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Manuscript found in Sinai's St. Catherine’s Monastery

Researchers find first-known map of the stars, hidden under old Syriac manuscript

Scholars at DC’s Museum of the Bible uncover part of Greek astronomer Hipparchus’ long-lost map of the stars, attesting to accuracy of his measurements from over 2,000 years ago

The enhanced Greek undertext uncovered hidden in a Syriac text of John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent" from 600 CE appears in red below the Syriac overtext in black. (Courtesy Museum of the Bible Collection)
The enhanced Greek undertext uncovered hidden in a Syriac text of John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent" from 600 CE appears in red below the Syriac overtext in black. (Courtesy Museum of the Bible Collection)

US archivists have found what they believe to be the first map of the stars ever created, hidden in a Christian manuscript uncovered in a monastery in Egypt.

The manuscript, a Syriac text of John Climacus’ “Ladder of Divine Ascent” from 600 CE, was found in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula — the oldest continuously inhabited Christian monastery in the world — before being moved to the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

Using advanced imaging technology, scholars at the museum found that the old parchment on which the manuscript was written was reused several times throughout history, offering a glimpse into other, older works of antiquity.

And perhaps the most notable find uncovered within the manuscript was part of Greek astronomer Hipparchus’ long-lost map of the stars, the museum recently announced.

“The newly discovered text is a remarkable breakthrough that highlights the creative use of multispectral imaging technology to read previously lost texts,” said Brian Hyland, the museum’s associate curator of medieval manuscripts.

“It also attests to the accuracy of Hipparchus’s measurements,” he added.

The findings were published last month in the peer-reviewed Journal for the History of Astronomy.

A reconstruction of the hidden text from the long-lost star catalog of the ancient Greek astronomer Hipparchus appears in yellow over the Syriac overtext in black. (Courtesy Museum of the Bible Collection)

The uncovered page-long passage includes star coordinates and measurements in degrees for the constellation Corona Borealis.

Considering that such measurements change over time as the Earth moves on its axis, researchers were able to date the document to roughly 129 BCE.

Hipparchus of Nicaea (Wikipedia)

Hipparchus is considered one of the most important Greek astronomers in antiquity. He lived between 162 and 127 BCE.

His star catalog has long drawn academic attention as it is referenced in several other ancient texts. But all attempts to locate the rare document have so far been unsuccessful.

The long-lost document seems to confirm previously known historical sources that name Hipparchus as the first person to measure the stars.

It also seems to indicate that Hipparchus’s measurements were more accurate than those made by astronomer Ptolemy, his successor.

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