When the method is lacking

  • Giulio Magli

This chapter discusses four Asian civilizations corresponding to four geographical areas: Mesopotamia, the Indo-Sarasvati valley, China, and Japan. The reason for giving such a brief account is that, In contrast to the history of astronomy studies based on written documents, field archae-oastronomy in Asia is less developed. For instance, various treaties of Babylonian astronomy were written on tablets and have been carefully studied, but a systematic study of the astronomical orientations of the Ziggurats, the big Babylonian pyramids built in raw bricks, is lacking. On the other hand, because of written sources, we know a lot about the development of astronomy from ancient times not only in Mesopotamia but also in India and China, and therefore it would have been impossible not to mention these countries in this book.

Mesopotamia, in the modern Iraq, is the flooding bed of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. It is therefore very fertile even though, in contrast to the Nile, the floods of these two rivers are very irregular. As is well known, a consolidated tradition considers Mesopotamia the cradle of all civilizations because of the development of the Sumerian cities, which started in the fifth millennium BC. It is, however, hard to say how true this dogma is in reality. In Jericho, in Palestine, people already lived in a fortified city with 7-meter-tall walls many millennia earlier, and the first settlements in Anatolia and in the Indo-Sarasvati valley occurred approximately around that time as well (after all, even the term civilization is an extremely subtle one to define). The first dating of Mesopotamia itself is complicated by unclear stratigraphy and, moreover, by the fact that we do not know the real size of the Persian Gulf in ancient times. In any case, the Sumerians were among the first people to leave written evidence of their activities, including navigation; hydraulic structures; huge urbanization (archaeologists believe that their cities could have had up to one hundred thousand inhabitants); monumental architecture, with the building of the gigantic Ziggurat; and literature and the arts. The written evidence that the Sumerians left is quite complete, and, in addition to literary, scientific, and educational texts, we have religious rituals, lists of kings, royal decrees, and court sentences (Kramer 1963).


Religious Ritual Praxis Publishing Royal Decree Monumental Architecture Euphrates River 
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© Springer-Verlag New York 2009

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  • Giulio Magli

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