Fathers of the zodiac tracked down
2007-06-06 0:00

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

Pro-Israel bias: BBC admits editorial breach in interview with Israeli defense chief
2015-05-23 7:58
The BBC has reached a “provisional finding” to uphold complaints made by Palestinian activists that the broadcaster breached its editorial guidelines in a “soft” interview with the Israeli defense minister. Complaints focused on BBC journalist Sarah Montague’s alleged failure to challenge controversial claims made by Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Journalist Amena Saleem, who works with the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), wrote ...
41% of Americans Support Criminalizing "Hate Speech"
2015-05-23 7:31
The following are from a recent poll about what some are calling on for "hate speech" 1. Support for Hate Crimes Legislation Do you support or oppose the federal law that requires increased penalties for hate crimes committed on the basis of the actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, or gender of any person? 2. Support for Expanding Hate Crimes Do ...
FBI Admits No Major Cases Cracked with Patriot Act Snooping Powers
2015-05-23 7:36
FBI agents can’t point to any major terrorism cases they’ve cracked thanks to the key snooping powers in the Patriot Act, the Justice Department’s inspector general said in a report Thursday that could complicate efforts to keep key parts of the law operating. Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said that between 2004 and 2009, the FBI tripled its use of bulk ...
Sweetener Stevia Was Once Hailed As An Anti-Fertility Agent for Population Reduction
2015-05-23 7:13
Maybe it's not so sweet now... If you've thought stevia, the natural alternative to sugar and artificial sweetners with aspartame, et al., is too good to be true, there may be a catch. Check out this textbook written in 1970 by Paul and Anne Ehrlich, the precursor to the textbook Ecoscience they wrote with Obama Science Czar John P. Holdren ...
TPP Aproved: Senate Republicans Give Obama New Powers - Details Remain 'Classified'
2015-05-23 6:43
President Obama won a big victory for his trade agenda Friday with the Senate’s approval of fast-track legislation that could make it easier for him to complete a wide-ranging trade deal that would include 11 Pacific Rim nations. A coalition of 48 Senate Republicans and 14 Democrats voted for Trade Promotion Authority late Friday, sending the legislation to a difficult fight ...
More News »