Many people tend to think that ancient men could not have been as clever as we are. This is in keeping with the Darwinian idea that humans evolved very gradually from ape-like creatures and learning was a hit-or-miss affair. They were not expected to accomplish much intellectually.
Then, the ruins of Göbekli Tepe in modern-day Turkey showed that instead of living in simple dwellings, hunter-gatherers could already build towns.
Stonehenge in Britain has also caused a rethink of evolution-based views.
Then there’s the Antikythera Mechanism. With at least 30 gear wheels and pointers, it was a mechanical computer for calculating the movements of the sun, moon and probably also some planets.
And it was built 2,000 years ago.
There’s more. Recently, astroarchaeologist Mathieu Ossendrijver of Humboldt University in Berlin examined Babylonian clay tablets at the British Museum. The documents, dated from 350 BC to 50 BC, were a great surprise to him and everyone else.
The journal Science summarises the findings, stating that Babylonian astronomers
“also employed sophisticated geometric methods that foreshadow the development of calculus. Historians had thought such techniques did not emerge until more than 1400 years later, in 14th century Europe.”
Ossendrijver also published a report in Science entitled The Ancient Babylonian astronomers calculated Jupiter’s position from the area under a time-velocity graph.
Jupiter was important for Babylonians, as they identified it with their chief god Marduk. It seems that astronomers wanted to know precisely where the planet was at each stage.
“Ossendrijver figured out that the trapezoid calculations were a tool for calculating Jupiter’s displacement each day along the ecliptic, the path that the sun appears to trace through the stars. The computations recorded on the tablets covered a period of 60 days, beginning on a day when the giant planet first appeared in the night sky just before dawn.”
Comparing the tablets to older Babylonian texts from ca. 1800 BC to 1600 BC, he was able to see that the Babylonians had developed “abstract mathematical, geometrical ideas about the connection between motion, position and time that are so common to any modern physicist or mathematician.”