What the Babylonians knew about Jupiter

Text A. (Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver)

Text A. (Trustees of the British Museum/Mathieu Ossendrijver)

Joel Achenbach writes in The Washington Post, “The astronomers of Babylonia, scratching tiny marks in soft clay, used surprisingly sophisticated geometry to calculate the orbit of what they called the White Star — the planet Jupiter.” Read more here.

Joel Achenbach, “Clay tablets reveal Babylonians discovered astronomical geometry 1,400 years before Europeans,” The Washington Post, January 29, 2016, A23.

21 thoughts on “What the Babylonians knew about Jupiter

  1. Lauren

    Things like this always fascinate me. There are varying levels of arrogance nowadays in how people look at each other, and in particular, people who lived decades to eons ago. Not too long ago there was an article focusing on Van Gogh’s Starry Night, and people now liken the brush techniques of the painting to actual turbulence. Van Gogh was dealing with his mental illness, which was severe at the time, but I love that people are willing to give him credit, not just as an artist, but as an educated adult. And now the same is being done for the Babylonians, and for a civilization that existed over a millennia before the more famous astrologers came along. It’s really wonderful to see credit being extended to where it is most certainly due, no matter how long ago it was.

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  2. Sierra

    I think this is really interesting. Though we know a lot of ancient societies were in fact quite advanced, we tend to think of ancient societies as being less cable/ intelligent as we are today – we seem to lump modernization with intellect. These stones, however, contradict these beliefs. The fact that an ancient society was able to comprehend something as complicated as the movement as plants (including all of the complex mathematical equations) shows that they were just as advanced as we are in some fields. Though the computations are simpler in form, they prove that the ancient Babylonians and possible others were far more advanced then we give them credit for. These findings make me question what else we may have subconsciously simplified when studying these ancient societies.

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  3. Grayson D'Alessandro

    I find it incredible that they engineered their own mathematics system way before our modern understanding of calculus or even geometry, especially because it could have been how people like Euclid, Newton, and Aristotle developed their theories for math and science. Comparing the scientific endeavors of this time period to the most recent endeavors: especially the recent physics discovery of gravitational waves–something we knew next to nothing about almost 100 years ago. It really shows how far we’ve come in innovation and scientific understanding of our world. I also agree with Sierra’s comment above regarding the amount of knowledge Babylonians had that we perhaps did not give them credit before discovering their math concept. I think that alone is interesting because it means it is possible that other ancient civilizations have details about them that we have yet to discover.

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  4. Rachel Ewalt

    It is always fascinating to find out how smart our ancestors were. It is also sad though, that so much of this knowledge is lost, and is only discovered several years, or centuries later. Which is, of course, why we need to protect the knowledge that we have. I wonder how different history would have been if we had kept this knowledge.

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  5. Lostinwonderland

    One thing that is interesting about this is that how do they even understand all those little niches!!
    That incredible how they were able to record things like the movement of Jupiter with such unconventional methods, unlike today where we use computers to calculate for us. What continues to amaze me is that no matter what the generation is humans want to learn and record still.

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  6. Emma Whitaker

    I am amazed every time I think about how ancient civilizations were able to master mathematics while today people of our age try to avoid it. Through their knowledge of math and science ancient civilizations were able to predict movements of the planets. My question is, how were these people able to come up with these concepts and calculations? Its thanks to their math that we are as advanced as we are today

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  7. Rebecca Reed

    This is very cool! It’s awesome to see what we can still learn about these people from so long ago. They were so intelligent and creative. It’s interesting that they are so small. I’m curious as to how exactly the guy decided that they were about Jupiter. I know he compared them to other tablets, but it just sounds like a hard process. It’s very cool to see this tablet and all it represents about the cultures.

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  8. Lily Van Horn

    It is amazing to see the advancement that astronomy has made since medieval times, and how something that looks so simple to the untrained eye can mean so much more. Geometry and calculations to certain planets were planned out on this tablet, which is so amazing. It is incredible that we have people studying this today.

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  9. Samantha White

    Many ancient societies are far more advanced than many would think. The clay tablets discovered
    to the simple eye are just clay blocks with writing, however, they hold a complex mathematical system and description of the movements of planets. These ancient people asked the same questions we ask today about the spheres beyond our world and sought out an understanding of the unknown. They too were concerned and interested in the outer world and tried to make sense of it all. There is more to learn about ancient science as well as an importance to search deeper on findings that have already been discovered. These tablets raise an awareness to the possible simplification of discovered ancient items and how much of the knowledge of the past has been lost as result of being unable to read what has been left behind.

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  10. Maryanne Peck

    This recent discovery is very interesting and reveals much about ancient civilizations. There are still so many things about ancient civilizations that we have not yet discovered. This certain tablet about Jupiter shows us that the Babylonian society is much more intelligent than we give them credit for and that ancient civilizations knew a lot about stars and planets. The writing on the tablet was not just nonsense and random scribbles, but actual mathematical formulas and equations. Our current society still has various discoveries to uncover and find about ancient societies that roamed the earth many thousand years ago.

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  11. Tess Burroughs

    I always find it amazing when a discovery like this surfaces, ancient science is fascinating, as these people were able to achieve so much with limited resources. From my bias living in a very technology-dependent world, a discovery like this proves we really don’t require as many gadgets as we have today, as those in the past were able to make significant observations and progress using only materials like this. There is still so much for us to discover about and learn from these ancient artifacts.

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  12. Lauren Cook

    It amazes me how smart people of antiquity were. From looking at the tablet by itself, it looked like a small calculus equation, but paired with the other four tablets that were found ended up being significant information about the motion of Jupiter. Just by this one large calculation, it shows how intelligent Astronomers were. Our society today still has much to learn, and finding things from antiquity like this could help tremendously.

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  13. Ellie A

    I’ve always been truly fascinated about how intelligent the cultures were from all those years ago. I also feel as though we usually don’t give them enough credit for what they created and figured out with their limited resources. The fact that they did all those mathematical equations and mapped out planets just blows my mind. This discovery makes me wonder what other things the Babylonians discovered before later generations.

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  14. Noah Dewey

    It is very interesting to learn how ancient civilizations still are able to find accurate, statistical data such as jupiter’s orbit with no where near the resources we have today. Using just tiny marks in clay and geometry, This civilization kept data that we look at today. Tablets like these truly makes one appreciate how lucky and advanced we are now in the world.

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  15. Nicolette Vallee

    Many people glance at ancient findings such as these clay tablets and never take the time to actually understand the seemingly simply scribbles. These scribbles ranged from the ancient civilizations’ own mathematical system to their understanding of the planets. It is hard to imagine individuals from so many generations ago asking the same questions we ask today. We need to give more credit to these individuals and their astonishing findings.

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  16. Alli Diehl

    This is so interesting to me. It is amazing that these people were smart enough to calculate the orbit of Jupiter, and to write it down. Evidence like this can show people today how genius they were. It shows that the Babylonians thought that the orbit of the White Star was important enough to write down on clay, and that really shows a lot about there culture and what they valued as important in their society.

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  17. Zane Allison

    It always amazes me when anyone is able to understand even a bit about astronomy and to figure that sort of thing out with modern calculators is even more impressive. However, I’m not that surprised that the babylonians got there centuries before europeans. It seems to be a theme that ancient middle eastern civilizations figured out scientific and mathematical problems long before those in the west did, but it’s wonderful that the babylonians are now getting the credit for being very, very clever. People always underestimate those who lived in the distant past and it’s wonderful when we’re all forced to admit they were quite smart.

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  18. RyanV.

    What did the Babylonians know about Jupiter? Ever since Hammurabi circa 1792 B.C. this culture was fascinating. They were able to figure what the rotation of Jupiter using complex mathematical equations. For most modern day microscopes it is hard to see Jupiter and these people figured out the where Jupiter was and its relativity to other planets and stars. Retrieving these calculations through codes on rocks part of a set, can amaze anyone. Who knows what other messages are left throughout time but it is interesting to see what the future has in store while examining the past.

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  19. Sean Ingraham

    It never ceases to amazing me when early civilizations become interested in astrology and the world beyond Earth. The fact that Babylonians thought tracking the planet was important enough in their society to write it down is spectacular. Not only were they advancing astrology but they were also advancing math, science, and history in their own right. I wish that we focused more on these kinds of things when studying early civilizations.

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  20. Bailey Johnson

    This concreates the theory of advanced civilizations. This ancient group of people was able to track the movements of a star using nothing but their naked eye and mathematics. The whole concept of that it’s mind-boggling and amazing. I feel like Europen history and culture is so widespread and forced to be learned that people fail to realize other civilizations, like this group in this article, were way more advanced and the frontrunners in advancing the human race of their knowledge and technology more than people realize.

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