Signs of Modern Astronomy Seen in Ancient Babylon

The New York Times reports that archaeologists have found evidence for sophisticated astronomical calculations in ancient Mesopotamia, calculations generally attributed to Europeans some 1500 years later.

For people living in the ancient city of Babylon, Marduk was their patron god, and thus it is not a surprise that Babylonian astronomers took an interest in tracking the comings and goings of the planet Jupiter, which they regarded as a celestial manifestation of Marduk.

What is perhaps more surprising is the sophistication with which they tracked the planet, judging from inscriptions on a small clay tablet dating to between 350 B.C. and 50 B.C. The tablet, a couple of inches wide and a couple of inches tall, reveals that the Babylonian astronomers employed a sort of precalculus in describing Jupiter’s motion across the night sky relative to the distant background stars.

Incorporating this kind of thing into your middle or high school classroom?  Let us know here.

Teach what your textbook missed!  Learn about similar traditions of mathematical and technical innovation outside of the Western world, such as in ancient Korea, right  here.

Open Ended Social Studies collects and presents original and dynamic classroom materials focusing on parts of the world neglected by traditional world history textbooks in the United States.  The middle and high school lessons hosted here aim to foster critical and historical thinking, greater cultural awareness, and a sense of wonder about the world and our place in it. Open Ended Social Studies is free, always growing, and collaborative – please check back and contribute often.

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