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This 5,500-Year-Old Sumerian Star Map Recorded the Impact of a Massive Asteroid

An ancient Sumerian astronomer recorded on the clay tablet the events he observed on 29 June 3123 BC.

There’s an ancient clay tablet now housed at the British Museum that has puzzled experts for more than 150 years. The Cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538 is known as “the Planisphere.”

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Translated more than 10 years, ago, the clay tablet is an actual ancient Sumerian Star Map.

The clay tablet was recovered in the 19th century from the underground library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, Iraq by Sir. Henry Layard.

Translations and eventual analysis revealed stunning details.

The ancient Sumerians etched on the surface of the clay tablet details revealing they observed a massive object, visible in space, as it smashed through Earth’s atmosphere and eventually impacted against the planet.

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The tablet, experts revealed, is a copy of a set of notes inscribed by an ancient Sumerian astronomer that observed the sky. He referred to the object coming from the sky as a “white stone bowl approaching…”

Part of a circular clay tablet with depictions of constellations (planisphere); the reverse is uninscribed; restored from fragments and incomplete; partly accidentally vitrified in antiquity during the destruction of the place where it was found. Found in Kuyunjik, ancient Nineveh, in the so-called “Library of Ashurbanipal”. Neo-assyrian period. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Part of a circular clay tablet with depictions of constellations (planisphere); the reverse is uninscribed; restored from fragments and incomplete; partly accidentally vitrified in antiquity during the destruction of the place where it was found. Found in Kuyunjik, ancient Nineveh, in the so-called “Library of Ashurbanipal”. Neo-Assyrian period. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The tablet is an astronomical work since it features a set of intricate drawings of constellations and their names.

But ever since its discovery, experts were unable to understand what the Sumerian Astronomer wanted to convey fully.

That changed with the appearance of computer programs that can help simulate trajectories as well as reconstruct the night sky, thousands of years ago.

And it is precisely that way how experts finally understood what the Planisphere tablet refers to.

An ancient Sumerian astronomer recorded the events he observed on 29 June 3123 BC.

Experts found that fifty percent of the clay tablet refers to the position of the planets as well as weather conditions, like cloud cover.

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However, the other half of the tablet details how a massive object, large enough to be observed even though it was still in space was seen approaching Earth.

The Sumerian astronomer decided the event was of great importance so he made an accurate note of the object’s trajectory relative to the stars.

And it turns out that the object observed by the Sumerian astronomer was most likely the asteroid that impacted at Köfels, Austria.

According to experts, the astronomer made an accurate note of the trajectory of the object to an error better than one degree.

Based on the observations made by the Sumerian astronomers, scientists have concluded that the object in question was most likely an asteroid over one kilometer in diameter.

Given its orbit, it was most likely an Aten type, asteroids that orbit relatively close to the planet.

The data etched on the clay tablet further explains why there isn’t an actual impact crater at Köfels.

Observations indicate that the asteroid’s incoming angle was extremely low, as low as six degrees. This suggests the space rock most likely clipped a mountain on its way down (most likely the tip of Gamskogel) causing the asteroid to disintegrate before it reached its final impact point.

Scientists explain that as it made its way down the valley, the asteroid turned into a gigantic fireball, around five kilometers in diameter.

As it impacted Köfels, it produced extremely high pressures that caused the rock to pulverize. Since it was no longer a solid object, it did not leave an impact crater behind.