View Full Version : Anybody got ideas on Ancient Astronomy?

Captain Chris
2009-Aug-07, 07:55 PM
Hi! I'm a rookie and this is my first post. I'm looking for some ideas. I'm running a series on-line surveys about Astronomy and Space Exploration. I have 8 categories including: Popular Culture, People, Theories, Discoveries, Engineering, Events, Sights and Ancient. I've got more than enough ideas for all categories expect for Ancient. This is all I have so far:

Antikythera mechanism
Mayan Calendar
The Roman Calendar
The Number Zero

I probably need 6-7 more. Any ideas? Remember, these aren't "Theories" or "Discoveries" per se, since they have their own categories.

Any ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks

P.S.: Forgive me if I did anything wrong.

2009-Aug-07, 08:03 PM
How about this mechanical computer (http://www.wimp.com/coolfind/)?

2009-Aug-07, 08:07 PM
Babylonian Astronomy is very well documented.

The Babylonians collected and recorded precise data for over 1000 years, not only of the heavens (Sun, Moon, planets, stars), but also about day to day weather conditions. All on clay tablets in cuneiform.

The down-side is that all the publications that can be taken seriously are scholar's journals and are barely comprehensible for non-Assyriologists. In fact, the ancient texts are so specialized, that most Assyriologists don't even understand them. Besides that, you'll have to learn German and French to be able to read most of the modern literature.

But fear not, wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Babylonian_astronomy) can get you started.

2009-Aug-07, 08:15 PM
First, hi Captain Chris, welcome to BAUT. And no, you did great.

Some thoughts for other topics...

Chinese astronomy - didn't they record such things as supernovas

Various (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, etc.) mythologies about the origins of various constellations.

The Egyptian use of Sirius to predict the flooding of the Nile (http://www.ephemeris.com/history/egypt.html).

Ancient time keeping like water clocks and sun dials (kind of related to astronomy)

Ancient determinations that the Earth is round and of the size of the Earth

Captain Chris
2009-Aug-07, 08:25 PM
a1call: Thanks, got it. It's the Antikythera mechanism and it's really cool.

Kleindoofy: Excellent! How could we have missed that? We were so focused on the astrology side of Babylon (which fell under the "Popular Culture" category) we forgot the astronomy side!

Captain Chris
2009-Aug-07, 08:30 PM
Swift: Thanks! Chinese astronomy. They did record the Crab nebula nova (7/4/1054 AD or some such date I believe). We've got constellation mythology under "Popular Culture." There is astronomy in Ancient Egypt. Maybe labeling it as "Sirius Nile Flooding" would be good. Hmm, Sun Dials. That's a good one. Finally, the measurements of the Earth's circumference we put under "Discoveries." Sure, I know it falls in the "Ancient" time frame, but it really was more of a discovery on par with modern discoveries.

2009-Aug-07, 09:09 PM
Well if 900 years is ancient then Persians calculated the length of the year correctly to under 5 seconds which is in line with the variations of the year's length:

2009-Aug-08, 08:46 PM
The Nebra Sky Disk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nebra_sky_disk) is another interesting artifact.

And how about going into some of the Greek myths that give us our modern constellation names?

2009-Aug-09, 03:43 AM
I've had a Google around but can flesh out no more detail: There's a Stone Age artefact which describes the phases of the moon by way of etchings in the surface of a bone taken from an eagle's wing from c36,000 years ago. And that's just the oldest thing we've found.

2009-Aug-09, 12:22 PM
Hi, Captain Chris, and welcome :)

Don't leave out Eratosthenes (http://www.wired.com/science/discoveries/news/2008/06/dayintech_0619). From hearing about a deep well, he performed some measurements and managed to deduce the circumference of the earth, the degree of tilt, the leap year - and some reports also say the distances to the moon and the sun !

Bob Angstrom
2009-Aug-11, 06:17 AM
I have a couple thoughts that someone might want to look into. The ancient Chinese invented the compass and had excellent ships but they seemed to have little interest in exploring the rest of the world. I have wondered if this lack of curiosity may have had something to do with their cosmological view. The Chinese thought the world was round like a ball but, instead of being on the outside of the ball, we lived on the inside. Solid land and the oceans were at the bottom of the ball while the lighter parts formed the sky and stars. A person could stand on top of a high mountain and see nearly the entire world since the Earth curved up to meet the sky and there was no other side of the Earth. The Chinese call their country “Zhong-guo” meaning “middle kingdom” and they imagined China to be the center of a large land mass surrounded by some barbarian lands and a large ocean. The ancient Chinese had legends about sailors who sailed far out to sea to where the ocean rose up to meet the sky and they would continue to sail along the Silver River (the Milky Way) through Tien (the sky or heaven) the land where the gods lived. Tien was a dangerous place because mortals were unwelcome and, if they were caught, the gods would force them to drink the soup of forgetfulness and send their souls back to Earth as reincarnated rats or something miserable like that. If the sailors were able to avoid capture, they could continue to sail along the Silver River down to where the heavenly river joined the earthly rivers and they could sail home from there. So the ancient Chinese thought the world was a small place that had largely been explored and the rest of the world was no place anyone would want to visit. There was one Chinese expedition into southern India to map the southern stars but that was largely the extent of Chinese exploration.

Another idea has to do with fossils. If you go to the top of a mountain range in most parts of the world including the Middle East you can find fossilized sea shells. This means that the mountains were either once on the bottom of the ocean or the oceans once covered the mountains in a great flood. The latter possibility makes for a better story and this may be why we have worldwide legends of a great flood that covered the Earth.