The Babylonians were able to calculate the position of Jupiter, the planet that was associated with their god, with a complex calculation system using trapezoidal figures.
They did it 1,400 years in advance, compared with the computing capabilities that later came to Europe.
The discovery was made by Mathieu Ossendrijver, Professor of Ancient History of Science at Humboldt University in Berlin, who appeared on the Science journal. Ossendrijver reached this conclusion by interpreting four clay tablets dating from between 350 and 50 BC., preserved in the British Museum in London.
The position of the giant planet has been calculated in two time periods: 60 and 120 days from its appearance on the horizon.
Until now it was believed that the Babylonians were calculating the motion of the Sun, Moon and planets, using only arithmetic methods. But instead, notes Ossendrijver, the tablets demonstrate that “in an abstract sense, Babylonians used geometry to define time and speed, unlike the ancient Greeks who used geometric shapes to describe the position in physical space.”
The tablets, continues Ossendrijver, “rewrite the history books of astronomy and show that European scientists from Oxford and Paris were preceded by the Babylonians in using geometry to calculate planetary positions”.
Historians of science, Alexander Jones of the University of New York and John Steele at Brown University, reported in the same issue of the journal Science, that the discovery “demonstrates how intelligent the Mesopotamian scholars were” and that it’s “an extremely important contribution to the history of science “.