Cuneiform Records Preserve Babylonian Astronomy

Early man was frightened and overwhelmed when they looked up at the sky. Astronomy began once the first observer began to mark the motions of the Sun, Moon, and stars.  Over time the record of astronomical observations grew and this led to man’s ability to predict the position of planets and anticipate eclipses.  Sumerians were the first to leave a record, this civilization came before the Akkadians or Acadians who were followed by the Babylonians, the Assyrians and finally the Greeks ended up calling people from this region Mesopotamians.  They made tablets out of baked clay to mark the passage of daily life and note the positions of the Sun and Moon, and sometimes they also recorded the planets and stars. Many of their original constellations, and records that they kept of astronomical occurrences allow us to see their view of the heavens. In the beginning, Babylonian motivation for recording astronomical data seems to have been primarily made for calendar purposes, but it quickly evolved into a religious theme to connect the Earth with the Heavens.  When the Babylonians conquered the Sumerians, they absorbed all the astronomical records that they kept ,along with many of their traditions and their myths and legends surrounding the skies.

The study of the sky was originally used by early civilizations for religious purposes and only recently has Astronomy evolved as science for the furthering the study of human knowledge.  Early humans felt an intense connection between celestial events and they thought that the stars ruled their lives.  After thousands of years of observation people began to realize that the stars seemed to rise and fall over the course of a night in regular patterns.  Some stars were brighter than others, this made them easier to locate and these were then used as reference points to find other stars in those patterns that appeared in the sky.  Sirius or Polaris were easily identified and then used by the viewer to orient themselves so they could face east.  Repeated observations showed that while the stars traced a regular annual pattern against the sky over the course of a year, there were some other oddball lights in the sky which had much more complex movements.  The Greeks called these “wandering stars”, and this is where we get the word planet from.

When early man looked up into the sky toward the heavens, all he could see during the day were clouds and blue skies and a big ball of light.  Observing the night sky revealed stars in a dark, black void.  Man’s curiosity made him wonder what these lights in the sky were.  Man figured out that the one big bright star made up the day and that all of little stars made up the night.  Man was able to observe that the big star and all the little stars moved across the sky from one side to the other.  Man used his inquisitiveness to drive him to study the stars and question why they moved and where they went, when they disappeared.

Early humans feared thunder, lightning, rains, floods and storms because they were not able to explain this natural phenomena, so they made up gods to help them better understand nature. Early humans find the divine in the stars. We are still fascinated with Heaven and many still feel that it resides in the clouds.  Different cultures made up different gods and many of these gods are still found in our constellations and planets.  People eventually learned that they could look up at the stars to help them navigate across open oceans or featureless deserts, and this also let them know when to plant and harvest.  The stars became a way for people to preserve their myths and folklore.  The appearance or disappearance of certain stars which happened over the course of each year would mark the changing seasons.  They began to group the brighter stars into readily recognizable shapes, which we call the constellations and this made it easier for them to read this new celestial calendar.

Astronomy observations made with the naked eye were geared towards better prediction of positions of celestial bodies along with trying to understand lunar and planetary phenomena. This was done by watching the sky each night and this is really one of the greatest accomplishment for man.  The oldest records of the study of astronomy come from ancient Samaria.  Eventually the Greeks entered the picture and that is when the study really advanced.  At this point, Cuneiform became a thing of the past, but because it was infused in so many tablets it has become our historical record for this time period.

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