Astronomy and Boundary Stone Markers

Vladimir Tuman (1983, 1987, Tuman and Hoffman 1987/ 1988; Cullens and Tuman 1986) has proposed that a substantial number of ancient monuments, especially of Assyria and Babylonia, can be dated through their astronomical iconography. He holds that symbols on these monuments that correspond to later symbols of constellations represent those same constellations and that the symbols associated in later periods with planetary gods also had the same associations on earlier monuments. Most of the monuments considered are kudurrus or boundary-stone markers of the kind first used extensively by the Kassite kings of Babylon. Boll (1903, pp. 198-202) knew of over 30 of these monuments, and Tuman claims over 100. Massive sets of symbols and deity representations are partially repeated on monument after monument. An example of one of these monuments is seen in Figure 7.3.

These representations do not have any of the icono-graphic unities expected of scenes of mythic interaction. Boll and other early scholars had no doubt of their astronomical content, whereas van der Waerden among more recent scholars has indicated that they may be astronomical. However, a consistent set of interpretations has been lacking prior to Tuman's work, which probably accounts for the apparent doubt of many scholars.

Figure 7.3. A Kassite boundary-stone with probable symbols of constellations. Drawing by Sharon Hanna.

Tuman argues that the stones indicate dates by referring to the positions of planets relative to specified constellations, corresponding to observational texts of the Mul Apin series. He has given a list of 22 monuments that he has dated and mentions in passing the dates of two others. In Table 7.7, adapted from Tuman (1987) with modification, his astronomical dates are compared with Brinkman's Kassite and post-Kassite dates. Tuman is the first scholar in many years to address this problem, and his generic premises that the monument references are observational and that they refer to contemporary astronomical features of different parts of the sky, in accordance with known observational techniques, seem very reasonable. This material, if accepted, will enlarge our knowledge of the Kassite period substantially. The information will also make it possible to date a number of monuments and verify or refine the chronology in some cases.

At present, reasonably adequate discussions are available for only three monuments (BM 908558, SB 22, and the Esarhaddon stela from Zinjirli) and minimal discussions for two others (BM 90834 and 102485, which do not appear on the date list). Of the 15 dates studied by Brinkman, one date is too late and ten dates are too early. If Brinkman's dates could be shifted by as much as seven years earlier, there would then be three dates too early and two dates too late, and the dates would be in better accord with Tuman's interpretation. Resolution of the issue may require additional historical data.

As in any major reinterpretation dependent on massive detail, one may expect errors. One possible case is posed by images of two snakes, which Tuman identifies with Hydra and Serpens. One is entirely reptilian, and the other has a mammalian horned head and extended front legs on a snake's body. The latter corresponds entirely with Seleucid period representations of the constellation Hydra, but Tuman identifies it with Serpens. The reptile with no mammalian features is the one that appears more frequently, and Tuman identifies it with Hydra. All dates dependent on these two identifications may be doubtful, therefore. Unfortunately, Tuman maintains that no date associated with Hydra can be appropriate for SB 22, which has the reptile with the mammalian head.

The evidence for planetary associations includes information on structural complexes. A major example is the building of Dur Sharrukin (modern Khorsabad). In the year 706 b.c., Sharrukin (Sargon II), 110th king of Assyria, dedicated his new capital city and palace compex, called Dur Shar-rukin. The length of the city wall was 16,283 cubits, "the numeral of my name," said the king. Unfortunately, we do not know how this numerological value was calculated. By no later than the Hellenistic period, a number was assigned to each letter in an alphabetic sequence and the numbers were simply summed. Although Sargon II was using cuneiform, it is probable that he had scribes familiar with alphabets. Of the gates of the wall of the complex, Sargon II's inscription reads (Luckenbill 1929, p. 65):

Front and back, and on both sides, I opened eight gates toward the eight winds of heaven. Shamash-mushakshid-irnittia ("Shamash Makes My Might prevail"), Adad-mukil-heallishu ("Adad Is the Bringer of Its Abundance"), I called the names of the gate of Shamash and the gate of Adad which face the east; Bel-mukin-

Table 7.7. Dates proposed by V.S. Tuman on the basis of his interpretation of the astronomical iconography of monuments compared with the historical dates proposed by J.A. Brinkman. The identity of the monuments concerned can be found in Tuman 1987/1988. Tuman's spellings of the names are used. There are some modifications of the presentation of Brinkman's dates. Tuman's dates are given to the day, but only the year is indicated here.

Table 7.7. Dates proposed by V.S. Tuman on the basis of his interpretation of the astronomical iconography of monuments compared with the historical dates proposed by J.A. Brinkman. The identity of the monuments concerned can be found in Tuman 1987/1988. Tuman's spellings of the names are used. There are some modifications of the presentation of Brinkman's dates. Tuman's dates are given to the day, but only the year is indicated here.

Ruler (when known)

Tuman date

Minimal disagreement

Brinkman dates of rulers

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