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The records of the Babylonians are among the oldest written records of ancient peoples' interests in celestial bodies. The records come in the form of cuneiform documents which have survived to the present day. They have provided us with an astounding view of what these civilizations who lived over 3000 years ago knew about the universe.


The Akkadians are among the first people credited to have kept astronomical records, and the earliest date from around 2500 B.C. They lived in the northern part of what was later called Babylon. The astronomer-priests that lived later in Babylon were able to use the records of the Akkadians to predict some of the motions of the sun, Earth's moon, and stars.

Some of their records that still exist today are tables of the positions of Venus (~1500 B.C.), eclipse times, and new moon records. Studies have indicated that as records became more complete, the actual recording of events became less important, and the mathematical analysis of existing records that lead to the prediction of future events became more important to the society. There is no evidence that the Babylonians developed any model to support their observations; rather, their interpretations were based purely on mathematics. This is in sharp contrast to the Greeks.

The so-called "Venus Tablet" is of note: The word Dilbat is the Babylonian word for Venus, and it also is identified with the goddess Istar, as well as sometimes with the goddess Anunit. Istar was also regarded as a star called Nin-si-anna, so the conclusion of R.H.M. Bosanquet and A.H. Sayce is that Ninsianna was the name commonly used for Venus. 90 lines from the tablet are translatable - the remaining 4 are broken off - and they contain many different observations, e.g. "The 15th day in heaven it is seen; and in the 2nd Elul, the 17th day, Venus."

Through a detailed analysis of the tablets, we know that the Babylonians were able to determine Venus' period. Unfortunately, too much other analysis is impossible because the time to which the tablet dates is not known well enough. If a tablet such as this were discovered with a king's name attached or some historical event, it would be possible to extrapolate more.

The most important objects were the sun and moon, and a calendar system was formed around them. Planetary motions, seemingly chaotic when viewed from Earth, were not understood by the Babylonians. However, evidence shows that the most important planet to the Babylonians was Jupiter, which was associated with Marduk - the god of Babylon.

The modern Zodiac owes its creation to the Babylonians. Tablet No. 77,821 in the British Museum which dates to ~500 B.C. agrees very closely with the present Zodiac. Even earlier documents, such as the Mul Apin tablets and astrolabes contain descriptions of constellations which conform to some, if not all, of the twelve that form the modern Zodiac. Thus, the Zodiac was systematized about the time of Nebuchadnezzar II in almost its present form.

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