The oldest astronomical map found on the ceiling of a Japanese necropolis

On the roof of the Tomb of Kitora, from the 7th to the 8th centuries, near Asuka in the Japanese Prefecture Nara, there is an astronomical map representing not less than 68 constellations, but also the orbits of cosmic objects, including the Sun , according to a CNET published Monday.

This tomb is famous for the colorful paintings of the four cardinal points. A black tortoise protects the north, the south is defended by a red phoenix bird, a white tiger guarding the west, and a blue dragon sitting in the east.

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According to Professor Kazuhiko Miyajima of Doshisha University, who studied this map after discovering the grave in 1998, it could be the oldest astronomical map of its kind in the world. On the map are represented, among other things, the horizon line, the equator, ecliptic circles (the imaginary circle resulting from the intersection of the plane of Earth's orbit with a heavenly sphere and the trajectory described by the Sun in its apparent motion) and the trajectories of several stars.

Although there are older celestial representations such as the 17,300-year old paintings of Lascaux, where the Pleiades, the Taurus constellation and the Orion and Aldebaran stars can be seen, most of them can not be considered as astronomical maps because they do not contain representations of stellar orbits or diagrams of other astronomical phenomena.

Mitsuru Soma, professor of astronomy at the National Astronomical Observatory in Japan, and Tsuko Nakamura, astronomer at Daito Bunka University, individually verified the information on this astronomical map and concluded that it is a representation of China's sky in Xi'an and Luoyang. Also, the two claim that this map presented the sky as it looked a few hundred years before the construction of the Kitora necropolis, although they did not agree on the exact period. Soma claims to represent the position of the stars as they were visible in the period 240-520 AD, while Nakamura believes that the period would have been between 120 and 40 BC.

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