This small clay disc, inscribed with cuneiform markings is said to have been discovered by Sir Austen Henry Layard, in 1851, close to Mosul, Northern Iraq. One of the many relics unearthed with the discovery of the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, one of the last King’s of the Neo-Assyrian Empire. To date, the artifact is kept in the British Museum.
The fascinating thing about this (allegedly) 2,669 year old relic is that it is a considerably sophisticated star map. Believed to be a depiction of the celestial alignment of a night sky (over the ancient city of Nineveh, 𒌷𒉌𒉡𒀀) between the 3rd or 4th of January in the year 650 BC.
Historians aren’t entirely sure why it was decided to chart this specific celestial alignment, perhaps this night sky was chosen entirely at random (or not). Badly damaged during the sacking of Nineveh, this Planisphere is one of the oldest of its kind. Though, the general mainstream historical consensus is that the oldest surviving star charts considered to be accurately dated, appeared in Ancient Egypt, around 1534 BC.
Evidence (such as the stone circles at Nabta Playa) suggests star charts were in use by the Ancient Egyptians around 5, 000 BC. There is some evidence to suggest prehistoric man may have been developing very basic star charts as far back as 30, 500 BC. Despite how incredibly different the ancient world was from how it is today, people some 32, 500 years ago were looking up into a night sky that looked very much as it does to us now. In many ways the stars would have played a more integral part in their day to day lives than they are to our lives now. Every night they would have seen a clearer, less light-polluted sky and wondered exactly what they were looking at. Hence the countless myths and stories intertwined with every perceivable constellation.
Could have the individual responsible for charting that night sky in 650 BC ever imagined that documented alignment and representation of a point in time would survive the ages?
There are a lot of controversial theories surrounding this specific disc along with erroneous translations and interpretations. But the most interesting concept I’ve heard put forward, was that maybe someone, for whatever reason(s) needed to mark that day for future reference.
Some have joked with the notion that an advanced Time Traveler had the night sky charted and celestial date recorded. In the realm of some science-fiction story, imagine for whatever reason someone was exploring Ancient Mesopotamia. Something goes wrong and there is absolutely no means of communicating with the future lifeline. Without jeopardizing history someone could arrange to have a Planisphere stored in the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, waiting to be discovered in 1851.
The disc is interpreted, and the date, the 3rd or 4th of January in the year 650 BC is highlighted for all to see. Perhaps the information was already put to use? Or maybe it will be in another 2, 000 years. Those of us with an over-active imagination and a penchant for speculation rooted in science-fiction draw these sort of possibilities from any curious relics that last the test of time. But very few actually entertain the thought that there could be any truth to that concept, whatsoever.
More than likely, the formation of the stars were being experimented with to perform harvest predictions. Maybe that specific night sky was recorded to mark the relevant constellations to hold a festival to appease a certain God? Maybe it was purely an astrologer practicing the art of star mapping, trying to make sense of the heavens. Perhaps the purpose of the Planisphere of Nineveh was something else entirely.
The constellations referenced on the disc are thought to be what are now called the Gemini, Pleiades (Babylonian word for Pleiades is MULMUL, 𒀯𒀯 meaning StarStar, word for Stars) and Pegasus constellations.
Maybe the astronomer saw something unusual taking place between those constellations? Could this be the first ever documented UFO sighting in human history?
Probably not, but it’s interesting to entertain the thought.