Regarding the meaning of the Akkadian terms lumāšu = constellation and lumāši = constellations. The assyriologists Michael Rolf and Annette Zgoll also state ("Assyrian Astroglyphs." ZA, Volume 91, 2001) that the terms were used in the sense of a form of writing with astral pictographs or 'astroglyps.' The god Marduk drew the 'constellations of the gods' (lumāši ša itani) on the (jasper) stone surface of the starry sky (= the Lower Heaven).
Appendix 2: eSKEPTIC article
Wednesday, February 4th, 2009
Fire in the Sky
by Jeff Medkeff & Martin Rundkvist
According to A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels Impact Event, an asteroid entered the Earth’s atmosphere in 3123 BC and exploded above the Austrian Alps, triggering a major landslide. The authors also argue that during the final minutes of the object’s approach, it was observed by an astronomer in Mesopotamia who made detailed notes of the event, and by Neolithic people in coastal Croatia, who were inspired to depict it on their pottery.
The landslide is real. The Croatian pottery is real. The asteroid and the Sumerian astronomer, however, are in our opinion very poorly founded speculation. We take it that the authors are quite sincere about their work. But their assumptions are so many, and so outlandish, that this book would no doubt make William of Ockham’s head explode if he even glanced at it.
When considering the argument, we first need to know whether or not any extraterrestrial body did in fact contribute to the giant landslide at Köfels in Austria. If not, then the Sumerian connection is moot.
The Köfels deposit is about half a kilometre thick and measures five kilometres in diameter. It is very young in geological terms, dating from after the end of the last ice age. In 1936, geologist F. Suess published an extraterrestrial impact hypothesis to explain the formation. There is a lot of glass in it: a pumice-like mineral named köfelsite. Most geologists today believe that it formed when rock melted through friction in the landslide, but others still think it is more plausibly from an impact. Such impact events have created glass at other sites. The age of the Köfels deposit has been measured using radiometric methods, indicating that it formed at least 8,000 years ago — not 5,000 years ago as the book suggests.
As the authors readily admit, there is nothing resembling an impact crater at Köfels. Perhaps the strongest evidence for an impact origin of the structure was the reported presence of planar deformation features in quartz. They are microscopic features of silicate (e.g. quartz and feldspar) grains; basically very thin planes of glass arranged in parallel sets that have particular orientations with respect to the containing crystal’s structure. Such deformation is utterly diagnostic of impact events: no other geological event can form it, not even highly energetic volcanic eruptions. However, upon re-examination, Deutsch et al. found that shocked quartz with planar deformation is not present at Köfels. Instead, they saw quartz with lamellar deformation features typical of tectonic processes. Indeed, shocked quartz does not form through meteoritic airbursts: it requires a ground impact. Also, Hermanns et al. have shown that the Köfels features did not form through a single landslide, but are the result of several separate slides at different times. Currently, the consensus of scientific opinion is that Köfels is not an impact site. It is not listed in the Earth Impact Database, not even as a possible site. We need to know no more to discount the main argument of A Sumerian Observation.
Touchingly, the authors suggest that the reason that their asteroid exploded was that it struck a still apparently quite unharmed mountaintop a glancing blow some ways from Köfels. Yet by far the greater part of the book’s text is not about the Köfels deposit, nor about the movements of asteroids. It mainly deals in great detail with a fragmentary cuneiform tablet, most likely hailing from Layard's mid-19th century excavations at Niniveh, and kept in the British Museum. To give A Sumerian Observation a fair airing, let us assume for a moment (credulously) that there was a meteoritic airburst at Köfels 5,000 years ago, and examine the Sumerian angle.
The first thing to note about the tablet is that it is not 5,000 years old, but dates from the 7th century BC. The authors suggest that it is a copy of a Sumerian astronomer’s observation log from a summer night in 3123 BC. The copier(s) has reproduced all diagrams on the original tablet exactly, but replaced the original’s early Sumerian script with updated 7th century cuneiform. The reason that this uniquely early piece of scientific documentation, and only this particular piece, survives is that according to the authors the asteroid airburst soon acquired great religious significance in Mesopotamia. In fact, they explain (p. 104) that "There are many ancient European and Asian myths that are not only indicative of a NEO [Near-Earth Object] impact, but contain detail very suggestive of this specific event. It was consideration of these myths that was the original focus of this study."
Only about three fifths of the tablet’s surface survives, but even the well-preserved parts are almost incomprehensible. Though the script is clear, its contents are laconic and repetitive, more poesie concrète than narrative. Professional cuneiform scholars agree that the tablet has something to do with astronomy, but hardly anyone believes that any detailed meaning is recoverable. Again, touchingly, the authors admit in the preface that the tablet is only really comprehensible if one decides beforehand what it is supposed to say. "The third (and key) assumption is that [the tablet] records an observation of an Aten class asteroid that impacted the Austrian Alps at the locality of Köfels at the end of the Fourth Millennium BC."
Sumerian script is the earliest known form of writing, first appearing some time between 3500 and 3300 BC. All extant inscriptions from c. 3100 BC and earlier are terse lists of goods. Almost a thousand years of writing pass before any sentence with a verb appears. The authors’ argument for ascribing their hypothetical original tablet such an early date is that it shows something they interpret as the celestial equator in something they interpret as the constellation Pisces. With a more cautious attitude, and with a bit more respect for the current state of Sumerian philology, we of course argue the reverse: since an original tablet cannot realistically date from 3100 BC, the tablet cannot be taken to depict the celestial equator in Pisces.
Even assuming against good evidence that an asteroid did explode at Köfels in 3123 BC, there is no reason to believe that the cuneiform tablet in question has anything to do with that event. Any half-crumbled hieroglyphic papyrus or weathered Mayan bas-relief, yes, any graffiti-covered restroom wall, could be pressed into service in the same way. But the tablet is the sole data source for the authors’ interpretive model of the supposed event, and the focus of most of the book. (The Croatian astro-pottery, mercifully, makes only a few brief appearances.)
The authors’ attempts at geology and Sumerian philology are far off the mark. Since this invalidates the astronomical inferences drawn, we shall only make two points on that subject. First, the hypothetical incoming object was, according to the authors, an asteroid of the Aten class with a density below that of water. This is nonsense. Aten class asteroids by definition spend all their time in the inner solar system. But low-density compounds do not survive for long in small bodies there, because volatiles evaporate or sublimate near the sun. This is a process we see with comets: sublimation creates the comet’s coma and tail. What remains after a few centuries of solar heating and mass loss in the inner solar system is rock. And well-observed Aten asteroids are known to have had fairly stable orbits for millions of years.
Second, according to the authors, the mechanism by which the Sumerians learned that the asteroid had hit the Earth and were inspired to re-write their mythology, is this. The non-impact threw up a plume of deadly ejecta directed back along the path the body had arrived on, which at that moment formed a low-pressure tunnel through the atmosphere. They have picked this idea up from what happened when the comet Shoemaker/Levy 9 hit Jupiter in 1994. But that impact was into a dense gaseous atmosphere with no solid surface, and the dynamics were very different from solid-body impacts. The mechanism that created the Jovian plumes does not apply on Earth. A low-pressure region on Earth cannot achieve as large a pressure difference as on Jupiter, and our atmosphere is significantly less dense to begin with. Furthermore, no ejecta form without a crater. The process that forms the crater causes the ejecta: WHAM. Yet there is no crater of a matching date anywhere on Earth. The lack of a Jovian-density atmosphere on Earth means that you cannot have Shoemaker/Levy-9 style plumes from your crater, and the absence of any crater means that you cannot have any ejecta in the first place.
Is this work pseudoscience or simply bad science? Whatever it is, it most certainly is a case of severe amateurism. The authors make radical inferences from philological, archaeological and geological data outside their area of expertise, and happily arrive at something they are not professionally equipped to understand: the movements of a celestial body. In the preface they suggest that their inspired insight has enabled them to interpret the cuneiform tablet in a completely new way. They explain the reason that no academic journal or book series has accepted their work is that academic reviewers are too narrowly specialized (and thus, it is politely hinted, narrow-minded) to appreciate this kind of interdisciplinary research. But good interdisciplinary research is done when specialists in different fields collaborate closely: not when specialists in a single field (here, astronautical engineering) make inspired forays onto the territory of disciplines they know little about.
Another writer who has spun tall tales about the enigmatic cuneiform tablet is Zecharia Sitchin. In his 1976 book The Twelfth Planet, the tablet is an astrogator's chart from a time when space aliens ruled the Earth. And although A Sumerian Observation contains not one word about aliens, this is the company the book belongs with: the works of Sitchin, von Däniken, and Velikovsky.
[About the authors: Jeff Medkeff (1968-2008) was a computer programmer, an astronomer, a science writer and an educator. Dr. Martin Rundkvist is an archaeologist and journal editor based in Stockholm, Sweden.]
Appendix 3: British Museum Website Description of K 8538
Object types: Tablet.
Title (series): Library of Ashurbanipal.
Place (findspot): Excavated/Findspot Kouyunjik (Asia,Iraq,North Iraq,Kouyunjik (Nineveh)).
Description: Part of a circular clay tablet with depictions of constellations (planisphere); the reverse is uninscribed; restored from fragments and incomplete; partly accidentally vitrified in antiquity during the destruction of the place where it was found.
Inscriptions: Inscription Type: inscription; Inscription Script: cuneiform; Inscription Language: Babylonian.
Dimensions: Diameter: 14.1 centimetres (maximum); Thickness: 3.2 centimetres.
Condition: Heavily restored with plaster.
Curator's comments: For comment on the interpretation of the text and identification of the constellations see Koch 1989 [Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des babylonischen Fixsternhimmels]. Celestial planisphere; in this stylised map the sky has been divided into eight sections. It represents the night sky of 3-4 January 650 BC over Nineveh. The rectangular shape at the top has been identified as the constellation known today as Gemini and the stars contained with an oval shape are the Pleiades. The two triangles in the lower right mark the bright stars of Pegasus.
Associated names: Associated with Ashurbanipal.Acquisition name: Excavated by Sir Austen Henry Layard (et al).
Appendix 4: Recent Supporters of the Fantasy Interpretation of K 8538 by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell
Joachim Seifert (who describes himself as a climate author, and tablet translator), and Frank Lemke (who sells modelling software) both jointly and individually publish papers and correspondence on the internet, that create controversy. Two of their joint papers are an impact(s) from space speculation using K 8538 as a historical source for the late 3rd-millennium BCE. The theme is that cosmic impacts are a contributor to climate change effects. Seifert believes the book, A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels' Impact Event (2008), by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell has merit. Also, like Bond and Hempsell, Seifert believes the K 8538 planisphere contains a generally understandable astronomical message with sufficient celestial details given to understand the content of the tablets. Instead of an impact event in the Alps (Köfels, Austria) proposed by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell, the claim by Joachim Seifert and Frank Lemke now is an impact event in the Tigris-Euphrates marshes is being recorded. (Regarding the title "tablet translator": I have yet to see any evidence that Seifert has any professional credentials in cuneiform philology, is employed by academic bodies to do translations of cuneiform tablets, has a history of publishing translations of cuneiform tablets in professional journals, and has done a collation of K8538.)
Article abstracts and announcements:
"The destruction of the city of Akkad by a cosmic asteroid impact and the link to global climate change." by Joachim Seifert and Frank Lemke (Published online on: May 15, 2013 (15 pages)). Abstract: "We focus on one of the most important events in human history, the 4.2 kiloyear event, when great civilizations around the world collapsed into anarchy and social chaos. From this moment on, climate cooling and widespread aridification began, lowering agricultural food production and human living conditions. Various hypotheses exist about its cause; the most promising approach links the 4.2 kiloyear event to a cosmic asteroid crash into Mesopotamia. The asteroid landed in a densely populated area; we examine at first major translations of preserved Sumerian documents on details and progression of this catastrophic event. We quote major impact features as observed by historical Sumerian eyewitnesses. The impact, as a full strike, eradicated the Imperial city of Akkad. The impact damaged all other Sumerian towns to different degrees. Based on our findings, we identify the location of the missing city of Akkad. We analyze the onset of global cooling and severe aridification in the framework of our cosmic climate footprint analysis for a selected 1,000 year timeframe. This footprint analysis of Holocene climate change affirms the occurrence and date of the impact event. We also identify volcanic mega-eruptions, which are responsible for multi-decadal global temperature dips but which cannot cause centennial-long climate changes. The footprint analysis takes 5 climate macroforcings into account and explains global cooling and aridification based on impact-related causes."
An unsolicited paper announcement received by e-mail Monday, 5 May 2014: "Dear Colleagues, We are pleased to announce the decoding and translation of the Babylonian cuneiform tablet K8538 in our new paper "The Sumerian K8538 tablet - The great meteor impact devastating Mesopotamia". The importance of the tablet decoding concerns two fields of science: One is Ancient History of mankind, the other concerns Abrupt Climate Change from a benign to a malign climate and vice versa, which in turn, supports or ends civilizations. At first, an introduction of our work to climate scientists: The abrupt climate change event at 4.2 kyears BP ended various ancient civilizations on the globe. Its cause was simulated in climate GCM-models focussing on SST, AMO, NAO, PDO, TSI, LULC etc. None of these simulations successfully identified the real cause, because cosmic impact events remain excluded. The 4.2 kyear BP climate change consists of a short episode of torrential flash flooding, followed by 300 years of mega-drought. The occurrence of a flash flood and an ensuing mega-drought is standard feature for more than 10 identified sizable cosmic impacts in the Holocene. The K8538 tablet documents the 4.2 kyear BP event as the cosmic meteor impact in Mesopotamia in 2,193 BC, presenting accurate scientific astronometrical measurements for the cometary impact in Sumer. For this reason, continued exclusion of cosmic impacts has lost credibility in climate change analyses. Second, an overview for historians of ancient Near Eastern Civilizations and assyriologists: The K8538 tablet was the most difficult of all Assyrian tablets, because of its sparse cuneiform explanations in midst of drawings, for which the explanatory code was missing. For this reason, almost nobody dared to translate the tablet over the past 100 years since William King made his transliteration available in 1912. We present a profound detail analysis as an interdisciplinary combination of assyriology, astronomy, meteor impact science and symbol interpretation. The utmost important feature of the tablet is that it reports neither fiction nor poetical script, but rather hard fact scientific trigonometry, conducted by an ancient astronomer on top of his sky observation ziggurat. His scientific observations, documented on K8538, concerns the comet's approach and final impact in Sumer from an about 100 km distance to the impact site. The historical significance: The tablet demonstrates that the Akkadian Empire and civilization came to an abrupt end through a direct cometary hit, next to its capital Agade. After the impact and with the onset of the consequential mega-drought, neighboring Gutian nomadic herdsman tribes left their regions and moved with their livestock into the now devastated and depopulated Mesopotamian area. The current assumed lemma is that mountain tribes scored an undocumented victory over the largest standing professional army of the time, which was equipped with weaponry of world standard for the following 2000 years until Roman times. The tribes are further blamed of dismantling the capital city of Agade entirely with all building foundations. The K8538 tablet is the documented scientific prove (sic) for the real end of Akkad in 2,193 BC: A result of a direct cometary impact in Mesopotamia. The full paper is available at: http://www.knowledgeminer.eu/climate/papers.html Thank you. The authors"
"The Sumerian K8538 tablet - The great meteor impact devastating Mesopotamia." by Joachim Seifert and Frank Lemke (Published on: April 25, 2014 (20 pages)). Abstract: "The K8538 is the world's first scientific documentation on approach and terrestrial impact of a large comet on Earth. Observations were made on top of an astronomical tower, located 100 km close to the impact site. The report is presented in form of a sequence of eight pictures, explaining the comet's first astronomical sighting, the appearance of comet tail and coma, the growing comet size, the comet flight across the sky and finally, its visible impact beyond the horizon, i.e. the impact flash lighting of the sky and the subsequent elevation of ash plumes, glowing beyond the horizon, spreading North and West. The impact itself is not described as a blast pressure wave but rather as an ash and dust tempest, rising out of mud sediments from the Tigris and Euphrates river delta, where the hot comet found its burial. The astronomical observer carried out trigonometrical measurements to record the flight path in the sky, flying distances and flying times. The observer started his measurements as soon as the comet showed its spectacular size, coma and tail, which convinced the observer, that an extraordinary celestial event was about to take place. The K8538 is a full comprehensive analysis of the comet event; its eight-picture sequence is cohesive. The tablet is a masterly work, explaining with as little text a maximum amount of impact event features. The tablet is a late Babylonian copy of the early old Sumerian original. Written cuneiform signs of two zodiacal constellations, Orion and Triangulum, are later Babylonian copy scribe additions and were not part of the Sumerian original. The K8538 tablet had high priority in Babylonian times, because it provided the documented evidence that the comet emerged out of the constellation Triangulum, Mul-Apin, onto which late Babylonian astronomy and religion rested. The tablet eyewitness account shows Mul-Apin as celestial seat of Gods and celestial source of destructive meteors on Earth. For this reason, the K8538 was guarded, copied and refreshed over more than 1,500 years, until the late Babylonian period, after the observed meteor impact in 2,193 BC. The tablet does not deal with any Babylonian zodiacal astrology. The described cosmic impact on Earth is the so-called 4.2 kyr event, shown in our other Holocene climate change studies. The comet impact is responsible for a 300 year long drop in global temperatures combined with lasting mega-droughts, which led to the collapse of various ancient civilisations around the world."
In their several papers and publication announcements (see above) both Joachim Seifert and Frank Lemke involve the use of K8538 in a manner reminiscent of A Sumerian Observation of the Köfels' Impact Event (2008) by Alan Bond and Mark Hempsell.
Their historical reconstructions are without the support of the community of assyriologists and geologists.
On Thursday, 7 March 2019 I received another unsolicited e-mail from Joachim Seifert notifying of an adjunct article to the 2014 article. (Included with the e-mail was the advice that I am a disgrace to science and I should take up kangaroo breeding.) The new article is: "The Sumerian K8538 Tablet. The Great Meteor Impact Devastating Mesopotamia." by Joachim Seifert and Frank Lemke (Uploaded to ResearchGate.net, February 2019 (11 pages)). Abstract: "The paper adds new translation knowledge to our 2014 paper: "The Sumerian K8538 tablet, the great meteor impact devastating Mesopotamia". We present an improved, detailed fixing of the meteor impact day and impact hour, according to data provided on the tablet. A sky map for Northern Taurids meteor showers shows the comet flight path in the sky. Other useful information is given concerning climatic change, following the meteor impact, the meteor impact aftermath and new details for the relation of the cosmic impact to the Christian Bible, in particularly to Genesis and Apocalypse. The meteor impact occurred at 10:56 am, on September 22, 2193 BC, after the meteor emerged at 5:34 am at dawn and after a flight time of 5 hours 22 minutes. These numbers can clearly be deduced out of observation data entries in the tablet's pictographic records and in comparison to LOD (length-of-day tables) for the corresponding Mesopotamian latitude. The K8538 tablet is property of the British Museum. Unfortunately, the museum is staunched in its opinion that this tablet represents the Babylonian sky as a so-called "planisphere". This opinion is based on an interpretation, which we, for the first time, analyze in comprehensive detail, item by item, in this paper. Result: The planispheric concept of the Babylonian sky on this tablet is a hoax: Not one single correct argument proves alleged recorded planispheric constellations on the tablet, except one, already found by L. W. King, over 100 years ago, back in 1912. As translated in our 2014 K8538 paper, the tablet has never been a planisphere, but is a pictographic "cartoon" story, probably the first recorded cartoon of the world, consisting of a sequence of 8 subsequent pictures, to be turned while reading, to advance the story. All 8 pictures exclusively show observations, recorded measurements and specific details of flight and impact of this disastrous meteor, which destroyed the nearby Akkadian capital in Mesopotamia. Because Southern Iraq in the impact area was swamp and marshland until recently, an exploration of the discovered impact crater, Umm-al-Binni, was impossible. For the first time, it is feasible from 2019 on, and a first crater inspection will soon be conducted. Due to missing explorations of the impact crater, Near-East historians, until now, did not recognize the historical cosmic impact event, but we may expect that this will change in the near future." The essay has not appeared in any academic journals.
This particular sentence sets out the fantastic nature of the article: "The meteor impact occurred at 10:56 am, on September 22, 2193 BC, after the meteor emerged at 5:34 am at dawn and after a flight time of 5 hours 22 minutes." Obviously skilled use of sundial at night time. It is worth noting that 3rd-millennium BCE texts do not attest to the use a Sumerian hour or minute. From the Ur III period there is the artificial administrative division of the workday in 60 parts. The proposed search for the supposed meteor crater reminds me of the searches for the biblical Ark on Mount Ararat.
The eminent assyriologist Hermann Hunger ("The Cultic Calendars of the Ancient Near East." in The Journal of the American Oriental Society, October-December, 1996) states: "While there is no doubt that the sky was observed in Sumerian times for the purpose of omens and probably also in connection with cultic actions, this is not astronomy, which involves measuring and computing." The assyriologist Wayne Horowitz concludes ("Some Thoughts on Sumerian Star-Names and Sumerian Astronomy." In: An Experienced Scribe Who Neglects Nothing, edited by Yitzhak Sefati et. al. (2005)): (1) Sumerian texts, dating back to the time of the earliest archives of cuneiform texts, do directly and indirectly indicate evidence of astronomical/astrological activities. (2) The state of present cuneiform evidence indicates that the Sumerians of the 3rd- and 4th-millennium BCE had no formal system of astral sciences (astronomy/astrology) that can be compared to astronomy/astrology in Akkadian texts of the 2nd-millennium BCE. There is no evidence that Mul.Apin is a compendium of late-Sumerian astronomical lore or that the astrolabes derive from late-Sumerian astral lore. A good succinct summary is given by the physicist Professor Robert Logan (The Poetry of Physics and the Physics of Poetry, 2010; Chapter 3, Pages 11-21): "Systematic astronomical observations were not part of Sumerian tradition but were begun by the Akkadians, worshippers of the sun god Shamash. Their observations were somewhat crude ... and it was only with the flowering of the Assyrian empire in approximately 700 B.C. that accurate quantitative measurements were made ...." Sumerian cosmology contains mythic elements. The extent to which Sumerian myths related to astronomical objects i.e., planets, remains uncertain.
Evidence for Sumerian celestial observation consists of: (1) calendar establishment and regulation, (2) likely observations of the heliacal risings of particular stars, and (3) their knowledge that Venus was both a morning and evening star. Evidence for Sumerian celestial divination consists of: (1) the association of the goddess Nisaba with the stars, and (2) Nisaba consulting a star tablet for guidance on architectural matters. Evidence for Sumerian star names/constellations consists of: (1) the goddess Nisaba consulting a star tablet, (2) the earliest kings in The Sumerian King List sharing names with constellations, and (3) fragments of star lists/constellation mentions may go back to the 3rd-millennium BCE. The Ur III period (2112-2004 BCE) (not to be confused with the earlier Uruk III period reaching up to circa 3000 BCE) is generally considered the best (most abundant) documented century in antiquity. This was due to a state organisation that was very bureaucratic. It is also termed the Neo Sumerian period or the "Sumerian Renaissance." The tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets that have survived document an immense range of activities. This has resulted in nearly 100 years of intense scholarly work on the Ur III period. Within the context of the active intellectual endeavour recorded at this period no astronomy emerges.
There is no evidence for any Sumerian "astronomical diaries." It also needs to be reiterated that half of the face of K 8538 is missing (i.e., has been obliterated). Also, there is no text on the tablet stating it is a copy of an earlier tablet. Incredibly, William Russeth (at his Blogspot) claims: "... that part of the inscription mentions this tablet was copied from a tablet made 2000 years earlier."
Johannes Koch has identified that K 8538 is placed in the Mul.Apin astronomical/omen tradition. (Though the Mul.Apin tradition can be dated to circa 1200 BCE, Koch dates K 8538 to 650 BCE Niniveh.) The idea that the tablet information could be copied and recopied for some 2000 years without copyist errors being introduced is rather difficult to believe. The so-called "Venus tablets" from perhaps circa 1600 BCE contain evidence of numerous copyist errors. The date given for the Sumerian/asteroid theory takes us back to the early proto-cuneiform period beginning circa 3100 BCE. Most tablets from this early period simply list goods. Not demonstrated by those holding the "transmission theory" for K 8538 is how later copyists could accurately deal not only with the complex (and inefficient) proto-cuneiform pictographic script but could also successfully deal with the earlier astronomical concepts expressed in proto-cuneiform pictographic script. Modern expert assyriologists, with the benefits of modern professional schooling and examples of tablets from all periods, point out that proto-cuneiform (circa 3200-3000 BCE is a rudimentary language that is extremely difficult to decipher. (The 7th-century BCE Assyrian language and cuneiform script was a version of Akkadian. The Babylonian language and cuneiform script of the 1st-millennium BCE was a variant version of Akkadian.) If K 8538 is evidence of Sumerian astronomy then it is an extraordinary "stand-alone" tablet. There is a bigger case to be made for it as extraordinary proof of the existence of Sumerian astronomy - and a sophisticated Sumerian astronomy at that.
Well worth reiterating is the fact our knowledge of the Sumerian language is incomplete. Exact meanings are open to interpretation. Anyway, K 8538 is not written in Sumerian. According to Seifert the Sumerian cuneiform has been replaced with 7th-century BCE (Assyrian) cuneiform.
I can only conclude that in the papers mentioned above a number of astronomical claims made are only fantasy and speculation.
Working from the abstracts/announcement above, as readers are perhaps unlikely to access the full articles, I give statements and then my remarks:
|"The K8538 tablet documents the 4.2 kyear BP event as the cosmic meteor impact in Mesopotamia in 2,193 BC, presenting accurate scientific astronometrical measurements for the cometary impact in Sumer."||Of course its all about how the remaining contents of the heavily damaged tablet are interpreted. There is no evidence for any sophisticated Sumerian astronomy; especially the concept of Sumerian "astronomical diaries." The Ur III period (2112-2004 BCE) (not to be confused with the earlier Uruk III period reaching up to circa 3000 BCE) is generally considered the best (most abundant) documented century in antiquity. This was due to a state organisation that was very bureaucratic. It is also termed the Neo Sumerian period or the "Sumerian Renaissance." The tens of thousands of cuneiform tablets that have survived document an immense range of activities. This has resulted in nearly 100 years of intense scholarly work on the Ur III period. Within the context of the active intellectual endeavour recorded at this period no astronomy emerges.|
|"The K8538 tablet was the most difficult of all Assyrian tablets, because of its sparse cuneiform explanations in midst of drawings, for which the explanatory code was missing. For this reason, almost nobody dared to translate the tablet over the past 100 years since William King made his transliteration available in 1912."||Damage to the greater part of the tablet is likely the reason. I have not read anywhere of assyriologists not daring to translate the tablet. The tablet has always proved very difficult to to interpret. In his detailed 1915 study of the planisphere (in Handbuch der babylonischen Astronomie) the Assyriologist Ernst Weidner - recognised as a brilliant cuneiform philologist - concluded that it had both astronomical and astrological significance and was probably a magical tablet used in exorcisms. However, he remained puzzled about the sensible meaning of the repeating syllables along the 45 degree lines. However, they are still interpreted as comprising some form of astro-magical ritual (and possibly related to incantations). The repetitions are perhaps stylistic or structural elements in divination/magic incantations.|
|"The tablet demonstrates that the Akkadian Empire and civilization came to an abrupt end through a direct cometary hit, next to its capital Agade."||Of course its all about how the remaining contents of the heavily damaged tablet are interpreted.|
|"The utmost important feature of the tablet is that it reports neither fiction nor poetical script, but rather hard fact scientific trigonometry, conducted by an ancient astronomer on top of his sky observation ziggurat."||The division of the planisphere into 8 equal sectors is not astronomical trigonometry. The 8 lines radiating from the centre of the circular tablet have the intention of defining eight equal stellar sectors of 45 degrees each. In ancient Mesopotamia the number 8 had considerable importance. The circular zodiac depicted on the fragment VAT 7851 (dated to circa 2nd-century BCE) is indicated is indicated as having an 8-zone division. It is considered possible - but not known - that ziggurats were used for astronomical observation.|
|"The astronomical observer carried out trigonometrical measurements to record the flight path in the sky, flying distances and flying times."||Weidner sets out his conclusion that the document served the purposes of divination and sorcery, with the aid of astrology. The apparently pointless, multiple repeated syllables strung together are spells. Examples of such are already known and published by Carl Bezold (Catalogue IV), Alfred Jeremias (Handbuch der altorientalischen Geisteskultur, Page 110), and François Thureau-Dangin (RA, IX, Page 80; Text AO 5399 from the Old Babylonian period). The magic involves the frequent repetition of syllables. For other examples of incantations involving multiple repetition of the same signs see: Mesopotamian Cosmic Geography by Wayne Horowitz (1998, Pages 214-215), and "An Old Babylonian Letter and Two Amulets." by Wilfred Lambert in Iraq, Volume 38, Issue 1, March, 1976, Page 62 A. The constellations drawn are not in their correct order/relation to each other. That only a few important constellations are shown refutes the assumption of K 8538 as a sky map. The constellations and incantations appear in conjunction with each other. The assumption can be made that the formulas relate to astrologically important star positions (i.e., dawn, culmination, etc).|
|"The tablet is a late Babylonian copy of the early old Sumerian original."||This has to be an assumption. There is no evidence for any sophisticated Sumerian astronomy; especially the concept of Sumerian technical "astronomical diaries." There is no text on the tablet stating it is a copy of an earlier tablet. Not demonstrated by those holding the "transmission theory" for K 8538 is how later copyists could accurately deal not only with the complex (and inefficient) proto-cuneiform pictographic script but could also successfully deal with the earlier astronomical concepts expressed in proto-cuneiform pictographic script. Modern expert assyriologists, with the benefits of modern professional schooling and examples of tablets from all periods, point out that proto-cuneiform (circa 3200-3000 BCE is a rudimentary language that is extremely difficult to decipher.|
|"Written cuneiform signs of two zodiacal constellations, Orion and Triangulum, are later Babylonian copy scribe additions and were not part of the Sumerian original."||The supposed late addition of 2 constellation names and 2 constellation figures has to be an assumption. The most detailed study of the tablet was the 1989 study by (the competent German amateur assyriologist) Johannes Koch in his book Neue Untersuchungen zur Topographie des babylonischen Fixsternhimmels (Chapters 7-16). He concluded it represents the night sky of 3-4 January 650 BCE over Nineveh. The constellations depicted would most likely be the principal constellations. No need to invoke late scribal additions."|
|"For this reason, the K8538 was guarded, copied and refreshed over more than 1,500 years, until the late Babylonian period, after the observed meteor impact in 2,193 BC."||The claim "the K8538 was guarded" has to be an assumption. I have not seen the term "refreshed" in any lexicon of assyriologica/archaeological technical terms. Also, there is no text on the tablet stating it is a copy of an earlier tablet.|
|"The tablet does not deal with any Babylonian zodiacal astrology."||Who claimed that it ever did? Babylonian zodiacal astrology was later than the date determined for the tablet. The repeating syllables along the 45 degree lines are still interpreted as comprising some form of astro-magical ritual (and possibly related to incantations). Ernst Weidner was of the opinion that Sector 7 contained numerous magical formulas. Ernst Weidner believed that the tablet was a diviner's tool. Johannes Koch believed it was a star map having a practical purpose (i.e., assistive to naked-eye observation).|
It is worthwhile repeating that Johannes Koch (1989) has made the point that K 8538 is an instrument rather than an image. It is certainly not a report. Interestingly, the name of the Assyrian capital, Assur, is written near the outline of mulab-sín (= Virgo) in section 5. The city of Assur was founded circa 1900 BCE on the site of a pre-existing community that had been built by the Akkadians at some point during the reign of Sargon the Great (2334-2279 BCE) of Akkad.
Interestingly, Seifert (in several unsolicited e-mails to me in 2014
- in which he does not establish any credentials for himself)
believes I have not read his 2 articles, nor Neue
Untersuchungen zur Topographie des babylonischen Fixsternhimmels
by Johannes Koch, nor Handbuch
der babylonischen Astronomie by Ernst Weidner. He is completely mistaken.
Apart from copies of Seifert's articles I have 2 copies of Koch and 3
copies of Weidner. The conjecture that Koch could employ i.e., his 1995
analysis of the DAL.BA.AN.NA text (see: Koch, Johannes.
(1995). "Der Dalbanna-Sternenkatalog" (Die Welt des Orients, Band 26,
Pages 43-85)), [to make his assessment of K 8538] is not evident in his Neue
Untersuchungen zur Topographie des babylonischen Fixsternhimmels.
[Note: At the time of writing I have not made the
sentence readily sensible and I need to review how to clarify it. For
the time being I have added some additional comments.] (The
so-called Dalbanna-Text/DAL.BA.AN.NA Text (a Mesopotamian star-list),
combines several stars into a "string." Fragment exemplars, known for
almost 100 years, (mostly?) form part of the Kouyunjik collection in the
British Museum. (One exemplar is from Babylon.) The so-called Dalbanna-Text
also mentions "
For interest, see also the earlier article "Geografie van de Goden." [Geography of the Gods.] by Wim Zitman in Frontier Magazine, juli/augustus, 2001, jaargang 7, nr. 4, pages 30-34. Wim Zitman's interpretation of K 8538 is it is a map of northern Africa and the Middle East at the time of the Egyptian and Sumerian empires.
Update: It is evident that Joachim Seifert is intolerant of anything that contradicts his own ideas concerning K 8538. In July 2016 I received 3 abusive/whining e-mails in quick succession from Joachim Seifert (1 e-mail termed annex: 20-7-2016; and 2 e-mails (both with the earlier annex included again): 25-7-2016; sent 5 minutes apart). In his e-mail dated 20-7-2016 it is obvious that Seifert does not like what Koch has written on K 8538 and believes that nobody should be repeating it. In the last of his e-mails (25-7-2016) Seifert states I have not read Koch's book, states that Koch has been involved in invention and lies and deceit, and also Koch is not a scientist but a churchman, a disgrace to science, and does not keep to scientific standards. Seifert then sets out that I should remove any praise for Koch from my essay. For some reason Seifert thinks that K 8538 - and my essay - is related to the zodiac. Both are clearly not. Also, I am accused of sitting around and sulking in Australia. In the last of his e-mails (25-7-2016) Seifert states that Koch has deceived the British Museum with his translation and identification. This is quite extreme, even for a rant. The allegations are absurd and invidious. It appears that Seifert believes that nobody at the British Museum has expertise with cuneiform script. Also, apparently Seifert believes he is setting the benchmark for standards. Impressively, Seifert refers to himself as a "tablet translator."
Appendix 5: The Ziqpu Planisphere
The noun ziqpu (meaning 'height, altitude' as a mathematical term) comes from zaqapu (having a technical sense relating to vertical distance) and refers to consecutive culminations of stars moving in a 'ferris-wheel' type motion over the sky from the perspective of an earth-based observer. The 'recently' published (by Horowitz and al-Rawi in the journal Iraq, Volume 63, 2001) ziqpu-star planisphere from Neo-Babylonian period Sippar has a rosette at its centre. The diagram on the planisphere set out consecutive risings of ziqpu-stars over the course of the schematic year; represent the 'ferris-wheel' type motion of the ziqpu-stars as they ascend, reach their zenith in the centre of the sky, and then descend. Rochberg (2012) writes: "It is inscribed on both sides. The obverse of the tablet shows parts of twelve 30-degree segments indicated with straight lines radiating out from a central rosette. The names of ziqpu stars and arrangements of dots [representing stars] are preserved in six of the twelve segments. The ziqpu star names show the disk is to be read in a clockwise direction. ... The circular arrangement of the ziqpu stars ... on the obverse of the disk corresponds to the list of ... stars on its reverse. The list [of ziqpu stars] ... seems to parallel the astrolabe's presentation of stars both in lists [list/rectangular astrolabes] and in circular diagrams."
The Babylonians circa 1000 BCE used a physical instrument known as a ziqpu (a type of pole). It is likely the ziqpu-stars obtained their name from this instrument. Both would entail the use of a vertical line to assist in making other observations. Ziqpu-stars are the means by which an observer observes the rising (and setting) of other stars.
Obverse of the ziqpu-star planisphere from Sippar. The stars are listed on the reverse. Per the number labelling of the planisphere: Segment 1: "Hands of of the Crook" no dots preserved), and "The Twins" (Nabu and Nergal) (2 dots). Segment 2: "Crab" (10 dots), and "The Two Stars of the Head of the Lion" (2 dots). Segment 3: "The Four Stars of his Chest" (of the Lion) (4 dots), and "The Two Stars of his Tail" (2 dots). Segment 4: "The Single Star of Its Tail" (1 dot), "The Frond" (6 dots), and "The Harness" (1 dot). Segment 5: "The Yoke" (2 dots), and "The Rear Harness" (3 dots). Segment 6: "The Circle" (circle of dots).
Horowitz, Wayne. and Al-Rawi, Farouk. (2001). "Tablets from the Sippar Library IX. A Ziqpu-Star Planisphere." (Iraq, Volume LXIII , Pages 171-181).
Rochberg, Francesca. (2012). "The Expression of Terrestrial and Celestial Order in Ancient Mesopotamia." In: Talbert, Richard. (Editor). Ancient Perspectives: Maps and Their Place in Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, and Rome. (Pages 9-46).
Appendix 6: Mesopotamian Archives As an outline sketch: Southern Mesopotamia is taken to mean Sumer
and Babylonia. Northern Mesopotamia is taken to mean Assyria. Babylon
was one of the great southern Mesopotamian cities. Nineveh was one of
the great Assyrian cities of upper Mesopotamia. The storage of cuneiform tablets shows little
relationship to modern administrative ideas. There was no library system
as we know it. Archival collections were not necessarily centralised
i.e., kept in one place. Tablets could be stored across multiple
buildings. Uruk, Babylon, Sippar, and Nineveh were
Mesopotamian cities with important astronomy and omenology activities
and archives. However, the scholars who regularly observed the night
skies were not all attached to major temples or all located in the major
capital cities. In the palace and temple archives there were
both "public" and "private" documents. By the 1st-millennium BCE there
were private libraries in addition to palace and temple archives. At
times the boundaries that existed between the public and private
documents were blurred - such as identified at the Syrian site of
Ugarit. In 1st-millennium BCE Mesopotamia, the boundaries between public
and private temple collections were not rigidly established. Private archives of astronomical tablets
existed. Interestingly, private libraries of cuneiform texts held by
families of masmassu's (e.g., Uruk in the late 5th and late 4th
centuries BCE) suggests a tight social network of scholarly families.
Some of the texts they copied/possessed did not originate in Uruk. Most writing (record keeping) in ancient
Mesopotamia was directed toward specific and practical ends - that of
administration. In comparison to administrative documents only a
relatively small number of clay tablets were devoted to myths, epics,
speculations about the meaning of life, and similar themes. By far the
greatest number were administrative texts, letters, texts of commercial
or legal import, and those dealing with priestly concerns or those of
omen takers, stargazers, and a host of temple administrators. This has
led to a practice amongst assyriologists of dividing cuneiform tablets
into 2 general types: so-called "stream of tradition" texts and the
"day-to-day" texts. A survey of a major collection of "stream of
tradition" cuneiform texts recovered from the library assembled circa
650 BCE by the Assyrian king Assurbanipal in Nineveh, the Assyrian
capital at that time, suggests that the collection was a diviner's/omenologist's
reference source - traditional texts to be consulted for advising and
guiding the king in his many royal obligations and activities.
As an outline sketch:
Southern Mesopotamia is taken to mean Sumer and Babylonia. Northern Mesopotamia is taken to mean Assyria. Babylon was one of the great southern Mesopotamian cities. Nineveh was one of the great Assyrian cities of upper Mesopotamia.
The storage of cuneiform tablets shows little relationship to modern administrative ideas. There was no library system as we know it. Archival collections were not necessarily centralised i.e., kept in one place. Tablets could be stored across multiple buildings.
Uruk, Babylon, Sippar, and Nineveh were Mesopotamian cities with important astronomy and omenology activities and archives. However, the scholars who regularly observed the night skies were not all attached to major temples or all located in the major capital cities.
In the palace and temple archives there were both "public" and "private" documents. By the 1st-millennium BCE there were private libraries in addition to palace and temple archives. At times the boundaries that existed between the public and private documents were blurred - such as identified at the Syrian site of Ugarit. In 1st-millennium BCE Mesopotamia, the boundaries between public and private temple collections were not rigidly established.
Private archives of astronomical tablets existed. Interestingly, private libraries of cuneiform texts held by families of masmassu's (e.g., Uruk in the late 5th and late 4th centuries BCE) suggests a tight social network of scholarly families. Some of the texts they copied/possessed did not originate in Uruk.
Most writing (record keeping) in ancient Mesopotamia was directed toward specific and practical ends - that of administration. In comparison to administrative documents only a relatively small number of clay tablets were devoted to myths, epics, speculations about the meaning of life, and similar themes. By far the greatest number were administrative texts, letters, texts of commercial or legal import, and those dealing with priestly concerns or those of omen takers, stargazers, and a host of temple administrators. This has led to a practice amongst assyriologists of dividing cuneiform tablets into 2 general types: so-called "stream of tradition" texts and the "day-to-day" texts.
A survey of a major collection of "stream of tradition" cuneiform texts recovered from the library assembled circa 650 BCE by the Assyrian king Assurbanipal in Nineveh, the Assyrian capital at that time, suggests that the collection was a diviner's/omenologist's reference source - traditional texts to be consulted for advising and guiding the king in his many royal obligations and activities.