Cosmic Elk Links
from the Cosmic Elk.
Time Before Clocks
and exoplanets
Mercury - its history
- its transit
Venus - its history
- its transit
Venus Express
Mars - its history
latest updates
Jupiter - its history
latest updates
Saturn - its history
and Cassini updates
Uranus - its history
Neptune - its history
History of Siberia
Part One

the geology and
early history
mammoth hunters
Chukchi Directions
Directions of Time
and feng shui origins
bronze and iron age
civilizations from Siberia
Shamans and Time
Medieval Siberian
British and Russians
discover Siberia
16th century Yakutia:
origin of the Sakha
17th century Yakutia
and the Russian Invasion
18th century Yakutia
the explorers: part one
18th century Yakutia
the explorers: part two
Russian America
18th and 19th centuries
Yakutia 1820 to 1890
extreme tourism
Japan attacks Russia
Siberia 1890-1912
and a British gold mine
starts a revolution
Tunguska event
As seen by
shamans and scientists
Siberia: 1917 to present
The Great Bear
and the Cosmic Hunt

the ancient sky
calendar and myths.
(More being added.)
The Moon
The Moon and Calendars
Origins of modern calendar
Moon and Eclipses
and history links
and Winter Solstice
Spring Equinox
The Cosmic Mill
Iron Age astronomy:
the mathematicians.
The Ptolemy Effect
Medieval astronomy.
Hampton Court Clock
Latest updated booklet
on the Hampton Court Clock
full story so far.

Tudor Bastard
King Edward VI's
Defence of
Lady Jane Grey's Clocks
Astronomy in the
17th century

The impact of the
new observatories
France, China and
other places.
John Harrison
and the Problem of Longitude

18th century astronomy
drinking song
and fuzzy blobs
space travel
- its history
in the 19th to
21st centuries

red shift and big bang
problems with Big Bang
and dark matter.
Story of the
Westminster Clock
only clock
used as sewer
ventilation shaft
The First Batteries.

taking part
in astronomy

and other
scientific discoveries.

astronomy data
from back garden
and other parts
of the world
summary of
past publications

contact cosmicelk
Unauthorized use
of the name Cosmic Elk
or cosmicelk
is an infringement of
copyright laws.

The beginning of a scientific attitude to the cosmos. Astronomy in the Iron Age continued.

(continues from The Cosmic Mill)

Taoism- part one

Tao (Dao) The Way - That is, the way the universe worked. Originated from Siberian shamanism, from the north of China, about the 7th century BC.

In the primary belief of shamanism, everything in the universe - from the clouds, sky, stars, mountains and rivers to whatever they used for toilet paper, is possessed by a living sentient spirit. This is called animism. During the rituals of the Siberian shamans, the shaman beat a tambourine and chanted and danced into a trance during which the shaman's spirit was flying to the worlds inhabited by the supernatural beings to ask for their help. The penalties were fatal for a shaman who got the wrong results, so the shamans had to acquire practical knowledge, to ensure for example that the rituals were held at the right time of the year for successful hunting. Thus the shamans watched and made note of the changes of the heavenly bodies with the seasons, and were the first astronomers.

What the Tao adepts did was eliminate the spirits.

Animism was replaced with factual explanation. "All phenomena have their causes... The fact that water leaves the mountains and runs to the sea is not due to any dislike of the mountains and love for the sea, but is the effect of height as such..." Ancient creation myths ere replaced with scientific explanations. To Taoists - being came from non-being. (As in the Big Bang Theory). Tao adepts were often a bit weird, living on remote mountain tops experimenting with magic elixirs.

They developed kites and man powered gliders with mechanical propellers so unlike their shaman predecessors they could really fly. For a short distance - on the "hard wind" which kept up the heavenly bodies.

Meanwhile on the other side of Asia...

In the 7th century BC philosophers on the other side of the continent, in what is now Turkey, were also leaving out gods and other supernatural causes in their explanations of natural events, such as earthquakes, lightning and how the heavens move.


of Miletus which is on the Aegean coast of what is now Turkey was a Greek philosopher and mathematician who lived from about 624 to 547 BC He tried to explain the world in terms of natural causes, and without reference to gods and divine or mystical forces. Most of his work is known only from the writing of Aristotle. He is famous for predicting an eclipse of the sun in 585 BC and through this ending a war between the Medes and the Lydians (two countries in what is now Anatolia, Turkey).

Thales thought all things came from water and the Earth floated on water. Earthquakes were caused by disturbance to the floating Earth. Not by a god. Thales is said to have fallen down a well while walking along at night because he was looking up at the stars and not looking where he was going.


(610-546 BC) was a pupil of Thales. He described the heavenly bodies as rings of fire mostly surrounded by mist so we only see a small spot through a hole. 3 rings for the sun, moon and stars, 27, 18, and 9 times the diameter of the earth which is a flat topped cylinder (like a beer can) floats in space in the centre of the universe. Eclipses occur when the holes are blocked.

Anaximander thought the universe began as boundless nothing and the world began when a "seed" of hot and cold separated from the eternal boundless space, from this a sphere of flame grew around the air surrounding the earth like the bark around a tree. This is much like the Big Bang theory. Anaximander thought the primary substance was air.


(500-428 BC). was from the Eastern Aegean but lived most of his life in Athens. He believed the universe had formed out of nothingness and he totally excluded the actions and existence of any kind of divine being. He observed that the Moon shone with reflected light and also gave a correct explanation for the causes of lunar and solar eclipses.

After studying a rocky meteorite which fell on the Aegean coast in 468BC. Anaxagoras concluded that the heavenly bodies must be made out of the same materials as found on Earth.

His anti-religious views aggravated conservative members of the Athenian government who were opposed to his friend Pericles. In 450BC. he was imprisoned. He was rescued from execution by his friends, and escaped from Athens, living the rest of his life as a refugee.

Anaxagoras was one of the earliest of many scientists persecuted by the religious establishment.


was never a religion, never any gods, spirits or rituals. The theory was that everything in the universe is composed of fundamental particles.

Atomon meant indivisible, and from this comes our word atom. The atoms are infinite in number and spread through an infinite void. They are in constant motion and collisions are frequent.

There are different shapes of atoms and if they collide they may adhere or fix together to form a new substance the nature of which depends on the atoms of which it is composed. The universe began with chaos but gradually the atoms have collisions and stick together to form the world.

The thery can be traced back to Leucippus of Miletus in the 6th century BC. It was later developed by Democritus of Abdera, (north coast of the Aegean) around 460-370BC. and adopted by Epicurus, 341-270BC.

It clashed with the ideas of the universe like a cosmic machine as expressed in Aristotelian cosmological system which became the established bog standard. Proving, that just because we can see a theory with hindsight as being on the right lines, it may not seem so to the scientific establishment at the time.

Atomism enjoyed a revival during the time of the Roman Empire. Titus Lucretius Carus, 95-55BC, wrote it up in an lengthy epic poem "DE RERUM NATURA". At the time, atomism never rivaled the Aristotelian system. But the book survived to be republished in the 17th century, when the Aristotelian system was finally discredited and alternative cosmological theories were sought out.

It set an example for imitators, and a number of long turgid 17th century poems on scientific subjects were written on the same lines.

It was not until Dalton's work in the 19th century that the existence of atoms was proven, and not until the development of electron microscopes that they could be seen, by which time it was realized that the word atom does not describe the most fundamental particle but that atoms are themselves made up of particles.

Cosmic Egg

In Han Chinese myths, the universe was formed from the body of the first being Pan Gu. This is not unlike Egyptian, Greek and Polynesian myths in which the universe is formed from the body of gods. In other myths the universe is made by Gods from some primordial substance like clay and water. But in the Finnish myths in the Kalevala the universe is made from an egg which is broken and the fragments become the Earth, Sun, Moon and stars.

The realization that the world was round is found from about the 5th century BC when it was ascertained from observation and mathematical calculations.

equal hours and unequal hours

Unequal hours

were based on the positions of the sun during the day and by the rising and setting of certain stars at night. However, busier times of the day like early morning may have more "hours" than quieter times.

See also:

Mechanical clocks could be made to mark unequal hours. 17th century Japanese clocks managed this as the hours were marked by a curve which varied according to the time of the year - so they were more scientific than they looked -.

Equal hours

An ancient unit for equal hours was the cooking pot - the length of time it took to boil water, or cook a particular meal. Hours were named after the length of time it took to travel a certain distance while the pot was coming to the boil or the dinner was cooking. This time unit was to give the duration and name to the equal hour.

Equal hours were used particularly by astronomers. Although they can be traced back to the iron age, more than 2,000 years ago, and the first use of clepsydra, it is a myth that equal hours were brought in to enable clocks to be made. clocks were made showing unequal hours too. Both clepsydra and later, mechanical clocks. As mentioned, Japanese clocks, which had mechanical escapements, showed unequal hours.

In China, equal hours were introduced from India with Buddhism. Each day was divided into 12 equal hours named after an animal from

rat - 23.00-01.00; ox; tiger; hare; dragon; snake; horse; sheep; monkey; cock; dog and pig.

These 12 animals were also used from the names of the days, in cycles of 12 for 60 days, paired to 10 names in a 60-day cycle, for the months and for the years.

This "zodiac" was employed together with astronomical observations and the influences of the directions and their associations to predict events and forecast fortunes and horoscopes.

The Clepsyra or Water Clock

An apparently simple type s) consisted of a metal basin with a small hole in it, floating in a larger metal basin of water. The water filled the smaller basin until it sank to the bottom with clink, it then had to be set up again. This type was found in palaces, offices, and religious establishments, in countries like India, and had special attendants to keep them going and announce the time.

Another type consisted of a container with an overflow to keep the level constant. Water was dripped constantly into this container from another or from a water wheel. In the lower part of this container there was another pipe from which water dripped through into another, graded container. On this simple device the more complicated clocks were based, ranging from domestic alarm clocks to great elaborate astronomical clocks and mechanical devices, where water filled a succession of compensating cisterns, moved weights and worked water wheels which powered geared machinery.

Although scientists in both the Greek and Chinese empires were designing astronomical clocks as models of the heavens and aiming at accuracy for the use of astronomers, the Chinese, unlike the Greeks, never took the model as an image of the real thing. Greek philosophers were to see the universe literally as a solid cosmic machine. By chance this concept was to survive, be readopted, and continue to dominate and stifle astronomical thought in the Mediterranean, Europe and the Near East for two thousand years.

The picture on the left, which shows the universe supported by Atlas, in William Cuningham's THE COSMOGRAPHICAL GLASSE published in 1559, shows how much "Western" astronomical tradition confused the model of the universe as in the armillary sphere with reality. A concept that persisted from the 3rd century BC to the mid-17th century.

Religion of Mathematics


Taoism degenerated from science into a religion. Its popularity with men and women, was partly due to its concern with unusual sexual practices - some of which must have led to health problems, and which included public displays as part of the religious rituals.

As well as sex and the search for eternal youth, the Taoists became obsessed with mystic numbers. The I-Ching, the Book of Changes, of 8 trigrams and 64 hexagrams, dates from the 3rd century BC, and involves mathematical number, religion and divination. The hexagrams are binaries of the numbers 1-64 but were given meanings, which derived from the ancient shamanic compass directions and their meanings.

photo of si-nan replica taken by and owned by and copyright of Heather HobdenThe magnetic compass and spoon shaped pointer (like the Plough asterism) replaced the shaman's tambourine and spoon-shaped stick for divination and to ascertain the auspicious direction and placing of buildings. It was soon found to be a useful aid to navigation.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world:

Pythagoras of Samos

lived on an island in the Aegean, end 6th century BC, early 5th century BC. He started a religious cult based on a mystic obsession with numbers.

Members, men and women, lived together in a community which he governed with strict and sometimes, bizarre regulations (eg no beans).

The cult spread and had political as well as spiritual influence, so Pythagoras and his followers were compelled to move to another state on a number of occasions either fleeing the law, or being expelled by it. In 529 BC they were living in Southern Italy, but they had to move on again. The cult was continued for several years after the death of Pythagoras by his daughter and grand-daughter, until finally suppressed, but the ideas endured.

Pythagoras was obsessed by numbers. He saw all nature modeled in numbers and numbers to be the first thing and the elements of all things - the whole heaven was a musical scale and number, for he studied the numerical proportions of scales in music. The Pythagoreans were very upset by "irrational numbers" like √2 and Π. They liked whole numbers and searched for simple numerical relationships in the heavens.


a Pythagorean philosopher, believed that the Earth and other bodies including the Sun and Moon circled round a central fire. We can not see this central fire because there is a "counter Earth" between it and the Earth! The importance of his wacky idea was to come much later in the 16th century, when he was one of the ancient authorities cited by Copernicus for saying the Earth moved.


real name Aristocles (c.420-340 BC) and his associates

Two of the young men mentioned in Plato's "The Phaedo" were pupils of Philolaus. The Phaedo is about the execution of Socrates written as a dialogue between Phaedo who was with Socrates visiting him in prison and staying by him to the end, and another philosopher. Phaedo (Phaidon) who was about 19 at the execution of Socrates in 399BC was a high class rent boy in Athens, who later founded a college in his home town of Elis which is where the Olympic games were held.

Phaedo and Plato were Pythagorean, but not fully committed to all the ideals. In Plato's book "the Timaeus" the directions in space are identified with elements and also with geometric figures: fire= tetrahedron(4 faces), air= octahedron, water=icosahedron (20 faces) and Earth=cube. (This is similar to contemporary Chinese ideas about the directions and elements except they had five elements as they included wood and five directions as they included the centre).

In the cosmos described in the Timaeus all the planets including the sun and moon are living divine beings, formed as perfect spheres moving in perfect circles round the Earth. His description of how the universe is formed is actually a description of an armillary sphere, a model showing the apparent movements and positions during the year of the planets round the Earth.

In "the Phaedo" the Earth is described as looking like a multicoloured football made from 12 pieces of leather each with five sides, in the middle of the heavens. It does not need air or any force to stop it from falling as the uniformity of the heavens and the equilibrium of the Earth itself are sufficient to support it. On Earth everything is marred and corrupted but above the Earth, in the heavens everything is perfect. It is not clear if the ideas in "the Phaedo" are those of Plato, Phaedo, or Socrates. Socrates was tried and executed for his political views and influence but also accused for following the ideas of Anaxagoras. The concept of an impure Earth and perfect heaven is very Pythagorean, and may have actually come from Phaedo.

Plato, as a pupil of Socrates, lay low during Socrates' trial and execution, he travelled abroad and several years later returned to Athens to set up his Academy. Plato's writings as mentioned have a number of cosmological references but they are all different. Many of Plato's associates, like Phaedo, were Pythagorean, and they favoured a mathematical model of the universe with the simplest linear mathematics.

Euclid's long serving geometry

was written around or before 300 BC. It is still used in schools and perpetuated the linear geometry and mathematical ideas which have little to do with the natural universe which is non-linear. For the Pythagoreans if the mathematical model worked that was good enough, even if the model had little to do with reality.

Eudoxus of Cnidus

(E. coast of Aegean), (408-355 BC) was asked by Plato to make a model showing what was according to his philosophy, the circular movements of the heavenly bodies. From this Eudoxus concluded that the heavenly bodies must be moved on transparent spheres with circular motion, one inside the other. The movements of these spheres - 27 in all - accounted for the different movements of the heavenly bodies.

This model was improved upon by a younger colleague Callipus of Cyzicus (near where Istanbul is today) who added to the number of spheres.

Another member of Plato's Academy Heraclides Ponticus from a Black Sea resort on the north coast of Turkey, (388-315 BC) proposed a different system in which the Earth rotated on its axis and the planets Mercury and Venus went round the sun. However the sun went round the Earth. and he kept to the system of spheres and circular orbits. A neurotic type he became obsessed with visions and portents and divine retribution. He is important in the history of astronomy because he is another of the early examples given by Copernicus who stated that the Earth moved. This was contradictory to the theories of Eudoxus and Callipus which were elaborated and became established as dogma by Heraclides' contemporary:


(384-322 BC), was the son of the Royal Physician in Macedonia.In 367 BC Aristotle was sent to study at Plato's Academy in Athens until anti-Macedonian demonstrations in Athens around 348 BC when King Philip of Macedonia was conquering the other Greek states, forced him to leave.

Aristotle's influence on the future of science was mainly luck. In 342 BC, he was appointed by Philip of Macedonia as tutor to his son, Alexander.

In 336 BC Alexander's father, his father's new young wife, who had taken the place as Queen of Alexander's mother Olympias, and the new baby, who threatened Alexander's position as heir, were mysteriously dead.

While his mother happily organized the builders and decorators of the fine new royal tombs, Alexander took his army to conquer the Persians and carve out an empire which reached into Central Asia, past Samarkand and into Pakistan and also included the whole Near East and Eastern Mediterranean, with Egypt. To the East the Greek Empire bordered on the Chinese states which in 221 BC were all conquered by the despotic First Emperor. Thus trade routes (the Silk Road) were opened up between the Eastern Mediterranean, China and India, along which ideas, and technology as well as goods flowed.

When his pupil went off conquering, Aristotle set up a school in 335 BC, called the Lyceum, in Athens for the children of the extremely rich, where he collected animals for his zoo and books for his library sent by Alexander on his campaigns.

Aristotle wrote many books on Physics, Biology, Politics and Ethics. He was not a man to admit ignorance of a subject, and having been tutor to such an obviously successful pupil as Alexander the Great gave his work much credence.

After the unexpectedly premature death of Alexander in 323 BC Aristotle was forced by the anti-Macedonian feelings in Athens and accusations against him, to retire to Chalcis by the sea north of Athens and died a year later.

Aristotle followed the system of celestial spheres as a physical model of the universe. He added more spheres to account for the motions to 56 in number, and changed their order as well. This system did not accord with actual observations but that was not seen as a problem. Aristotle never did any practical observing himself.

In Aristotle's cosmic system the four "elements" were in the Earth's sphere, earth in the centre (solid ground) then water around it, then air, then fire. This was all under the sphere of the Moon. From the solid sphere to which the Moon was fixed outward through the solid transparent spheres to which the other heavenly bodies were fixed, one outside the other (like Russian dolls), all was of a "heavenly element" - the aether, and was unchanging.This meant according to this system that any change had to occur in the "atmosphere" of the Earth, below the moon's sphere.

Aristarchos of Samos

(c320-c250 BC) said that the Earth and the planets moved round the Sun and the stars were infinitely distant. He also tried to measure the sizes and distances of the Sun and Moon(using parallax) and discovered that the Sun was much larger and at a much greater distance than the Moon. Although we know he was on the right lines, his work which was based on careful observations was to be overlooked in favour of Aristotle's system.

Athenian Calendar

Despite the wealth of famous mathematicians and astronomers in Athens in the 3rd century BC, around 300 BC the Athenian Calendar was in a bad way. There were two official calendars, one fixed and one was the Civil Calendar which was altered to fix the dates of rituals and correlate the lunar and solar cycles. The Athenians counted 12 lunar months in the year so each year would have been one third of a month shorter than the solar year. After three years the discrepancy would be over a month. The months were called: Hekatombaion, (this was the month the Olympic games were held in every four years and was usually equivalent to around July), Metageitnion, Boedromion, Pyanepsion, Maimakterion, Posideon, Gamelion, Anthesterion, Elaphebolion, Mounichion, Thargelion, Skirophorion. To make sure the rituals were held at the right time, the government held committee meetings. They also changed the months deliberately to hold a festival at a different time, for example to distract the population from unpopular government measures with a jolly festival. As in this example from 302 BC m) when "On motion of Stratocles it was voted to call the current month which was Mounichion, Anthesterion, and so to regard it, and the lesser rites at Agra were performed for Demetrius; after which Mounichion was again changed and became Boedromion instead of Anthesterion".

Meanwhile under the First Emperor...

Over in the Far East, Chinese science received a set back after the conquests in 221BC. of the First Emperor. Famous for the pottery army in his tomb, oppressive taxation, rebuilding and extending the Great Wall to keep out the Huns (who started heading towards Europe), a standard writing system, a single oppressive political system, burning books as they may have alternative ideas, burying academics and dissidents alive in mass graves or dispatching them to slave labour camps along the Great Wall. Many scientific books and records were lost.

Fortunately, although he survived a number of assassination attempts, the First Emperor's obsessive search for the elixir of immortality was unsuccessful. The expeditions expensively equipped to search the mysterious lands far to the east failed to return (perhaps deliberately, they may account for the apparent Chinese influence and possible 2,000 year old relics found in America). His son, who succeeded him was killed in a conspiracy organized by the prime minister, palace eunuch Chao Kao and his son-in-law. (He had a married daughter because all men who worked at the royal palace whatever their job from gardeners to senior administrators, including the court astronomers, had to be completely castrated, even if they already had wives and children.)

After more conspiracies and battles the empire was won by Liu Pang who now became the Emperor Kao-tsu of the Han dynasty, and a new capital city built, Xian.

The Xuan Ye theory

was already established by the Han period, (202BC- 220 AD), which coincides roughly with the time of the Roman Empire. The Chinese Empire, and the Roman Empire had mutual borders and the world's most major trade route, the Silk Road linked Xian the Chinese capital with Rome.

The Xuan Ye belief was in an infinite universe. Heaven is without substance - high distant and limitless. The Sun, the Moon, the Planets, and the Stars naturally float and exist in the void. This means they may pass away or stay, and may move either apparently forward or backward, their disappearances and reappearances need not be regular, their advances and retreats are different because they are not tied to anything their individual behaviour is all different.

The idea of an infinitely chaotic type of universe superseded the concept of a cosmic machine, and remained dominant in Chinese and Chinese dominated culture. This meant the Astronomers in the Far East, particularly, China, Korea, and Japan, did not become bound and restricted and therefore limited in their observations and the interpretations of them, as those which followed the Greek tradition of linear mathematics after the Pythagoreans and the cosmic machine of Aristotle in the West of Asia and the Eastern Mediterranean.

Zhang Heng,

78 AD to about 142 AD mathematician and astronomer, (famous for his seismograph, in which balls dropped into frog's mouths in the direction in which the Earthquake had occurred) was describing an already old idea when he wrote

"The heavens are like a hen's egg and as round as a crossbow bullet, the Earth is like the yolk of the egg, and lies alone in the centre. Heaven is larg e and Earth small. Inside the lowest part of the heavens there is water. The heavens are supported by chi (vapour) the Earth floats on the waters."

The circumference of the heavens is divided into 365 1/4 degrees; hence half of it, 182 5/8 degrees is above the Earth, and the other half is below. This is why of the 28 hsiu (lunar 'mansions' one for each day of the month) only half are visible at one time (they were along the celestial equator). The two extremities of the heavens are the north and south poles, the former, in the middle of the sky, is exactly 36 degrees above the Earth, and consequently a circle with a diameter of 72 degrees encloses all the stars which are permanently visible. A similar circle round the south pole encloses stars which we never see. The two poles are distant from one another 182 degrees and a little more than half a degree. The rotation goes on like that around the axle of a chariot."

Clocks and Armillary spheres

If you can describe the universe like that you can make a model of it to show the motions of the heavenly bodies across the sphere of the sky. This was called an armillary sphere. They were made from strips of metal and used to make observations and calculations. With gearing and with a means of motive power, you have an astronomical clock.

This description of the universe by Zhang Heng is in his work on the armillary sphere. He made an armillary sphere driven by water power. The major problem was not the gearing and power source as water powered mills with norias driving gears had been built since the 5th century BC, but to maintain a regular going rate. Zhang Heng made an armillary sphere driven by water which was tested and found to keep accurate time with the heavens. This is one of the earliest recorded astronomical clocks installed for practical use in an observatory. We know there were others earlier in China.

And on the other side of the continent...


the Antikythera mechanism

There were also astronomical clocks in the Mediterranean at the same time. One which was found under the sea in a shipwreck of about the 1st century BC is called the Antikythera mechanism. This consists of flat discs connected by gears, so it is an early form of astrolabe which is in effect a flattened armillary.

Reconstructions have revealed its complicated design and its use for astronomical calculations. The latest investigations made in 2005 can be seen in this video made in 2008, where you can also see it described to Don Unwin - as a new project for him - since Don Unwin has also made superb replicas of other ancient astronomical clocks. Among the things the Antikythera mechanism could do was show the eclipse cycle and the Olympic games years.

The motive power might have been water, sand, weights - it is not clear if the Antikythera mechanism was self powered or an extremely sophisticated calculator. It is also not know how many others like this there might have been. It only survived because it was in a ship which sunk with its crew and passengers and was not discovered for twenty centuries. This useful device is unlikely to have been unique in its time and there must have been a number of similar calculators.

The story continues....

This website written, designed and maintained by Heather Hobden
The Cosmic Elk

copyright of Heather Hobden and The Cosmic Elk