Fathers of the zodiac tracked down
2007 06 06

By Geoff Brumfiel | nature.com


The MUL.APIN tablets record the dates that constellations appeared in the Assyrian sky. R. D. Flavin
Astronomer shows when and where his ancient counterparts worked.

Using modern techniques — and some rocks — a US astronomer has traced the origin of a set of ancient clay tablets to a precise date and place. The tablets show constellations thought to be precursors of the present-day zodiac.

The tablets, known collectively as MUL.APIN, contain nearly 200 astronomical observations, including measurements related to several constellations. They are written in cuneiform, a Middle-Eastern script that is one of the oldest known forms of writing, and were made in Babylon around 687 BC.

But most archaeologists believe that the tablets are transcriptions of much earlier observations made by Assyrian astronomers. Just how much older has been disputed — the estimates go back to 2,300 BC.

Now Brad Schaefer, an astronomer at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, says he has dated the observations to 1,370 BC, give or take a century.

The tablets contain a number of different observations, including the day each year that certain constellations first appeared in the dawn sky. These dates change over the millennia because of a tiny wobble in the Earth's axis.

"It's like a big hour hand in the sky," Schaefer says.

By studying these dates and other astronomical information, such as the dates certain constellations were directly overhead, Schaefer nailed down the year the measurements were taken.

He also worked out that the ancient observers lived within roughly 100 kilometres of 35.1° N — an area that includes the ancient Assyrian cities of Ninova and Asur. The results were presented at the American Astronomical Society's summer meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii.

Star gazing
To double-check his measurements, Schaefer did his own observations at the McDonald Observatory in the Davis Mountains of Texas. Rather than using the observatory's massive 9.2-metre telescope, he stood outside and gazed at the stars. "The best equipment I used was rocks to mark where my feet were," he says.

Nevertheless, these measurements allowed him to pinpoint his own position and date more precisely than he could those of the Assyrian astronomers. He is not sure why his measurements worked better.

Schaefer's work will help settle a long-standing debate, says Hermann Hunger, an Assyriologist at the University of Vienna in Austria. Previously, historians had based their arguments on single stars or constellations on the tablets.

Schaefer's statistical analysis of all the observations on the tablets "will impress historians who cannot do the same on their own — including myself", Hunger says. He adds that most historians have settled on a rough date of 1,000 BC for the tablets, which agrees well with Schaefer's analysis.

Article from: http://www.nature.com/news/2007/070528/full/070528-11.html



Related Articles


Latest News from our Front Page

Norway Joins the Race to Develop Killer Robots
2014 10 24
Norway is a large exporter of weapons, which makes the resolution of the debate about creating killer robots an important issue for everyone.  One could debate the overall merits or failings of robotic systems, but an area that clearly has become a point for concern on all sides is the emergence of "killer robots." According to robotics pioneer, David Hanson, ...
Gene That Once Aided Survival in the Arctic Found to Have Negative Impact on Health Today
2014 10 23
In individuals living in the Arctic, researchers have discovered a gene variant that arose thousands of years ago and most likely provided an evolutionary advantage for processing high-fat diets or for surviving in a cold environment; however, the variant also seems to increase the risk of hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, and infant mortality in today’s northern populations. {snip} “Our work ...
The Ebola hoax: questions, answers, and the false belief in the “One It”
2014 10 23
“The Reality Manufacturing Company doesn’t just sell ‘fake paintings’ that are easy to spot. No. They also sell images that are geared to mesh with people’s deeply held instincts and thereby produce rigid false beliefs. People are sure that if they gave up such beliefs, their world would fall apart and blow away in the wind.” ...
New Controversial Theory Suggests "Hobbits" Were Not Human - Who Were These Mysterious Beings?
2014 10 23
The origin of the Hobbit species remains a challenging subject to scientists. The Hobbit’s discovery confirmed the view that the Earth was once populated by many species of human, but new research the Hobbit’s were not human at all! So, who were these mysterious beings? Where did they come from? The idea that our species, Homo sapiens, was the only species of human on ...
Right into enemy hands? ISIS shows off new weapons allegedly airdropped by US (VIDEO)
2014 10 23
Islamic State has published a new video in which a jihadist shows off brand-new American hardware, which was purportedly intended for the Kurds they are fighting in the Syrian border town of Kobani. The undated video, posted by the unofficial IS mouthpiece “a3maq news”, sees a jihadist showing several boxes of munitions with English-language markings, with a parachute spread out on ...
More News »