The Passage of Jupiter.

10 May

The ancient   Babylonians could predict the passage of Jupiter  through the night sky, which they recorded on cuneiform  tablets – more than 14 centuries before such techniques  were seen  in Europe.

The discovery was made by Mathieu Ossendrijver of  Humboldt  University in Berlin , who studied five cuneiform tablets that date back to  between 350 and 50 BC, recovered during  19th century excavations near the main temple Esagila in Babylon, and now held by the British Museum in London.

The tablets record calculations for the time and velocity of the planet’s journey over 60 days. Four describe an area covered over a certain period of time as a trapezoid, but the figures could not be connected to a named planet. However, when  Ossendrijver examined the fifth, previously unstudied, tablet he noticed it specifically mentions Jupiter and that the figures matched those on the other four tablets.

Though contemporary, Greeks and Egyptians had mastered astronomy, this particular geometrical method is new, as Ossendrijver explained. The motion of a planet from day to day is generally computed from its velocity ( which is the distance covered per day) but, uniquely on these tablets, the total distance covered in a certain period of time(60 days) is computed from the area under the trapezoid figure obtained by drawing velocity against time.

This approach will appear strikingly familiar to students of physics and mathematics today, as it anticipates  modern integral calculus  that can be traced to a group of 14th century scholars at Oxford( who called it the( Mertonian  mean speed theorem ), and the French bishop scholastic philosopher Nicholas Oresme, who came up with a similar method.

Ossendrijver tells us that it is quite possible that this method was also used for other planets. However, Jupiter was of special significance in the city of Babylon, it was the astral manifestation  of Marduk ( Bel ), the Babylonian supreme god, and the astronomers in Babylon who wrote these tablets were most likely employed by the temple.

Babylonian Cuneiform Tablet.

Left – Cuneiform tablet with calculation’s that involved a trapezoid      Right – The distance travelled by Jupiter after  60 days 10  45′, is

computed as the area of the trapezoid. The trapezoid is then

divided into two smaller ones in order to find the time (tc) in which

Jupiter covers half the distance.

Courtesy:  The British Museum London.






Posted by on May 10, 2017 in Uncategorized


3 responses to “The Passage of Jupiter.

  1. cav12

    May 20, 2017 at 9:00 am

    That is fantastic! The ancient Babylonians continue to fascinate me and what a legacy they have left us with. So wonderful to learn more from their writings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ritaroberts

      May 20, 2017 at 6:21 pm

      Thanks for your lovely comment cav12 Only wish I could read it, but yes it’s fascinating.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. vallance22

    May 20, 2017 at 12:09 pm


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