They knew nothing of gamma ray bursters or supernovas or black holes or quasars or cosmic background radiation. They had no satellite probes or mountaintop observatories or computer databases. They had no lenses or mirrors or telescopes. But they had their eyes, and that was enough to make them astronomers; they made records of what they observed, and that was enough to make them scientists.
As reported yesterday by the BBC, an image of the constellation Orion is believed to have been identified on a 38 x 14 x 4 millimetres piece of mastadon tusk, which would make the fragment the oldest known starmap. The “map” was produced by the mysterious Aurignacian people in Germany 32,500 years ago as they moved into Europe from the east and replaced the indigenous Neanderthals they found there. In addition to the man-figure of Orion on one side of the ivory fragment, there are 86 notches on the other side, which is both the number of days Orion’s primary red star Betelguese is visible in European skies per year, as well as the number of days that must be subtracted from a calendar year to yield the number of days in an average human pregnancy. In other words, a copulation at the disappearance of Betelguese from the sky could result in a birth upon its return. (Such an interpretation implies that the object depicted between Orion’s legs was not the now-traditional sword but something else instead, and that Orion was hunting for more than his next meal.) Such a linkage between the womb and sky would be viewed as deeply mystical to ancient humans, theorizes astro-archeologist Dr Michael Rappenglueck of INFIS. He and his group has located other such ancient astronomical artifacts in Europe, including a 16,500 year old star chart painted on a cave wall, a 15,000 year old lunar calendar also on a cave wall, and a 5,000 year old lunar map found on a tomb in Ireland. Through such discoveries, we are learning that perhaps European cave paintings were not only the beginning of human art, but of human science as well.