News Online science editor Dr D. Whitehouse
comes face to face with what is claimed to be
the oldest map of the Moon ever made
times, I think I am stuck as I try to squeeze through a
narrow triangular-shaped crack in the rock. Just ahead is
Professor G. Eogan of the National University of Ireland.
we edge towards the heart of this ancient Neolithic burial
mound. The professor has been this way many times before
to uncover the mysteries at Knowth in Ireland.
crescents are undoubtedly images of the Moon
complex in County Meath was constructed 5,000 years ago
and is the largest and most remarkable ancient monument
in Ireland. Although nearby Newgrange is more famous, Knowth
has turned out to be a truly astonishing treasure trove
of stone engravings and artifacts.
has the largest collection of megalithic art in Europe,
strange circular and spiral patterns that many believe to
be lunar symbols.
mound has two passages, one facing east and one facing west.
They are the longest cairn passages in Europe and, as I
am finding out, extremely difficult to crawl through.
the narrow passage opens into the very heart of this vast
ancient burial mound - a tall, central chamber. I am about
to come face to face with one of Knowth's most intriguing
mysteries: a map of the Moon 10 times older than anything
known before - at least that is the claim.
was first identified by Dr Philip Stooke, of the University
of Western Ontario, Canada, and revealed by BBC News Online
Stooke did not believe that no-one had drawn the Moon before
Leonardo da Vinci's sketch dated some time around 1505.
So he started searching records of ancient rock carvings
and came across something remarkable when he was studying
the archives of a burial chamber at Knowth.
real Moon map is compared with the Knowth markings
was amazed when I saw it," Dr Stooke told BBC News Online.
"Place the markings over a picture of the full Moon and
you will see that they line up. It is without doubt a
map of the Moon, the most ancient one ever found."
few people, not even Dr Stooke, have seen the Moonstone
for real. As I found, getting into the central chamber
is a hard task even for those who have permission.
Eogan gestures from the other side of the chamber, ushering
me into one of four recesses that protrude from it. Crouching
in front of a rock perhaps one meter high, I could see
that there were markings on its surface.
had been made by "pitting" the rock with a lump of quartz,
of which there was a lot to be found in the vicinity.
The pattern was hard to detect so I swung the torch around
and moved back a little.
the shape carved into the rock seemed familiar. I cannot
be certain but it looked like a carving of the dark spots
that can be seen on the Moon with the unaided eye.
it a map of the Moon?" I asked Professor Eogan.
could be," he said. "Certainly, the Moon is here." He
gestured towards another recess.
many get to come this way
another of the recesses off the central chamber is a large
stone basin. But it is the wall behind the basin that
leaves me amazed. There, I see a multitude of stars and
crescents. They are undoubtedly images of the Moon.
archaeologists speculate that the passages that reach
into the central chamber were originally constructed so
that sunlight, and moonlight, would at certain times shine
down the passage into the central chamber. If this is
true then there would have been times when moonlight would
have shone on the back stone of the eastern passage illuminating
a map of itself.
on the outside, I reflect for a few moments about what
I have seen. Was it really a map of the Moon and is this
place one of the most important lunar sites in the world?
has proved to be an astonishing treasure trove