World’s oldest known star map found hidden in medieval manuscript

Over 2,100 years ago, the Greek astronomer Hipparchus mapped the stars – and for a long time his paper was considered humanity’s first attempt to assign numerical coordinates to stellar bodies. But despite its fame, the treatise only became known through the writings of another well-known astronomer, Claudius Ptolemy, who compiled his own celestial inventory some 400 years later.

So far, that is.

Researchers believe they have found fragments of Hipparchus’ lost historical document hidden in a medieval manuscript.

“This new evidence is the most reliable to date and enables major progress in reconstructing Hipparchus’ star catalog,” reads a study of the discovery published in the journal. history of astronomy Last week. This discovery could shed new light not only on Hipparchus’ attempt to map the night sky through precise measurements and calculations, but also on the history of astronomy.

Hipparchus, also known as the father of trigonometry, is often considered the greatest astronomer of ancient Greece. Parts of his star map appear to have appeared in the Codex Climaci Rescriptus, a book of Syriac texts written in the 10th or 11th centuries whose parchment pages were erased so they could be reused (a common recycling practice at the time). ), but still bear visible traces of their earlier form. This palimpsest is from the Greek Orthodox Monastery of St. Catherine on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, although the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC now owns most of the Codex folios.

Multispectral imagery reveals the enhanced Greek subtext in red beneath the black Syriac overtext.

Bible Museum

The teams of Electronic Library of Ancient Manuscripts in California and the Project Lazarus based at Rochester Institute of Technology revealed the obscured text and measurements using many wavelengths of light, a technique known as multispectral imaging.

Researchers from the Sorbonne University and the University of Cambridge were then able to decipher the descriptions of four constellations. Not only did this appear to uncover Hipparchus’ cartography, but the team also claims that the newly revealed digital evidence is highly consistent with real stellar coordinates.

This would make Hipparchus’ catalog more accurate than Ptolemy’s much more recent Almagest astronomy manual, although the researchers acknowledge that they are working with a small sample size and that significant errors could exist in parts of the star catalog. of Hipparchus which have not survived or have yet to be discovered. .

Scientists say the Codex Climaci Rescriptus could reveal even more stellar sightings of Hipparchus.

State-of-the-art digital technologies continue to recover vital elements of cultural heritage from documents that the human eye cannot see due to damage, deterioration or deliberate erasure.

Multispectral imaging has resurrected text of the earliest known copies of writings by the Greek mathematician Archimedes. This is revealed the secrets of the scrolls damaged during the eruption of Vesuvius, and Exposed Elements of the Dead Sea Scrolls, historically significant Biblical fragments recovered from caves in Qumran, Israel.