Chinese Map of Heavens – the Oldest Star Chart

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The oldest star chart happens to be a Chinese “map of heavens”, which dates back to the 7th century.

The ancient celestial map was discovered in a Chinese cave about 100 years ago. It highlights 1,339 stars, which include easily identifiable celestial bodies such as Orion and The Big Dipper.

Earlier, after the initial examination in 1959, experts held the view that the map dated back to AD940. Again after conducting a recent study, the date underwent reassessment the chart was located among 40,000 documents, which were found in a cave at Dunhuang, China.

The map is 6.5ft long and has used three colors to highlight the stars. The British Museum has acquired the map along with other 7,000 documents found in the cave.

The new date for the first time has been established after Dr. Susan Whitfield of the British Museum library led the research into its veracity. She was able to establish the date by observing the usage of “taboo” characters in calligraphy. She could establish that it was made after the rule of Emperor Taizong and before Ruizong.

This could mean that the date of chart can be anywhere between AD 649 and 684, which places the date back by 300 years. Dr. Whitfield is also of the view that it was a copy from the original chart compiled by Li Chunfeng, who was the imperial astronomer as well as a great mathematician.

The Chinese of course saw the stars differently from what we see, but some formations could be identified such as The Big Dipper.

The Chinese held the view that the stars were a reflection of our life on earth. It was secret information available to limited few.

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