History Files

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

Totals slider

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.



Prehistoric Britain

Prehistoric Moon Map Unearthed

by Dr David Whitehouse, 22 April 1999. Updated 13 August 2017

Reported in 1999 was the discovery of a map of the moon which was ten times older than anything which 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 which was older than about five hundred years. Finding it somewhat hard to believe, he was sure that there must be an older map somewhere.

Prehistoric tombs

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 Crisium.

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).



Some images and original text copyright © BBC or affiliates. Reproduction is made on a 'fair dealing' basis for the purpose of disseminating relevant information to a specific audience. No breach of copyright is intended or inferred.