By Derek Olson
Over 150 years ago, this ancient Sumerian star map was found by Henry Layard in a subterranean library in Nineveh. Ever since its discovery, scholars had been puzzled to learn its meaning, until computer software in 2008 finally allowed for the Cuneiform clay tablet to be translated, which revealed the oldest documented observation of an asteroid impact to earth.
Long thought to be an Assyrian tablet, computer analysis has matched it with the sky above Mesopotamia over 5000 years ago and proved it to be much more ancient – of Sumerian origin.
Now held at the British Museum, it is known as “the Planisphere,” and it provides extraordinary proof for the existence of sophisticated Sumerian astronomy. At approximately 5 inches in diameter, this tablet tells how an ancient Sumerian astronomer observed a massive asteroid approaching Earth on June 29th 3,123 BC.
As it smashed through our planet’s atmosphere and made its way to the surface, the ancient astronomer referred to the cosmic body as “a white stone bowl approaching from the sky,”
The Sumerian astronomer not only described the object, but managed to make a note of the object’s trajectory relative to the stars, and he did so with amazing precision; experts say that the trajectory of the asteroid was recorded with an error of less than one degree.
This allowed modern scholars to simulate the trajectory of the space rock and conclude that it most likely impacted Europe.
This event is known by historians as the Köfel’s impact event where a kilometer-long asteroid crashed into the Alps, near Köfels, Austria over 5,600 years ago.
This astrolabe is the earliest known astronomical instrument. It consists of a segmented, disk-shaped star chart with marked units of angle measure inscribed upon the rim. Unfortunately, considerable parts (approximately 40%) of the planisphere on this tablet are missing, damage which dates to the sacking of Nineveh. The reverse of the tablet is not inscribed.
Despite its small size, this Sumerian Star Map masterfully depicts the course of events by dividing it into eight pieces or pictures.