Cultural anthropologists often use the term 'axis mundi' in a looser sense than the strict astronomical one. Yet the objects they identify as ‘axis mundi’ in mythological and early cosmological sources do not correspond to the present state of the axis of the earth. The association of these objects with the axis of the earth does not appear to have been made explicitly and unambiguously before the 1st millennium BCE. By contrast, the mythological phenomenon loosely identified as the axis mundi dates back to the earliest stages of civilisation and is described by the most diverse cultures in remarkably similar terms. It can be explained by reference to a once visible entity in the sky, with a complex, evolving morphology and a possible link to the zenith or the pole. The prototype may have been the zodiacal light or, as recent insights in plasma physics indicate, an enhanced aurora formed in prehistoric times.
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