Science in Prehistory
Transcript Science in Prehistory
Science in Prehistory
Mankind has had a long
fascination with the ‘heavens’:
the motion of stars, Sun, Moon,
planets, comets, meteorites,
aurora, even observation of
(Salisbury Plain, UK)
STONEHENGE (Salisbury Plain, UK)
built over ~17 centuries from~2800BC to 1100 BC. With the
biggest stones being laid about 2450BC.
Stone configuration correlated to winter and summer solstices.
(County Meath Ireland)
Newgrange: Passage Tomb
• An Awareness of the repeatable motions of
the Sun and Moon
• Despite popularised controversies,
Stonehenge is not regarded as the birthplace of
• In comparison to their contemporary
Egyptian culture, we know very little of the
Neolithic and early Bronze Age peoples of
Egyptian’s Observation of the
Sun and Moon Motions.
• Monitoring seasonal variation for agriculture
Nile Flooded when sun rose near the star
Sirius (the “Dog star”, in the Canis Major
constellation; brightest star in the sky).
• Link lunar and solar ‘birth’ and ‘death’ to
religious festivals and an elaborate mythology.
• Monitored the movement
of the Sun, Moon and
• Note special events:
eclipses and comets
• Prediction requires
mathematics and record
keeping! (necessitates a
long-lived, stable culture)
Numbers and Early Calendars
• Early Egyptians and Babylonians had 360
days in a solar year.
Origin of 360 in a circle.
•Egyptians divided the day into 24 hours.
•Babylonians developed a base 60 number
Origin of 60 seconds and 60 minutes
•Egyptians introduced Leap years.
Formalised by Julius Caesar (46 BC)
Gregorian Calendar (1582 AD)
• Introduced by Pope Gregory XIII
• The precession of the equinoxes (due to
earth’s wobble on its axis) results in
seasons drifting over ~26,000 year cycle.
• Gregorian Calendar maintains the
seasons in the ‘proper’ months of the
• 1 extra day in every 4 years (leap year) is
• Leap year at the close of the century
omitted, unless year a multiple of 400!
i.e : 1600, 2000 leap years
1700, 1800, 1900 not leap years
Aristotle (384-332 BC) and
• In Greek period, there were a variety of
views on the nature of ‘reality’:
Earth, Fire, Air, Water
• Aristotle’s view spherical, stationary
• Developed to its full by Ptolemy in the
“Almagest” (Arabic for ‘the greatest’).
“7 Wanderers” = 7 Day Week
• “Wanderer” is the Greek meaning of
• Wanderers in the Zodiac:
Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Saturn and Jupiter
Greek, Islamic and Chinese
Cultures Monitored the Heavens
• Greek Philosophers
• Islamic Astronomers
developed new tools,
• Chinese observed the
supernova of 1054 AD
Native Americans also Observed
the Motion of Key Stars
aligned to the
setting of the