Discovering the Secrets of Ancient Human Knowledge in Astronomy

Discover the amazing astronomical features of your phone and imagine sharing them with people from thousands of years ago. Your smartphone accurately tells the time and location, displays a map of the stars, explains the moon’s phases and forecasts important celestial events. You may think ancient civilizations would be astounded by your modern device, but they had their own versatile tool called the astrolabe.

This ancient handheld instrument derives from the Greek words for “star” and “taker,” gifting users with a wide array of functions. It was a blend of a vital tool and fashionable accessory, featuring a metal disk etched with dials, pointers, and engravings. Just like your smartphone, they carried it everywhere, relying on it for multiple purposes including timekeeping, navigating with the help of guide stars, predicting sunrise and sunset, and more.

Before the portable astrolabe, ancient people also had invaluable instruments like the Antikythera mechanism, a complex set of gears that allowed the prediction of lunar eclipses, track planet movements, Olympic-style games, and calculate crucial astronomical cycles: the Metonic and the Saros cycles. The Metonic cycle compares a solar year to 12 lunar months, while the Saros cycle identifies the time between eclipses.

Even ancient artifacts like the Berlin gold hat, dating back to 1000-800 B.C., provide evidence of early celestial tracking. The motto-enriched, cone-shaped hat includes a graphic of an entire Metonic cycle, suggesting its use for maintaining religious calendars.

Believe it or not, astronomical tracking can be traced back to prehistory, with monuments such as Stonehenge used to indicate the precise dates of solstices. An alleged calendar from 30000 B.C. suggests early humans had recognized patterns between time and celestial events, potentially linked to their observations of the star Betelgeuse and human fertility.

These examples emphasize our enduring historical fascination with celestial cycles, woven into the fabric of human life to help us navigate time and understand our place in the universe.


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