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The most ancient layer of astronomical data
in the Babylonian Astrolabe dated to 5,500 BC

by Rumen Kolev


The following is a press release by Placidus Research Center on occasion of the forthcoming
publication of the research of Rumen Kolev, Astronomical Dating of the Babylonian Astrolabe in
the Proceedings of the Melammu VI Symposium of the Assyrian and the Babylonian Intellectual
Heritage Project Sep. 1st-3rd, 2008, Sofia, Bulgaria. The publication is expected in early 2010.
You may follow updated information on the official website of the Melammu Project.

Astronomical data from 5,500 BC was found in a babylonian astronomical text known
as the Babylonian Astrolabe
. If confirmed, this may substantially change our understanding
of history, astronomy and prehistory.

The discovery gives vision for a comparatevely advanced astronomy in prehistoric
Mesopotamia and may give the possibility to gain direct insight into its spiritual world.

The 5,500 BC layer of astro info was found in a number of texts |1| from which the Astrolabe,
known also as the Calendar of the Creation, is the most important.

In the Akkadian Creation epic, Enuma Elish, the Astrolabe is described as the calendar
set in motion by Marduk himself when creating the Universe. The present discovery strongly
suggests that the whole Astrolabe has been conceived around 5,500 BC.

The Astrolabe is a map of the sky. It comes in circular and in list form |2|.

It shows which 3 stars/constellations rise heliacally (first appearance in morning after conjunction
with the Sun) every month over the 3 sectors of the eastern horizon called paths.
The position of a star on the sky (over the eastern horizon) is revealed by its path.

Extremely important is to note that there is another group of texts, headed by the famous
MUL.APIN which assign different paths to half of the stars in the Astrolabe. This turned out to be a
crucial evidence in the analysis because it allowed us to correlate another section of the precessional
path-changes of the stars to another text !

On the technical side of the matter, the celestial paths and the path-positions of the stars can be
computed, more or less exactly, astronomically. This gives us the possibility to analyse mathematically
and date any text that assigns paths to stars as the Astrolabe, Mul Apin and so on.

In the last hundred years, some scholars in Babylonian astronomy repeatedly expressed the view
that the stars in the Astrolabe are not in their correct celestial paths (Kugler, Schaumberger, van der
Waerden). Their big error was that they made computations only for the period 2,000 BC - 1,000 BC...
This is not so surprising when we take in account that these researchers worked before the computers
and had to make thousands of tedious computations with spherical trigonometry.

One of the amazing things in the story is that the Babylonian Astrolabe has laid around for more
than 100 years (30 of which are well in the computer age) and no-one ever tried to do a most simple
check ... check for the time-frame when the text made astronomical sense ...


|1|: The tablets date from the Kassite (HS 1897), Middle Assyrian (VAT 9416) and Late Babylonian period (LBAT 1499,
BM 82923). These texts are from 2 groups: in one group are the Astrolabe texts (VAT 9416, LBAT 1499, BM 82923)
spanning 1100 BC to 100 BC and in the other group are the 30-stars List texts (HS 1897) from around 1400 BC.

|2|: The first piece of the riddle came when the pioneer assyriologist George Smith found a small piece with
the names of 4 stars in 1874. Rassam, Pinches and Zimmern later found more parts and better preserved copies.
The oldest and best preserved list Astrolabe was examined by Ernst Weidner in 1913 and published almost in a
complete translation in German in 1915. It is known since as astrolabe B (from Berlin) which belonged
to the Assyrian king Tiglatpileser ( 1114 BC -1075 BC). The tablet is in the Berlin museum.

It all started one July evening in 2005 when I, still in Seattle, in the library of the University of
Washington stumbled per chance on an article about the Astrolabe by the famous mathematician and
history of science scholar van der Waerden (JNES 8, 1949).

After thouroughly examining his work, I decided to check manually if the Pleiades have ever
been in their correct astrolabe path. I was using a simple Planetarium program (my own computer
program Babylonia 1)

circular Astrolabe from the New-Assyrian Empire
On the picture: piece of a circular Astrolabe from the New-Assyrian
Empire in the British Museum. Photo: courtesy of Florentina Geller.

What I did was to check with the program the path position of the Pleiades in a full precessional
cycle, starting from 1,000 BC and moving back in time with a step of 500 years.
I worked with both theories of the paths- the azimuthal of Pingree-Reiner and the declinational of
Kopff. The result was confusing. The Pleiades turned out to be in their correct southern path of Ea
only in the period 12,000 BC - 4,800 BC !

Then I repeated the same procedure on 8 bright stars with certain identifications.
The result was more than shocking. The time frame when all 8 bright stars were in their
Astrolabe paths turned out to be between 9,500 BC and 5,200 BC !

A most astonishing thing was to see on the graphs computed with the program how, when
moving forward in time, the stars change their declination and path until we come to one moment
in-around 3,600 BC when already 6 of the 8 bright stars have
moved out of their Astrolabe-paths
moved in into their Mul Apin paths !

No-one would have expected such a result. Even a writer of fantasy books !
Staggered, I left the research for several months. Then I was back.

In order to expand my analysis I spent several months feverishly writing a special computer
program that would allow me to check all kinds of different situations: different star-identifications,
different path theories, different latitudes of observation, different sets of stars analyzed and different
extinctions of the atmosphere...

Then I set to examine the model of the Astrolabe changing all described variables and watching
how this would change the time-period of the best fit ...

All results were pointing to the same time period: 5,500 BC +-500.
The model was robust and statistically significant. This was something impossible, yet happenning !

Astrolabe B Astrolabe B
The famous Astrolabe B found by Ernst Weidner in the Berlin Museum.
photo: courtesy of Florentina Geller.

But how can we explain the fact that the majority of the stars from the Babylonian Astrolabe are
in their correct paths in-around 5,500 BC ? We have several options:

  • I. The result is by chance;
  • II. Someone who knew about the precession in-around 1500 BC or before, made-up the Astrolabe with
  • positions of the stars as in 5,500 BC.;
  • III. The path positions of the stars in the Astrolabe have been observed and determined around 5,500 BC.
  • IV. Not only the path positions of the stars in the Astrolabe but also the complete Astrolabe, as a calendar with
12 months and 3 stars heliacally appearing in each month, was conceived around 5,500 BC.

I. The probability of the first hypothesis happenning can be calculated and I do it in my paper. It is one
in several millions.

II. The second possibility (the conspirational theory) has been aired as a conjecture by some scholars
in the discussion after the lecture and in private. I do not consider this a serious option.
The fact that very strongly goes against the conspirational theory is that there are several different
layers of astronomical data in the astrolabes.

There are 2, 3 and eventually even 4 layers coming from in-between 5,500 BC and 700 BC !
This means that new data has been added several times in the course of long transmission.
These layers of astronomical data are like the layers in a sea-floor sediment. They come from different
eras. The astronomical equivalent of a stratigraphical analysis of the astrolabe texts is attempted in the
forthcoming article and a more detailed research of the layers is being done in the moment (Nov. 2009)

III. The third hypothesis is true several millions to one and I have strong arguments to claim that :

IV. not only the path-positions of the stars in the Astrolabe are coming from 5,500 BC, but the complete Astrolabe!
Because the babylonian celestial paths depend on and are a function of the way of division of the
seasonal year.

The Sun must spend equal time in the northern and the southern paths and double that in the central
path of the horizon (going trough the two equinoctia). This requires a division of the seasonal year in a number
of time intervals divisible by 4 id est: 4, 8, 12, 16....

We should remember also that Mul.Apin and Enuma Elish describe division of the year in 12 and that
the number of months in the lunar year is 12 or 13.

All these considerations, I believe, give considerable weight to the theory that the Astrolabe was conceived
in 5,500 BC.

The Astrolabe dated to 5,500 BC, without doubt, may open up for us a New World- the world of a
prehistoric civilization with astronomical knowledge on comparatively high level...

If we now jump in mythology, the 5,500 BC point in time can easily refer to the prediluvial prophet of Star
Knowledge and Divination En Meduranki. The Astrolabe then must come from the First Age- 5,500 BC- the time
of foundation of the civilizations of Sumer (the first temple in Eridu) and Vincha (the first settlements and cities
along Danube) that coincides with advanced agriculture using irrigation and humid and warm climate- the very
onset of what later probably came to be considered as the Golden Age: 5,500 BC to 3,600 BC.
Have we captured with the magic of mathematics what was until now only a myth ?!

Azimuthal Boundaries

Rumen Kolev: The most ancient layer of astronomical data in the Babylonian Astrolabe dated to 5,500 BC
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