Where did the earliest astronomers come from?

Feb 2017
129
Hel
In my other thread, "Where did the pyramid builders come from," the somewhat separate topic of the earliest astronomers was brought up, in terms of the early megalithic culture who influenced Ancient Egypt.

I thought I would make a separate thread to discuss this topic.

A certain poster claimed that astronomy originated from Central Africa with the supposed oldest astronomical 'device' the Nabta Playa stone circle in Egypt which dates to around 4800 B.C.

However...The reality of the evidence is that the earliest proto-astronomers and astronomical calendars did not come from Central Africa.

There has been found astronomical calendars in Scotland that date to around 8000-9000 B.C, (around 4,000 years older than Nabta Playa.)
https://www.universetoday.com/103967/ancient-astronomical-calendar-discovered-in-scotland-predates-stonehenge-by-6000-years/
There are also post holes found around Stonehenge dated to around 8000 B.C that were also remnants of a similar astronomical calendar.

There are lunar calendars like the Thaïs bone found in France, that date back to around 11,000 B.C. with older ones dating back as far as 30,000 B.C. like one found at Abri Blanchard.

Here's a link on that.
UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal - Show entity

It's also interesting to note that the earliest Egyptian calendar was also a Lunar based calendar.

The oldest star maps/depictions of 'constellations' come from the 'Cro magnon' cave paintings, dating to around 15,000 to 20,000 B.C. These are the first known examples of early humans starting to 'chart the stars.' BBC News | SCI/TECH | Ice Age star map discovered



And of course later there is Newgrange and Stonehenge.
 
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David Vagamundo

Ad Honorem
Jan 2010
4,439
Atlanta, Georgia USA
Formorian-- Thanks! This is great info. We're going to be staying very near Crathes, Scotland, this fall and I'll try to get a look at Warren Field.
 
Feb 2017
129
Hel
Formorian-- Thanks! This is great info. We're going to be staying very near Crathes, Scotland, this fall and I'll try to get a look at Warren Field.
You're welcome!

I also want to explore all of the megalithic sites around Europe one day.

A bigger dream of mine is to discover some prehistoric old artifact in Europe, maybe like a 30,000 year old stone figure or something.
 

Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
Actually, there are other bones, which, like the Thais bone, have been interpreted as probably having some astronomical function.

1. Ishango:

A palaeoastronomical interpretation was introduced by Alexander Marshack in 1972 and subsequently elaborated by Claudia Zaslavsky.
UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal - Show entity

However, other sources, like the article below, state that it was simply the first mathematical tool, and do not really argue that it was astronomical in nature:

https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1204/1204.1019.pdf

Pletser's article is very interesting.

2. Lebombo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebombo_bone

^

This one seems to be held by more people to be astronomical (unlike the Ishango bone, which seems to be viewed as mathematical, but not astronomical, by most).



You also stated in that other thread that the oldest art was from Europe. Is there human art from Europe older than the stuff from the Blombos Caves?

In 2002 the recovery of two finely engraved ochre pieces – both deriving from the Still Bay units (M1 phase) – was reported in Science Magazine.[10] The surfaces of both pieces were intentionally modified by scraping and grinding, and the engraved pattern formed a distinct cross-hatched design in combination with parallel incised lines. In 2009, six additional pieces of engraved ochre – this time recovered from entire Middle Stone Age sequence dated to between 70,000 and 100,000 years old – were announced.[9] Comparable geometric designs have also been observed on an engraved bone fragment from Blombos Cave M1 phase [11] Engraved ochre has also been reported from other Middle Stone Age sites, such as Klein Kliphuis,[46] Wonderwerk Cave[47] and Klasies River Cave 1.[48] Arguably, these engraved pieces of ochre represent – together with the engraved ostrich egg shells from Diepkloof[49][50] – the earliest forms of abstract representation and conventional design tradition hitherto recorded.
Geometric or iconographic representations have traditionally been archaeological categories associated with modern human behaviour and cognitive complexity .[9][10][48] Evidence for abstract representations is well documented in Europe after 40,000 years ago, and for a long time it was therefore thought that the earliest form of art originated there.[51] The evidence from Blombos Cave – and from sites like Klasies River, Diepkloof Rock Shelter, Klein Kliphuis and Wonderwerk cave – implies that abstract representations were made in southern Africa at least 30,000 years earlier than in Europe and that stylistic elaboration and symbolic traditions were common in southern Africa 70,000–100,000 years ago.[52]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blombos_Cave

BBC News | SCI/TECH | 'Oldest' prehistoric art unearthed
 
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Feb 2017
129
Hel
Actually, there are other bones, which, like the Thais bone, have been interpreted as probably having some astronomical function.

1. Ishango:

UNESCO Astronomy and World Heritage Webportal - Show entity

However, other sources, like the article below, state that it was simply the first mathematical tool, and do not really argue that it was astronomical in nature:

https://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/1204/1204.1019.pdf

Pletser's article is very interesting.

2. Lebombo

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lebombo_bone

^

This one seems to be held by more people to be astronomical (unlike the Ishango bone, which seems to be viewed as mathematical, but not astronomical, by most).



You also stated in that other thread that the oldest art was from Europe. Is there human art from Europe older than the stuff from the Blombos Caves?
Yes, I'm aware of both of those bones, though, like you said they don't have any real definitive link to astronomical observance or a calendar. It's almost even a stretch to say they were mathematical in nature, though it does seem to show some method of counting.


I stated the oldest complex / advanced art came almost exclusively from Europe.

I'm well aware of the proto-art of the Blombos caves, similar to the 'art' that Neanderthals made, which were hash-tag like engravings essentially.

The difference is that in Europe you have basically a completely 'modern' comprehension of art 30,000 + years ago...Which is quite amazing if you think about it. If you look at some of the cave paintings you would think they were created by modern students who had learned painting from a school.

Taking a look at some of the more advanced European cave paintings or carved stone figures... I always like to point out that most modern day people would have a very hard time trying to recreate such art with primitive tools. This is important to point out to dispel certain misconceptions that these people were 'stupid cavemen' that dragged their knuckles around and grunted at each other...No, these were very artistic, innovative, and intelligent humans.

 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
Yes, I'm aware of both of those bones, though, like you said they don't have any real definitive link to astronomical observance or a calendar.
Well, the Thais example isn't really "definitive" either. It's an interpretation, and I've read the interpretation and nothing seems "definitive' about it to me. The case of the Lebombo bone is equally just an interpretation. About that item (the Lebombo bone), I meant to state that more people do claim that it was linked to astronomical observance than is the case for the other one, I wasn't saying that I know that there really is no link.

I'll reply about the art a bit later. Nice picture. Where is it from exactly?
 
Feb 2017
129
Hel
Well, the Thais example isn't really "definitive" either. It's an interpretation, and I've read the interpretation and nothing seems "definitive' about it to me. The case of the Lebombo bone is equally just an interpretation. About that item (the Lebombo bone), I meant to state that more people do claim that it was linked to astronomical observance than is the case for the other one, I wasn't saying that I know that there really is no link.

I'll reply about the art a bit later. Nice picture. Where is it from exactly?
You should read the Unesco article again, because the Thaïs bone represents an undeniably more definitive, if not certain astronomical calendar.


From the article:
"The markings on the Thaïs bone represent the most complex and elaborate time-factored sequence currently known within the corpus of Palaeolithic mobile art. The artefact demonstrates the existence, within Upper Palaeolithic (Azilian) cultures of a system of time reckoning based upon observations of the phase cycle of the moon, with the inclusion of a seasonal time factor provided by observations of the solar solstices."


Also, the cave art is one of many paintings found in France that date back roughly to around 20,000-35,000 BC.
There are of course other cave painting around Europe like in Spain that are quite similar.

Here's one I always thought was interesting....A rhino painting dated to around 30,000 B.C from the Chauvet Cave in France. Seen quite well in this painting the artists were known for trying to add 'motion' to their art. Again, a modern technique in 30,000 year old art.
 
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Ighayere

Ad Honorem
Jul 2012
2,627
Benin City, Nigeria
You should read the Unesco article again, because the Thaïs bone represents an undeniably more definitive, if not certain astronomical calendar.


From the article:
"The markings on the Thaïs bone represent the most complex and elaborate time-factored sequence currently known within the corpus of Palaeolithic mobile art. The artefact demonstrates the existence, within Upper Palaeolithic (Azilian) cultures of a system of time reckoning based upon observations of the phase cycle of the moon, with the inclusion of a seasonal time factor provided by observations of the solar solstices."
I read it again, as you suggested. But I think you might be missing what I mean when I say a certain interpretation isn't definitive. In your opening post, you referenced the Abri Blanchard bone. Yet the person who proposed an astronomical interpretation for that bone, is the same person who proposed an astronomical interpretation for the Ishango bone. That person is the aforementioned Alexander Marshack. So clearly, if one believes that Marshack (and those who have built upon his work) could get it right when interpreting Abri Blanchard as truly astronomical, rather than simply mathematical, one could also believe that he got it right in the case of the Ishango bone, and similarly assume that the Ishango bone is indeed astronomical, right?

Note that I am not saying that I know that Ishango really is astronomical, but I am pointing out that Marshack argued that it was astronomical. In fact, he argued it was most likely a lunar calendar.

Note that Marshack is also the person that argued that the Thais bone was astronomical. The UNESCO article that you provided a link to even cites his 1991 article at the bottom. I'm not saying he's actually wrong about any of his identifications of items as astronomical items. I just think it wouldn't make sense to be certain that one item is astronomical because of Marshack's arguments about it (the Thais bone), but simply dismiss out of hand his arguments for another object (the Ishango bone) being astronomical. And of course, as already mentioned, other people have argued that the Lebombo bone is astronomical as well, but that is also an interpretation, and not definitive.

As for the "star map" cave paintings, surely you can see how interpreting the particular part of those paintings that are said to be star maps as actually being "star maps" could also be a matter of interpretation, right?


I'm not saying that all of these things are not basically what some people have argued that they are. Actually, I think that it's more likely that some of them are some sort of astronomical objects than not. And stronger arguments may be developed in the future to prove that they are, and to show to what extent they are. But I do see a problem with jumping to conclusions and I am aware that some interpretations of certain objects by researchers like Marshack have not been universally accepted.
 
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Aupmanyav

Ad Honorem
Jun 2014
5,739
New Delhi, India
Ancient people were keen astronomers. And they had a reason for that - when to time their religious rituals. Let me add an example from RigVeda. They said Goddes Aditi found the seasons when the priests noticed a difference between the seasons and the rituals. This was because of precession of equinox. Aditi was called the 'year' (samvatsara). With Aditi the seasons (Spring) began and seasons ended (Winters). Therefore, Aditi was considered as having two mouths (Ubhayataru - two-ended). Aditi is the goddess of 'Punarvasu' asterism (Nakshatra - Castor and Pollux). In 6,000 BC, the sun rose on the day of vernal equinox in the asterism of 'Punarvasu'. And that was the beginning of the year for Aryans. Aditi is considered the mother of 'Adityas' (suns), which included Indra and Mitra among them.

Later, the beginning of the year was regularly changed nearly every two thousand years with Orion (Mrigashiras - Antelopes Head), Pleiades (Krittikas) and Aries (Ashwinis). The year now requires a change to Piscium (Revati) but I do not think that will ever be done because now we take the year from the Zodiac rather than basing them on the asterisms.
 
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Feb 2017
129
Hel
I read it again, as you suggested. But I think you might be missing what I mean when I say a certain interpretation isn't definitive. In your opening post, you referenced the Abri Blanchard bone. Yet the person who proposed an astronomical interpretation for that bone, is the same person who proposed an astronomical interpretation for the Ishango bone. That person is the aforementioned Alexander Marshack. So clearly, if one believes that Marshack (and those who have built upon his work) could get it right when interpreting Abri Blanchard as truly astronomical, rather than simply mathematical, one could also believe that he got it right in the case of the Ishango bone, and similarly assume that the Ishango bone is indeed astronomical, right?

Note that I am not saying that I know that Ishango really is astronomical, but I am pointing out that Marshack argued that it was astronomical. In fact, he argued it was most likely a lunar calendar.

Note that Marshack is also the person that argued that the Thais bone was astronomical. The UNESCO article that you provided a link to even cites his 1991 article at the bottom. I'm not saying he's actually wrong about any of his identifications of items as astronomical items. I just think it wouldn't make sense to be certain that one item is astronomical because of Marshack's arguments about it (the Thais bone), but simply dismiss out of hand his arguments for another object (the Ishango bone) being astronomical. And of course, as already mentioned, other people have argued that the Lebombo bone is astronomical as well, but that is also an interpretation, and not definitive.

As for the "star map" cave paintings, surely you can see how interpreting the particular part of those paintings that are said to be star maps as actually being "star maps" could also be a matter of interpretation, right?


I'm not saying that all of these things are not basically what some people have argued that they are. Actually, I think that it's more likely that some of them are some sort of astronomical objects than not. And stronger arguments may be developed in the future to prove that they are, and to show to what extent they are. But I do see a problem with jumping to conclusions and I am aware that some interpretations of certain objects by researchers like Marshack have not been universally accepted.
I don't think Marschack should be particularly relevant...Anyone can interpret the finds and argue a point.
The finds from Abri Blanchard (there are more than one) are a bit more suggestive of a Lunar calender than Ishango, but I was simply throwing the Abri Blanchard out as an example. The Thaïs bone being quite a more definitive and complex example.

The 'star maps' in the cave paintings though are quite clearly the earliest recognition and depictions of the constellations...seeing that there are multiple 'star patterns' in the paintings that are identifiable with constellations.