Monday, July 20, 2015
The Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs have announced that a star chart discovered in ancient Asuka in the country’s Nara Prefecture, is based on much older celestial observations made in China, The Asah Shimbun has reported. The star chart was discovered in the Kitora Tomb in Asuka village in 1998, a site dated from the late 7th century to early 8th century, making it the oldest existing star map of its kind in the world.
It features 68 constellations in which the stars are depicted using gold discs. The movement of celestial objects is also represented in the form of three concentric circles with another circle depicting the movement of the sun. The Polar Star is depicted at the center.
Analysis of digital images showed that the most likely observation sites were those located on the 34th parallel north, including the ancient cites of Chang’an (modern Xi’an) and Luoyang, both of which were capitals of Chinese dynasties governing the middle reaches of the Yellow River.
Soma and Nakamura believe the observations were made several hundred years before the Kitora Tomb was constructed. Soma thinks it may have been between 240 and 520 AD, while Nakamura prefers a time period of 120 to 40 BC. Using this as a basis, Kazuhiko Miyajima, a former professor of East Asia astronomy history at Doshisha University, has suggested that the star chart depicts the sky in 65 BC, in either Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, or Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
The Kitora Tomb is located in an ancient tumulus near the village of Asuka and was first discovered in 1983. Experts believe it dates to some point between 7th and early 8th Centuries AD. The tomb consists of a small stone chamber just over 1 meter (3.3 feet) high, 1 meter (3.3 feet) wide and around 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) long. The walls are orientated to the four cardinal points of the compass and images on them depict the Black Tortoise of the North, the Azure Dragon of the East, the Red Bird of the South and the White Tiger of the West. These representations are accompanied by additional zodiacal images consisting of human figures with animal heads. The murals were discovered when probes were inserted into the tomb in 1983. A second probe inserted in 1998 found more images and the star chart painted on to the ceiling.
The chamber would only have been large enough to bury one person. This individual was laid to rest in a lacquered coffin which was broken during a tomb robbery and the fragments were scattered on the floor. The chamber also contains grave goods and shards of human bone. Artifacts discovered at the site include a gold fitting and pieces of a decorated sword. The evidence suggests an adult male of mid to late age, probably of an aristocratic background.
The discovery of the star chart is now the subject of much debate, prompting further discussion about the history of astronomical technology in Japan. A number of scientific papers have been published on the topic, including by Professor Miyajima who argues that such charts were often used for ritual and divination.
By Robin Whitlock - http://www.ancient-origins.net/