Is this carved stone really the world's oldest star map?

Is this carved stone really the world's oldest star map?

According to Italian researchers, the holes in this stone are images of different constellations.Bild Astronomical Notes

At first glance, it looks like nothing more than a large, round stone with dozens of holes cut into it. But according to Italian scientists, it could be the oldest star map in the world. At least 2,400 years ago, someone must have used a bronze chisel to immortalize the constellations Scorpius, Orion, Cassiopeia, and the seven stars, although not in their correct relative positions. There's a problem: Researchers can't pinpoint a single “star.”

Some constellations are several thousand years old, but the first real images of the starry sky only date back to the first century BC. A lithographic “star map”, described in a German trade magazine Astronomical newsIt is at least 300 years old and perhaps 1,500 years older. It is half a meter in diameter and 30 cm thick.

Finished by the author

Govert Schilling is a science journalist specializing in astronomy. He has written dozens of books about the universe and, among other things, created the television series Government to the limits of the universe.

Archaeologists found it at the entrance to a tomb on the prehistoric Rubinbekolo hill, near the border between Italy and Slovenia. The Italian Institute of Astrophysics produced one Enthusiastic press release About the Exodus: “Everything indicates that the marks on the stone were engraved by someone and not the work of nature.”

Crooked Scorpio wisp

The 29 marks on the round stone (24 on the front and 5 on the back) are not evenly distributed. Venetian archaeologist Federica Bernardini suggested in 2022 that a series of winding craters could represent the constellation Scorpius.

He brought astronomer Paolo Molaro from the Trieste Observatory. He was convinced of the exact correspondence with the positions of the stars in the sky. Then Molaro also thought he could identify some other star clusters.

With a lot of imagination, Orion can actually be identified (although without the two striking stars), while the five stars on the back of the stone could represent the W-shaped constellation Cassiopeia. It is believed that an irregular group of dimples next to The Line of Scorpio is an enlarged image of the seven constellations – a stunning array of stars in the winter sky. It remains unclear why some stars are photographed and others are not.

“Into the world of myths”

The archaeologist Jona Lendering has not yet studied Molaro and Bernardini's publications in detail, but he is skeptical. “It's a nice idea, and it could be true,” he says. “But there are many constellations – in any random set of points, you can always recognize something.”

However, according to the statistical analysis conducted by the two Italians, the chance of a chance match occurring is less than a tenth of a percent. They suggest that Scorpio and Orion were chosen because the first sighting of these two constellations (in December and July respectively) served an important calendar function.

What about that sign that doesn't seem to match any existing star? Alessandro Bressan, Molaro's colleague, came up with a highly speculative explanation for this: it could have been a bright star that later exploded into a black hole, and thus was no longer visible.

Amsterdam astronomer Tijde de Jong, who specializes in the early history of astronomy, has serious doubts about Molaro and Bernardini's interpretation. “Of course, this cannot be refuted with certainty, but the article lacks any historical and cultural context,” he says. I am not convinced at all; As far as I'm concerned, we can relegate this story to the realm of myth.

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