Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon

Jan 29, 2016

Photo credit: Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver; NASA

By Kenneth Chang

For people living in the ancient city of Babylon, Marduk was their patron god, and thus it is not a surprise that Babylonian astronomers took an interest in tracking the comings and goings of the planet Jupiter, which they regarded as a celestial manifestation of Marduk.

What is perhaps more surprising is the sophistication with which they tracked the planet, judging from inscriptions on a small clay tablet dating to between 350 B.C. and 50 B.C. The tablet, a couple of inches wide and a couple of inches tall, reveals that the Babylonian astronomers employed a sort of precalculus in describing Jupiter’s motion across the night sky relative to the distant background stars. Until now, credit for this kind of mathematical technique had gone to Europeans who lived some 15 centuries later.

“That is a truly astonishing find,” said Mathieu Ossendrijver, a professor at Humboldt University in Berlin, who describes his archaeological astronomy discovery in an article on Thursday in the journal Science.


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4 comments on “Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon

  • 2
    NearlyNakedApe says:

    This demonstrates that advanced knowledge can easily be lost when countries are ruled by backwardness, and advanced civilisations are over-run by the ignorant!

    Indeed. The burning of the great library of Alexandria as described by Carl Sagan in the original series Cosmos is probably the most striking example of this phenomenon. Few people in the general public are aware of this event and the profound impact this incalculable loss had on the following 2000 years of human history.

    There is no doubt in my mind that society and civilization would be so much further ahead had it not been for the scourge of superstition and organized religion. Religious fanatics in positions of power can do incredible damage to a nation and even the entire world. They have this powerful time machine that can make all of us travel in only one direction: the past.



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  • NearlyNakedApe
    Jan 30, 2016 at 9:38 am

    There is no doubt in my mind that society and civilization would be so much further ahead had it not been for the scourge of superstition and organized religion. Religious fanatics in positions of power can do incredible damage to a nation and even the entire world.

    Indeed! The modern backward are busy destroying ancient relics – albeit not quite as ancient as these in the OP, but in the same geographical area!

    Apparently they are not representing TRRrrrro religious knowledge, so offend the pig-ignorant god-delusions of the militants!

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-34036644

    Islamic State militants have destroyed Palmyra’s ancient Temple of Baalshamin, Syrian officials and activists say.

    Syria’s head of antiquities was quoted as saying the temple was blown up on Sunday. The UK -based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) reported that it happened a month ago.

    IS took control of Palmyra in May, sparking fears for the site.

    It is considered one of the ancient world’s most important cultural centres.

    The ancient city, which is a Unesco World Heritage site, is famed for its well-preserved Graeco-Roman ruins, and the Baalshamin temple, built nearly 2,000 years ago, is one of the city’s best-known buildings.

    The Islamic State group has destroyed several ancient sites in Iraq. The militants believe any shrines or statues implying the existence of another deity are sacrilege and idolatry, and should be destroyed.



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