Over 2,000 year old hidden star map found in medieval manuscript

(ORDO NEWS) — In a medieval text found in an Egyptian monastery, they found a secret map of the sky, compiled by the legendary ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus of Nicaea.

While studying photographs of an ancient manuscript, the historian discovered the oldest map of the stars hidden under a medieval Christian text.

The discovered map may be the work of the Greek astronomer Hipparchus (190-120 BC), who plotted the coordinates of the stars on the map. The astronomer’s long-lost star catalog has been searched for centuries.

The manuscript was found in the Greek Orthodox monastery of St. Catherine in the Sinai Peninsula (Egypt). It contained Syriac texts from the 10th and 11th centuries. However, the texts were written on parchment, which was later reused. Below the new text were older Christian texts.

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Medieval text

In 2012, scholar Peter Williams of the University of Cambridge gave his students the task of studying the pages. Looking through the texts, one student found a passage in Greek that is often attributed to the astronomer Eratosthenes.

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Reconstructed hidden text

The pages were re-analyzed using multispectral imaging (photographing pages in different wavelengths of light). The researchers then used special algorithms to combine the images to make the hidden text, composed in the 10th and 11th centuries, clearer.

Looking through photographs of text that turned out to contain myths about the origin of the stars by Eratosthenes, written down in the fifth or sixth centuries, Williams discovered an unusual piece of text that prompted him to immediately contact experts at the French National Research Center (CNRS) in Paris. He probably found ancient stellar coordinates.

Since the Earth rotates periodically on its axis (called precession), the position of the stars in the night sky changes by about 1 degree every 75 years. This means that, using modern night sky maps, the researchers were able to see when the original observations were made.

The team of scientists found that the provided star coordinates correspond to coordinates around 129 BC, when Hipparchus lived. This method of determining time on a star chart is important because Hipparchus himself discovered precession.

Scientists have been searching for Hipparchus’ star catalog for many centuries. Ancient texts mention Hipparchus charting the stars, but no previous work has been found, and some believe that it may not have existed at all.

Previously, the Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe (16th century) suggested that Ptolemy stole the writings of Hipparchus.

The research team believes that the coordinates of several major constellations found in the later work were also obtained from Hipparchus, but the available evidence suggests that Ptolemy did not steal Hipparchus’ coordinates because Hipparchus’ work was much more accurate than Ptolemy’s.

The researchers hope that the method used to visualize old texts will be used in the future in the study of a huge number of other parchments stored in libraries.

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