Clay tablet science

By Grant Jacobs 31/12/2011

Modern day scientists fret about data storage and processing issues.

Their ancient predecessors* probably did too.

Consider this example,

A Saros period contains almost exactly 239 anomalistic months. So every 223 synodic months — or just over 18 years — eclipses don’t just happen at the same time; the characteristics of each eclipse will be similar as well.

The Babylonians […] didn’t understand the theory behind why the pattern worked, instead they learned it from centuries of observations, all carefully noted down on clay tablets […]

(From pages 248-9, Decoding the Heavens by Jo Marchant.**)

It’s easy to visualise the data storage, retrieval and processing issues of using centuries-worth of clay tablets.

Bioinformaticians might also note that these guys were into pattern detection, in general sense similar to what some of our lot have applied to genomes.


* The approaches that make up ‘the scientific method’ didn’t come until much later.

** The Antikythera mechanism—the subject of this book—considered to be the earliest (known) mechanical analog computer.

(I’m sure someone out there is busy creating something about how the Babylonians predicted Armageddon, or something like it, on some auspicious day in 2012. Bring it on, I say: bring it on!)

Somewhere in here I should apologise to my readers for the lack of articles for the last far-too-long and the brevity of them when offered. I’m hoping things will slowly start to return toward normal activity over the next few months.

Other articles in Code for life:

What a wonderful world

The software developer’s generalisation dilemma

Trust science, not scientists

Teaching bioinformatics at high school

What books do you think geeks should read?