Friday, January 29, 2016

Ancient Babylonian astronomical secrets

WELL, SOME OF THOSE SECRETS ANYWAY: Ancient Babylonians Knew Secrets of the Solar System 1,500 Years Before Europe. Cuneiform tablets show Babylonians were calculating position of Jupiter using geometrical methods previously thought to have been invented only in 14th-century Oxford (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz).
The ancient Babylonians were known to have been advanced in arithmetic. Now analysis of clay cuneiform tablets found in Babylonia and Uruk shows they could predict the position of celestial bodies using advanced geometric techniques thought to have been invented in 14th-century Europe.

Specifically, the tablets show the ancient Babylonians were evidently intrigued by the position of the planet Jupiter, writes Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University, Berlin, in his paper "Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter's position from the area under a time-velocity graph".


The clay tablets, which are practically intact, seem to date between 350 and 50 BCE. There are issues about provenance – Ossendrijver notes that they were "excavated unscientifically" and discuss general methodology, not mentioning specific astronomical phenomena that could be datable. The writings describe two intervals after Jupiter appears along the horizon, projecting the planet’s position at 60 and 120 days.

How interesting. The ancient Jewish Enochic literature (1 Enoch) draws quite a lot on Babylonian astronomical research, although their presentation of it is a bit outdated. These tablets were written around the time the Enochic literature was being composed. The Palestinian Jewish writers of the Enochic literature conceivably could have had some access to similar things, depending on how much they had contact with Jews in Babylonia and how carefully those Jews kept up with Babylonian astronomy.

Incidentally, while were talking about the positions of the planets, don't miss the current big lineup of the planets. Enoch would disapprove. For a similar, but less comprehensive lineup of planets, see the fourth photograph here.