A map of the moon which is ten times older than anything known
before has been found carved into stone at one of Ireland's most
ancient and mysterious Neolithic sites.
It has been identified by Dr Philip Stooke, of the University of
Western Ontario, Canada. He spends most of his time preparing maps
of asteroids based on spacecraft observations, but he has also
prepared detailed maps of the moon.
What puzzled him greatly was that there was no recorded map of
the moon older than about 500 years. "I simply could not believe
this," he said. "I felt there just had to be an older map
So he began looking in old manuscripts and history books as well
as in the records of excavations of the Neolithic sites on the
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.
"I was amazed when I saw it. Place the markings over a picture
of the full moon and you will see that they line up. It is without
doubt a map of the moon, the most ancient one ever found," said Dr
"It's all there in the carving. You can see the overall pattern
of the lunar features, from features such as Mare Humorun through to
Before this discovery, the oldest known map of the moon was by
Leonardo da Vinci, drawn about 1505. The Knowth map is ten times
Knowth is already a major focus of research into understanding
prehistoric man. Now, it will become one of the most important
scientific sites in the world.
"The people who carved this moon map were the first scientists,"
said Dr Stooke. "They 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 5,000 years
old. It was obviously built by men 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
Series of arcs
Investigations at Knowth almost twenty years ago showed that at
certain times moonlight could shine down the eastern passage of the
Remarkably, the moonlight would also fall on the Neolithic lunar
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.