Take for instance the advances of the Babylonians. While the majority of my ancestors were hunting with sharp rocks and strange occurrences in the night sky must have been a cause for terror, the Babylonians were refining their geometry.
Newly translated ancient tablets show that ancient Babylonian astronomers used unexpectedly advanced geometry to understand the planets.
The find, described on Thursday in the journal Science, reveals thatBabylonians tracked Jupiter by calculating the areas of trapezoids they used to symbolize the planet’s motion across the sky. This geometrical trick rewrites the history books: The technique was thought to have originated in England more than a millennium later.
The study also fills in crucial gaps, says Niek Veldhuis of the University of California, Berkeley, who wasn’t involved with the study, since it “finally connects Babylonian mathematical astronomy with geometrical mathematics”—a missing link that has eluded scholars for more than a century.Researchers have long known that the Babylonians, who lived in what is now Iraq, had considerable mathematical skill: They successfully approximated the square root of 2 and understood the Pythagorean theorem nearly 4,000 years ago—more than a millennium before Pythagoras was born.
They were also talented astronomers, maintaining nightly catalogs detailed enough to record the passage of Halley’s comet. Babylonians regularly used arithmetic to boost their astronomical predictions.
But no one had ever found a Babylonian astronomical calculation that leveraged their impressive knowledge of pure geometry, until Mathieu Ossendrijver of Germany’s Humboldt University of Berlin spent 13 years deciphering what he described as a “small bunch of four weird trapezoid computations” between 2,000 and 2,400 years old.
Do your work. Step into that undiscovered country. That is your calling as a Sapien. It is what we do. But let us not forget that it will all burn, rot, and erode. The vast majority of it will be forgotten, wiping the slate clean but another hairless ape will be discovered again.
We're clever little apes, either a little too clever or a little too unwise, depending upon your perspective.