Excuse me, cipher persons, but…

I think it is now generally accepted that the astronomical diagrams have a marker to indicate the beginning-and-end of the circuit.

Unlike most of the other markers, the one on folio 68r-3 is drawn like the flower-strings which the figures hold in the calendar section – but that’s ok; there’s plenty to suggest that the three on folio 68r were late and more amateurish inclusions.

67r tie

The point is more that if we take the group of stars attached to that string, and suppose it the “head of the year”, then apart from a possibility that the group represents the constellation near the Pole(s)* there’s a better than average chance that it marks the first constellation in a specific calendar, and that in turn points to a specific group of people, and their language(s).

* There is no southern Pole star – others did duty.

The list of ‘New Year’s not infinite, but neither is it quite as short as it has often been supposed  – by a cascade of assumptions which began with the expectation that the manuscript was made and written in western Europe as an original authorial work etc.etc.  And, added to that, the habit of modern writers in assuming that any reference to the stars must involve astrology.

But, altogether: for a first list of New Years (as they are now) the wiki article “New Year” is probably a fair enough place to start, and  here is a neat list of constellations visible in the northern hemisphere, month by month. Adjustment for precession, and even for the lost days of the Gregorian calendar transition shouldn’t be too much of a problem. This isn’t astrology; it’s just correlating a New Year with stars visible, and any time since the 12th century shouldn’t be too difficult to adjust for, even even without a little sky program.  Supposing this is a luni-solar calendar.** If you need a latitude, then for this  folio I think that 38 degrees North should be ok.

Of course, if you know someone at NASA, they could run the program .. as far back as you like .. and send the results  hard-copy in a small truck. 🙂

**It might not be; it could even be something quite other, such as a tidal calendar keyed to a location by reference to the astrolabe.  (The reverse of an astrolabe usually gives a list of cities, and naturally enough astronomical and geographical correspondence has long been understood).

Here’s the detail from folio 68r-3 courtesy of the  new Beinecke scan #1006196).

f68r detail


Almost forgot to add:

Of seven-star groups the Pleiades is the most obvious. The original “head of the year” asterism, it still formally begins the list of India’s nakshatras. In his ‘Works and Days’ Hesiod first mentions the Pleiades.

By the fifteenth century, mariners intending to cross the Great Sea timed their sailings to India (and thus the monsoon) from the Persian New Year.  The custom may have been observed not just for centuries, but for millennia among those who sailed from the Persian Gulf towards India or south-east Asia.

(Remember, cloves were brought from the Moluccas to Syria in the second millennium BC.)


2 thoughts on “Excuse me, cipher persons, but…

  1. ooh – can’t resist. There’s a lovely table showing visibility of the Pleiades in 500 BC. It’s in a paper by Ellen Robbins, ‘The Pleiades, the Flood and the Jewish New Year’ in Baruch A. Levine, Robert Chazan, William W. Hallo, Lawrence H. Schiffman (eds.), Ancient Near Eastern, Biblical, and Judaic Studies in Honor of Baruch A. Levine (1999). The Table is on p.339.


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