indies at the end of the 16th century. It first made its appearance in 1598 on a globe by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius and first appeared in print in 1603 on the Uranometria atlas of Johann Bayer.

The Indian is portrayed brandishing a spear as though hunting. It is not known if he is supposed to be a native of Madagascar, where the Dutch fleet stayed for several months on their way east and made many of their astronomical observations. Alternatively he could be a native of the East Indies or southern Africa; or perhaps the figure is symbolic, representing all the indigenous peoples the explorers encountered on their various travels, from South America to the Indies. Whatever the case, early depictions such as in Bayer’s Uranometria strongly resemble this engraving of a native of Madagascar from an account of the first Dutch voyage to the East Indies, De eerste schipvaart naar Oost-Indië onder Cornelis de Houtman, first published in 1598 (thanks to Rob van Gent for the reference).

The constellation’s brightest stars are of third magnitude, but none are named.

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Indus, an Indian brandishing a spear in one hand and holding a clutch of spears with the other, as shown in the Uranographia of Johann Bode (1801). Bayer’s original depiction showed the Indian face-on with the spear in his left hand. Bode has turned him round so he is seen from the back, perhaps to make him right-handed.



© Ian Ridpath. All rights reserved


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