Saturday, August 16, 2003

The Status of Astronomy in Ancient Iran

Stars have facinated humans for ages; while some have worshiped it, others have studied it. Astron in Greek language means Stars and Astronomy is the science of the heacenly bodies. In Ancient Iran the study of stars and planets and its effect on humans had been a subject of research and they made good use of the knowledge they gained from such research. Among the fragments of the ancient Persian knowledge that have survived the onslaught in history and the misinterpretation by scholars, we find informations that are among the latest discoveries of modern science. An example is the "Mah Yasht", which is to be found in the Avesta. It says to the effect that "In spring with the new moon if a seed is sowen the fruit of that plant will be sweet and in abundance." In the late sixties scientists in Russia and Japan came to the same conclusion.
Today, the notion of "Date line" is so common that we dont even think about it. As far as we are conserned, the whole notion of date line has to do with how we set the different times according to a place named Greenwich in London. What we dont know is that the notion of having a Date Line stem from Persia and the ancient Greenwich was actually located in Sistan, a province in Southern Iran, and it was called Nimrouz meaning Half Day or Noon. An observatory was built at this location and was called the Nimrouz Observatory; it was located on 33.5 degrees latitude and the Date Line passed through it. The choice of the location was based on yhr information that beyond 67 degree North, there was no civilization and from East to West, Sistan was in the center of the ancient civilization, thus when it was Noon ( Nimrouz), in Sistan all the countries of the Ancient Civilization had sunshine, in the Eastern most corner there would be sunset and the Western most corner it would be dawn.
The ancient Persians also had an extensive knowledge about their own planet. They knew that the Earth consisted of seven separate landmasses, for in Avesta we repeatedly read of "haft Keshvar Zamin", meaning Seven Continents.
More importantly the Ancient Persians knew the relationship between the Sun and the Earth. While Galileo in 1616CE was imprisoned for saying that the Earth went around the Sun, the Persians two milleniums before that date had all their calculations in place with regard to the movement of the Earth aroud the Sun. The celebration of the New Day ( Nou Rouz) as against the New Year (saale Nou) is a matter of great significance astronomically.
Today, we are aware that the Earth as a planet is riding on its path round the Sun along with the other planets while the Sun itself is also moving on its own path along with the rest of the Universe. The journey of the Earth around the Sun does not end in a whole number of days but it ends in a fraction (365.24190), that can not be added up to form a whole number. The beginning and the end of the journey are marked in spring with the Vernal Equinox. Thi equinox does not happen at the same time each year but it happens with a differnece of about 5:48:20:16 hours ( give and take a few seconds). These facts were well known to the ancient Persians and taking them into consideration they devised a method of maintaining a calendar that could be fine-tuned with nature. Today in spite of starting the New Year with the Vernal Equinox, the year ends up with a fraction which by even having a leap years every four years and skipping one every 120 years does not help in solving the fraction. The solution was in nature itseld, the Ancient Persians who researched the "wisdom in creation" had come to a conclusion. To zero in the difference the Persians waited for the Equinox to coincide with the Sun Rise at a given location in their country and called the New year of that year Nou Rouz (New Day). one such new year that has been archeologically recorded in history was in 487 BCE, when the Vernal Equinox coincided with the Sun rise at Takhte Jamishid ( Persepolis). A square stone was placed in the central hall where the first rays of the rising Sun would fall at the same tume as the equinox. Today this knowledge is lost to the Persians ans they do not see the difference between New day and New year.
The Persians also used their knowledge of astronomy to influence others in the ancient civilization. The Jews anticipated in Messiah at the turn of the millennium and they were disappointed that this had not happend. The Persians helped them recalculate their calendar by introducing a solar calendar, which was accepted and thus paved the way for the introduction of jesus Christ as the Messiah.
What the ancient Iraninans did has to be compared with what other civilizations of that same time did. An ezample relatd to astronomy is that of the Egyptions who are believed to have plotted the stars and buried their king in it with a hope that he would go to that star represented by the pyramid in which he was buried. The man power and the wealth of the nation were spent on their beliefs about a life after death while their people in their present lives, lived as slaves and in poverty. (the content of this note has been taken from a paper by Mr.Fariborz Rahnamoon)
So did the Babylonian civilization before it came under the influence of Persia. The Bible tells us how they built the "Tower of Babel" to reach the gods who lived beyond the clouds and among the stars.
For the Ancient Iranians, the skies had practical use; it was not the location of the imaginary paradise, because Zarathushtra's heaven and hell was on earth. Paradise is where you creat it, it can be in your home in your city, in your country and enjoyed while one is alive.
The ancient Iranians had immense knowledge in astronomy and they used it to improve and organize the life of their fellow men. They studied nature and copied it to their advantage.

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