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Babylonians used geometry to track Jupiter’s movements

Advanced sky-watching calculations came long before Europeans did the same thing

2:00pm, January 28, 2016

ROSETTA TABLET  A cuneiform tablet, slightly smaller than a standard sticky note, housed in the British Museum provided an unexpected key to understanding how ancient Babylonians pioneered the use of abstract geometric spaces to understand planetary motion.

Ancient Babylonians charted Jupiter’s heavenly motion in a surprisingly modern, mathematically abstract way — a feat that until now was thought to have originated among European scholars who lived roughly 1,400 years later.

Analyses of cuneiform writing on four largely intact clay tablets show that innovative geometric calculations enabled ancient astronomers to track the giant planet’s movement across the sky, Mathieu Ossendrijver reports in the Jan. 29 Science. These tablets were excavated more than a century ago and are now housed at the British Museum in London.

Researchers did not document exactly where these and thousands of other clay tablets were uncovered in 19th century excavations in Iraq. But most scholars today consider tablets from those digs that contain astronomical tables and calculations to have been found in Babylon, the ancient capital of Babylonia, says

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