Fathers of the zodiac tracked down
By Geoff Brumfiel | nature.com
Astronomer shows when and where his ancient counterparts worked.
The MUL.APIN tablets record the dates that constellations appeared in the Assyrian sky. R. D. Flavin
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.
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
Latest News from our Front Page
Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North.
The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night.
A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked.
The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough.
Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield.
Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants
Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July.
The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown.
The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent.
He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are.
London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race.
Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event.
|More News » |