For the ancients, the night sky had always been the playground of fantastic stories, related to gods and heroes. According to Wikipedia, the earliest direct evidence for the constellations comes from inscribed stones and clay writing tablets dug up in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) dating back to 3000 BCE. But it seems that the bulk of the Mesopotamian constellations were created within a relatively short interval from around 1300 to 1000 BCE.
This does not mean that humans were acquainted with the night sky at such a relatively late date. Archaeological studies have identified possible astronomical markings painted on the walls in the cave system at Lascaux in southern France. Our ancestors may have recorded their view of the night sky on the walls of their cave some 17300 years ago. It is thought that the Pleiades star cluster is represented alongside the nearby cluster of the Hyades.
Certainly the appearance and the motion of the sun, the moon, the planets and the rest of the stars would have puzzled prehistoric people, who would have tried to figure out ways to depict and predict planetary aspects. However, the first systematic attempt to describe and list the constellations was done by Ptolemy, in later antiquity. He identified 48 constellations in his Almagest in the 2nd century. Later on, during the Renaissance, new constellations were added, mostly those visible from the southern hemisphere, while others have been omitted. For example, 12 constellations were created by Pieter Dirkszoon Keyser and Frederick de Houtman between 1595 and 1597, and were introduced by Johann Bayer in ‘Uranometria,’ in 1603. This was the first atlas to cover the entire celestial sphere.
The rest constellations were added later on, by Nicolas Louis de Lacaille in his star catalogue, published in 1756, Petrus Plancius (1592- 1613), and Johannes Hevelius in his ‘Uranographia’ (1690). Some modern proposals for new constellations were not successful; an example is Quadrans, eponymous of the Quadrantid meteors, now divided between Boötes and Draco in the northern sky. The large classical constellation of Argo Navis was broken up into three separate parts (Carina, Puppis and Vela), for the convenience of stellar cartographers.
The current list of 88 constellations is recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) since 1922.
This paper is just a collection from internet sources of relevant information, including astronomical characteristics and historical aspects about the 88 modern constellations.
Last revised: 6/20/2016, Chris Tselentis, Athens, Greece.