Babylonian cuneiform tablets from 350 to 50 B.C. show sophisticated calculations used to locate Jupiter.
“The idea of computing a body’s displacement as an area in time-velocity space is usually traced back to 14th-century Europe,” wrote Mathieu Ossendrijver, of Humboldt University in Germany, in the abstract to his study published in Science on Jan. 29.
The Babylonians used techniques previously thought to have been invented some 1,400 years later. “This surprising discovery changes our ideas about how Babylonian astronomers worked and may have influenced Western science,” states the Science article.
Ossendrijver draws his conclusions from a portion of about 450 tablets that outline Babylonian mathematical astronomy. This portion, the so-called trapezoid procedures, have long stumped experts.
A recently discovered tablet shed new light on the trapezoid procedures, allowing Ossendrijver to find the surprising solution to the mystery.
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