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History of Science Ancient Mesopotamia

History of Science Online

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LibraryThing: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia Week 2: Science in Ancient Mesopotamia

Context and Quiz

# Due Date Pts Activity Time
2 Wednesday
11:59 p.m.
25

Topic 1 + Quiz
Background: Without a sense of context, history is anachronistic.
Primary sources: Without documentary evidence, history is speculation
The first of two topic assignments per week involving both background and primary sources.

90 min.

Before reading further, make sure you are familiar with the general description of the Context assignments and with the description of the various course websites. Information on these pages will not be repeated here.

Reading 1 assignments for this week on science in the ancient near east consist of 4 parts.

1) Skim these brief articles from Wikipedia which will quickly orient you to the civilizations of the ancient Near East:

  1. Ancient Near East
  2. Ancient Mesopotamia
  3. Ancient Babylonia
  4. Ancient Persia
  5. Ancient Assyria

2) A few pages from Lindberg, Beginnings of Western Science, will introduce you to the very basics of ancient Babylonian mathematics:

3) A few pages from Crowe (or from the Basic Celestial Phenomena website) will introduce you to a few basic aspects of observational astronomy:

4) Watch Stars over Ancient Babylon (45 minutes): The bulk of the assignment for this week is an online video exhibit that provides an overview of the development of ancient Babylonian astronomy.

Babylonian astronomers were sources for Greek astronomy. Without the Babylonian contributions, later Greek astronomy such as we find in Hipparchos (150 BC) and Ptolemy (150 AD) would not have been possible.

You can read Stars Over Ancient Babylon online, or you can access it as an mp3 or streaming video.

The animations in the video are quite helpful in making the concepts more understandable, so I highly recommend watching the video version:

  1. Watch Streaming,
  2. Watch not streaming, or
  3. Download.

I apologize for the sound quality of this movie: in order to get it ready in time one semester we had colds and finished recording it after 3 o'clock in the morning, so we sound stuffy and sleepy. Someday perhaps we will go back and re-do the narration, but hopefully the video is still better than a typical in-class PowerPoint presentation, despite its flaws! I do hope you enjoy it, because it covers one of the most interesting topics in the history of ancient science, one that is frequently skipped over or ignored.

Choose link:

Stars over Ancient Babylon
(also contains links to watch or download video)

Stars over Ancient Babylon
listen or download
Stars over Ancient Babylon
Watch streaming;
Watch not streaming;
download
Description 
Read text & browse thumbnails
(Exhibits Online;
also includes video links)

mp3
(open in new browser window to listen to while you read Exhibits Online, or download to burn to CD or transfer to mp3 player)

video
Access
Dial-up or Broadband
Broadband only
Broadband only
Requires
Web browser
Web browser; or iTunes or other CD burning software, or mp3 player (eg iPod)
QuickTime player

Troubleshooting tip: If you have installed a recent version of QuickTime and the video does not appear when you click either "Watch" link above, then try downloading the movie (although it is a large file). Then open it in the QuickTime Player instead of your web browser. If you use Internet Explorer, which will not play long QuickTime movies well, use the Download option or try Firefox or Safari instead.

The mp3 may be useful if you want to listen to the material while commuting to work or doing the dishes. (Tip: Watch the video to learn the basics, then listen to the audio for review, or vice versa.)

(About these media formats)


TOPIC QUIZ: The statements are either True or False. When you take the quiz at Janux, you will see 12 of these statements, chosen at random, worth 2 points each.

  1. T or F? Diurnal motion is motion that occurs roughly weekly.
  2. T or F? Roughly once each day, the Sun, Moon, planets and stars appear to rise in the west and set in the east.
  3. T or F? Diurnal motion is roughly westward.
  4. T or F? Direct motion of a planet in the zodiac is roughly westward.
  5. T or F? Retrograde motion of a planet in the zodiac is roughly westward.
  6. T or F? Zodiac constellations include circumpolar stars.
  7. T or F? Zodiac constellations include the path of the Sun, or the ecliptic.
  8. T or F? A planet or star that rises at the same time the Sun sets is at opposition.
  9. T or F? A planet or star that rises just before the Sun rises is at its heliacal rising.
  10. T or F? Babylonian mathematics was more advanced than Egyptian mathematics.
  11. T or F? Babylonian numbers, like Roman numerals, did not have a place value system.
  12. T or F? Babylonian mathematics was sexagessimal, or based on the number 60.
  13. T or F? Babylonian mathematicians could solve problems involving fractions.
  14. T or F? Depending on where it is found in a number, a single vertical wedge-mark can equal 1, or it can also equal 60.
  15. T or F? A single horizontal wedge mark equals 10.
  16. T or F? Babylonian mathematicians could solve problems that we would solve using quadratic equations.
  17. T or F? The band of constellations that contain the motions of the planets is called the zodiac.
  18. T or F? The Babylonian zodiac contained 30 signs, each 12 degrees long.
  19. T or F? Because Babylonian astronomers used sophisticated mathematics, they shunned astrological interpretations.
  20. T or F? Later Babylonian astronomers could accurately predict important planetary phenomena, including lunar eclipses.
  21. T or F? Unlike the early Greek astronomers, whose models were strictly qualitative, the Babylonian scribes attempted and achieved the ideal of quantitative prediction.
  22. T or F? Babylonian astronomers predicted lunar and solar eclipses.
  23. T or F? When we tell time by minutes and hours, or measure angles in degrees, we are still today heirs of Babylonian sexagessimal mathematics.
  24. T or F? According to Greek reports, Babylon was still a center of astronomy in Hellenistic times.
  25. T or F? The Sumerians invented alphabetic writing.
  26. T or F? Before 1000 BC, cuneiform texts were simply accounting and business records; literary and scientific texts date only from after the second millennium BC.
  27. T or F? The Bull, the lion, the goat-fish and the scorpion are examples of constellations of early Mesopotamian origin.
  28. T or F? When Venus is west of the Sun, it appears as a morning star.
  29. T or F? Skywatchers of the Old Babylonian period discovered the 8 year cycle of Venus.
  30. T or F? In the Babylonian number system, the number 60 is written with a sign for “1” in the 60’s place.
  31. T or F? In the Babylonian number system, the number 61 is written with a sign for “1” followed by a space and another “1.”
  32. T or F? Babylonian mathematics was a place-value system.
  33. T or F? Babylonian mathematicians could generate numbers to satisfy what we call the Pythagorean theorem.
  34. T or F? Babylonian mathematicians accurately determined the square root of 2.
  35. T or F? Astrological beliefs were the motivation for much of the development of ancient mathematical astronomy.
  36. T or F? The tablets of Enuma Anu Enlil provided guidelines for interpreting astrological omens.
  37. T or F? The path of the Moon is called the ecliptic.
  38. T or F? Against the background of the fixed stars, the Sun, Moon and planets all move slowly in a roughly eastward direction through the zodiac.
  39. T or F? After its heliacal rising, a star moves into the daytime sky.
  40. T or F? The Sun moves about 10 degrees each day against the background of fixed stars.
  41. T or F? The Moon moves about 1 degree each day against the background of fixed stars.
  42. T or F? Retrograde motion occurs between the first and second stationary points.
  43. T or F? Retrograde motion occurs when a planet reverses its usual direction, and moves roughly westward against the background of fixed stars.
  44. T or F? Planets move with retrograde motion when they are visible all night long.
  45. T or F? A lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon’s shadow falls upon one side of the Earth.
  46. T or F? Babylonian records of lunar eclipses go back to the 8th century BC.
  47. T or F? Goal-year tablets contain a star calendar based on the risings and settings of important constellations.
  48. T or F? Mul Apin tablets match the current motions of any planet with the pattern it showed during a similar year in the past.
  49. T or F? Astronomical diaries recorded Babylonian observations of the Moon, planets, heliacal risings of stars and other celestial phenomena for at least 600 years.
  50. T or F? Alexander the Great died in Alexandria, Egypt, not far from the great Library he founded.
  51. T or F? Alexander’s four generals divided his conquests. Ptolemy controlled Egypt; and Mesopotamia was given to Seleukis.
  52. T or F? Seleukid-era cuneiform texts accurately predicted complex planetary events, including retrograde motion, on the basis of mathematical calculations rather than just extrapolating from past observations of goal year motions.
  53. T or F? When we tell time by minutes and hours, or measure angles in degrees, we are still today heirs of Babylonian sexagessimal mathematics.
  54. T or F? Unlike the early Greek astronomers, whose models were strictly qualitative, the Babylonian scribes attempted and achieved the ideal of quantitative prediction.

 

"Their systematic observation and recording of phenomena ... has remained to this day the longest and most comprehensive program of astronomical observation ever carried out.... extending from the 8th or the 7th to the 1st century, ... the longest continuous scientific research of any kind in all of history, for modern science itself has existed for only half as long." Noel Swerdlow, The Babylonian Theory of the Planets, p. 17.

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HSCI 3013. History of Science to 17th centuryCreative Commons license
Kerry Magruder, Instructor, 2004
-14
Brent Purkaple, TA

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Many thanks to the pedagogical model developed in Mythology and Folklore and other online courses by Laura Gibbs, which have been an inspiration for this course.

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This course is currently undergoing major reconstruction to bring it into alignment with the new version of the course at Janux