The twinkling stars sit in a fixed pattern. They all move
slowly together across the sky. They rise slightly later
each night, making a full cycle over the course of a year.
People named the brightest stars. They associated images
with clusters of stars, a lion here, a bull there, and
named them also.
They observed the patterns of planetary motion. When they told
stories about important events that happened, others could
figure out when these things had happened by decoding references to
planetary locations and combinations. The cycle of jupiter/saturn
conjunctions is especially useful for this.
People who know the stars pattern can tell the time by them.
The time of night and the time of year. Typically the ones
which rise just before the sun, are used as seasonal markers.
This is called 'rising heliacally'.
In the northern temperate zone, some of the stars surrounding the
"north pole" never rise or set, like other stars do, they are always
The other stars revolve around these. To our ancestors it was obvious
that the world (not necessarily the ground) turned on an axis, they
saw it every night.
This pivot point of the world was noted and remarked upon. It was variously described as a tree or as the axis of a grinding mill.
If you are far enough north, some of the southern stars are never
seen. People knew about them from travelers and from stories of
previous world ages.
Near the poles, the stars motion through the sky is very arched
and circular. Near the equator, the stars appear to move more
directly up, over, and down.
People in the tropics figured out how to use the stars position and
movements for navigation. The Polynesians used them to reliably
cross thousands of miles of open ocean on their trips to Hawaii.
They acurately passed this information through many generations, by
encoding the details in songs.
There is a particular band of the sky in which the sun, moon,
and other wanderers (planets) travel. This was of course noticed.
The constellations in this area, are those we know of as the
zodiac. The reason astrology discusses the location of the various
planets in these 'signs' and not the rest of the sky, is simply
that these are the only places the planets go.
Another remarkable feature of the night sky is the Milky Way,
a large swath of white light cutting across the sky. It is often
referred to as a river.
In the myths of various peoples, it was the path taken by the souls
of the dead enroute to heaven.