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The Planet Earth:
Carved and Drawn Prehistoric Maps of the Cosmos
A European researcher has interpreted carvings in a 32,500-year-old ivory tablet as a pattern of the same stars that we see in the sky today in the constellation Orion.
Ancient star chart carved in ivory mammoth tusk
[Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies]
The tablet is a sliver of ivory from the tusk of a mammoth — a large woolly animal like an elephant. Mammoths are extinct today.
Carved into the ivory is what appears to be a carving of a human figure with outstretched arms and legs. The pose suggests the stars of Orion, according to Michael Rappenglueck, formerly of the University of Munich, known for his interpretation of ancient star charts painted on walls of prehistoric caves.
The ivory tablet has notches carved on its sides and back, which are not understood but might be an ancient pregnancy calendar to estimate when a woman would give birth.
The tiny piece of ivory was in a cave in the Ach Valley in the Alb-Danube region of Germany when it was discovered in 1979. Scientists used a process known as carbon dating to check the age of bone ash found next to the tablet. Carbon dating is used to determine the age of an old material by measuring its content of carbon 14. Results of carbon dating tests on the nearby bone ash suggested that the tablet might be between 32,500 and 38,000 years old. If correct, that would make it one of the oldest drawings of a human ever found.
Stone Age people. The tablet probably was carved by a member of the Aurignacian people. Little is known about Aurignacians, except that they moved into Europe from the east replacing the Neanderthals who had been living there.
A tiny artifact. The ivory tablet is small, measuring a mere 1.5 x 0.5 x 0.2 inches. The archaeologists working with it say they think that was its original size and that it is not a fragment of a larger artifact.
- Neanderthals were the original Stone Age "cavemen" who occupied Europe and parts of Asia and north Africa for 150,000 years before modern humans arrived. They made stone tools and other artifcats. Neanderthals now are an extinct human species.
- Aurignacians were similar early humans. Like Neanderthals, they made stone tools as well as figures of stone and bone, graphic artwork, and clothing with adornment.
- The Stone Age was a time when the earliest chipped stone tools were made, from about 750,000 years ago to about 15,000 years ago. That was a time when northern glaciers appeared and receded. Species related to humans were widespread. By the end of the period, numerous land mammals, such as mammoths, mastodons and saber-toothed tigers, had become extinct.
Orion. Orion is one of the most noticeable constellations in Earth's sky. Betelguese is one of two prominent stars in Orion. Ancient Egyptians identified their god Osiris with Orion. In fact, Orion has had special significance for many cultures throughout history.
- A human figure with legs apart and arms raised is on one side of the tablet. The figure's waist is narrow and its left leg is shorter than the right. Between the legs may be a sword.
- The human figure could be a person praying or dancing. It could be half-man, half-cat. It might represent a god. By the very definition of pre-history, archaeologists don't know the myths of those ancient peoples who lived before humans started keeping records — before they started recording history.
The Orion constellation is known to stargazers today as "the hunter." Does the ivory tablet depict the constellation of Orion as it was 32,000 years ago? Did the Aurignacian people also call it the hunter?
Michael Rappenglueck sees in the proportions of the human figure on the table a pattern corresponding to the pattern of stars that form the Orion constellation. He points out the slim waist, which corresponds to a belt of three stars crossing Orion. And, the left "leg" of the hunter in the constellation is shorter. The sword, which may hang between the legs of the figure on the ivory tablet, might correspond with a feature of the Orion constellation.
Pregnancy calendar. The 86 notches on the tablet may relate to the human gestation period.
The number 86 might have two significant meanings:
- First, 86 is the number of days that must be subtracted from a year to equal the average number of days of human gestation.
- Second, 86 is the number of days that the Orion star Betelguese is visible. Could this have linked human fertility with gods in the sky in the minds of the Aurignacian people?
Ice Age Map of the Night Sky Painted in French Cave
A painted map of the prehistoric cosmos is on the wall of a famous Ice Age cave at Lascaux in central France.
Lascaux Caves ancient painted star map
[Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies]
Cro-magnon man — distant ancestors of humans living much later than the earlier Neanderthals and Aurignacians — painted the Lascaux caves with drawings of bulls, horses and antelope some 16,500 years ago. Thus, the map may be 16,500 years old.
The Ice Ages were cold periods in ancient history when glaciers descended across the northern continents and then receded. The temperatures experienced by humans and their ancestors alternated between cold and warm. Scientists say there have been at least four Ice Ages. Today, when people speak of "the Ice Age," they usually refer to the most recent glacial period, which ended about 8,000 years ago.
Summer Triangle. The painted walls of the Lascaux caves were discovered in 1940. The sky map was identified year later in a region of the Lascaux caves known as the Shaft of the Dead Man. Painted on to the wall of the shaft is a bull, a strange bird-man and a mysterious bird on a stick.
Since it was in the time we call pre-history — before people started recording history — no one knows if a cave could have been used as a kind of planetarium where stars were charted.
European researcher Michael Rappenglueck, however, suggests that it is a map of three particular stars — Vega, Deneb, Altair — that astronomers today refer to the Summer Triangle. Those stars are among the brightest objects in the sky during the middle of a northern summer. Rappenglueck sees the eyes of the bull, bird-man and bird as representing Vega, Deneb and Altair.
More palaeolithic shamanistic cosmography. A map that looks like the Pleiades star cluster also has been spotted among the Lascaux frescoes. Another pattern of stars, drawn some 14,000 years ago, has been found in a cave in Spain.
Oldest Lunar Calendar Painted in a Lascaux Cave
A dappled brown horse with dark mane painted on the wall of the prehistoric Lascaux caves in France 15,000 years ago might be part of the oldest lunar calendar.
Lascaux Caves ancient painted lunar map
[Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies]
German researcher Michael Rappenglueck has interpreted the painting as symbolic of the phases of the Moon. He sees groups of dots and squares painted by Cro-magnon man alongside images of bulls, horses and antelope as depicting the 29-day cycle of Earth's natural satellite.
Cro-magnon man. Cro-magnon man thrived during the Ice Age by living in the temperate Dordogne Valley while the rest of Europe was held in the grip of an ice age.
Dordogne is a river flowing from the Auvergne Mountains of south-central France 300 miles southwest to the Garonne River north of Bordeaux.
To protect the Lascaux caves from trampling by 21st century tourists, only a replica called Lascaux II is open to the public.
Phases of the Moon. One Lascaux painting of a deer is above a line of 13 dots. Rappenglueck sees those dots as picturing half of the Moon's monthly cycle. Thirteen dots would be one for each day the Moon can be seen in the sky. At the new Moon, when it vanishes from the sky, there is an empty square, symbolizing the absent Moon.
Beneath the dappled brown horse is a row of 29 dots — one for each day of the Moon's 29-day cycle as it passes through its phases in the sky. A series of dots that curve away from the main row might represent the time of the new Moon, when it disappears from the sky for several days.
Seven Sisters are Mapped in a Lascaux Cave
Dots near a drawing of a Bull in the Lascaux cave may chart the cluster of stars modern astronomers call the Seven Sisters. Inside the bull are more spots that may represent other stars found in the same region of the sky.
Seven Sisters star map in Lascaux cave [Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies]
Is the bull significant? Modern astronomers say this part of the sky is the constellation known as Taurus the Bull. Could ancient relatives of humans also have seen a pattern of stars that looked like a bull in that area of the sky 14,000 years ago?
Ancient Spanish star map. A map that may depict the Northern Crown constellation is painted on the wall of the Frieze of Hands area of the Cueva di El Castillo cave in the mountains of Pico del Castillo in Spain.
Moon Stone Lunar Map in Ireland
What may be the oldest map of the Moon ever made is inside a 5,000-year-old Neolithic burial mound at Knowth in County Meath, Ireland. The few who have seen them in modern times say the crescent shapes seen in the pre-historic tombs are images of the Moon.
The burial complex at Knowth is the largest ancient monument in Ireland with many stone engravings and artifacts. It has the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe, including the circular and spiral patterns that may be lunar symbols. The mound's two tunnels are the longest cairn passages in Europe.
A tall chamber at the heart of the mound houses the map of the Moon that is reputed to be ten times older than any other.
The Neolithic lunar map was etched in the stone, named Orthostat 47, by pitting the rock with a lump of quartz. Carved into the rock are dark spots like those seen on the face of the Moon with the naked eye.
Stars and crescents representing the Moon also are on a large stone basin in a recess off the central chamber.
- Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies
- Michael A. Rappenglueck, M.A.
- The Cave of Lascaux
- Paleolithic Shamanistic Cosmography: How is the Famous Rock Picture in the Shaft of the Lascaux Grotto to be Decoded? by Michael A. Rappenglueck, M.A.
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