According to researchers, the star chart carved on the ceiling in an ancient tomb in Japan could be the oldest and most mysterious star chart found to date.
Located near the village of Asuka in the Japanese prefecture of Nara we find the Kitora Tomb.
Anyone who visits the incredible place will notice the beautiful and colorful paintings of the four cardinal points: Erected in the seventh or eighth century, a black turtle protects the north of the old mound, a red phoenix guards the southern parts, while a white tiger and a blue dragon guard the west and east.
This ‘magical’ place was discovered in 1983. Since its discovery, researchers have made many discoveries however none of them as important as this mysterious star chart.
The roof of this tomb has been decorated in a different way than usual: depicting a celestial map with 68 constellations painted with “golden” stars. Three concentric circles drawn in vermilion show the movement of celestial objects, one of which is the sun.
Researchers believe that the ancient star chart was drawn around 65 BC based on another chart that researchers have not been able to find. The tomb is believed to house the remains of an official or prince of the region.
Even though there are dozens of mysterious surrounding the enigmatic ancient star chart, researchers believe that it shows constellations as they looked above the Chinese skies in the distant past.
One of the greatest mysteries is why the map depicting night sky dating back to the 1st century BC was used since the tomb itself dates back to the 7th century AD.
So far, researchers have identified 68 constellations in total including Pleiades, Hyades, Virgo, Libra, Orion, The Big Dipper. Interestingly, researchers were even able to plot the Spring and Autumnal equinoxes after the chart was first discovered.
The mystery remains as to how ancient man managed to accurately depict all of the constellations and to what purpose.
According to Steven Renshaw, author of Astronomy in Japan: ‘It should be noted that it is a painting designed to give the tomb’s occupant a ‘place’ in the cosmos.
‘It was not designed to be used for even practical divination, much less observation, and the actual chart on which it was based has not been recovered.
‘The chart does have obvious graphical and observational errors, at least to some degree attributable to a lack of understanding on the part of the artist of the underlying astronomical principles.’
But researchers still cannot fully understand why a map depicting the night sky dating back to the 1st century BC would have been used as the tomb itself dates back to the 7th century AD.
Something that has surprised researchers is the area of sky represented by the ancient star chart.
Studies conducted by independent researchers MitsuruNakamura Soma and Tsuko have determined that the sky depicted in tomb Kitora is as it was seen from China in places like modern-day Xi’an and Luoyang. Its complexity however is another story.
They also determined that the map shows the sky as it would have looked several hundred years before the construction of the tomb Kitora, but cannot agree on the exact number of years.
Soma says that the chart shows the sky as it would have been visible between 240 and 520 while Nakamura maintains that it corresponds to between 120 BC 40 BC.