SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- If Galileo was the so-called father of astronomy, then the ancient Babylonians were the great, great-grandfathers.
More than a thousand years before Galileo looked upward to the skies, astronomers in Babylon were using precalculus to track the movement of Jupiter.
Ancient Babylon lies in the part of the world now known as Iraq.
Researcher Mathieu Ossendrjver made the startling discovery while translating cuneiform writing on clay tablets from the ancient cities of Mesopotamia and Uruk. The University of Berlin professor published his findings in this month's issue of Science.
The tablets date from around 400 to 50 BCE and reference sophisticated calculations used to track the position of Jupiter. Babylonian astronomers computed the planet's displacement as an area in time-velocity space.
Ossendrjver found detailed instructions and calculations carved into about 400 clay tablets. Basically, "the method relies on determining the area of a trapezium under a graph."
Historians believed heretofore the method was invented by 14th-century European astronomers.
According to Ossendrjver, the zodiac, another Babylonian concept, was also used to track the planets.
The Babylonians worshiped Jupiter, as did the Egyptians and the Greeks. They considered the giant planet a manifestation of their patron God, Marduk.
CBSSF.com writer, producer Jan Mabry is also executive producer and host of The Bronze Report. She lives in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter @janmabr.
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