Reported in 1999 was the discovery of a map of
the moon which was ten times older than anything that had been
found before. It was carved into stone at one of Ireland's most
ancient and mysterious Neolithic sites.
It was identified by Dr Philip Stooke of the
University of Western Ontario, Canada. Whilst spending most of
his time preparing maps of asteroids based on spacecraft
observations, he has also prepared detailed maps of the moon.
What puzzled him greatly was the fact that there
was no recorded map of the moon that was older than about five
hundred years. Finding it somewhat hard to believe, he was sure
that there must be an older map somewhere.
So he began looking through old manuscripts and
history books, as well as in the records of excavations of
Neolithic sites on the British Isles. Then he found one. It took
the eye of an expert to see it for what it was. It was carved
into a rock in one of Ireland's most remarkable prehistoric tombs
at Knowth, County Meath.
Stooke was amazed when he saw it. When the markings
were placed over a picture of the full moon it could be seen that
they lined up. It was without doubt a map of the moon, the most
ancient one ever found. Stooke was able to point out the overall
pattern of the lunar features, from Mare Humorun through to Mare
Before this discovery, the oldest known map of
the moon was by Leonardo da Vinci, drawn about 1505. The Knowth
map was ten times older. Knowth was already a major focus of
research into understanding prehistoric man. Now, it was likely
to become one of the most important scientific sites in the world.
The people who carved this moon map knew a great deal about the
motion of the moon. They were not primitive at all.
The passage tomb at Knowth is estimated to be
about five thousand years old. It was obviously built by people
who had a sophisticated understanding of the motions of the sun,
moon and stars. It is known that many stone circles and ancient
tombs are aligned with the sun but less attention has been paid
to possible lunar alignments. This is despite the fact that at
certain times the moon can rise or set at any location on the
horizon that the sun can.
Series of arcs
Investigations at Knowth in the very early 1980s
showed that at certain times moonlight could shine down the eastern
passage of the tomb. Remarkably, the moonlight would also fall
on the Neolithic lunar map. During excavations, the stone in
question was named Orthostat 47. Its right-hand section contains
a series of arcs.
The circular limb of the moon is not included
in the carving. Dr Stooke believes that it may have been drawn
on the rock with chalk or with coloured paint. The find is followed
up in more detail in Encounter with the Moon Stone (see
sidebar link, right).