The world's oldest astrologer's board was found by archaeologists in a cave overlooking the Adriatic Sea in Croatia. The ivory fragments of the board are engraved with zodiac signs in the Greco-Roman form and were sealed in a hidden chamber of Nakovana cave for over 2,000 years.
The astrologer's board was reported by Alexander Jones, a professor at the Institute for the Study of the Ancient World at New York University, and Staso Forenbaher, a researcher at the Institute for Anthropological Research in Zagreb. The scientists reported the finding in the Journal for the History of Astronomy.
LiveScience reports that the pieces were found in a sealed part of a well-known cavern, Nakovana Cave, in Croatia. Upon entering the hidden chamber, archaeologists found a phallus-shaped stalagmite that may have been either naturally made or manmade surrounded by fragments of ivory and Hellenistic drinking cups. The stalagmite appears to have been a center for prayer, religious ceremonies and spiritual offerings.
The cave was first discovered in 1999 when Forenbaher's current wife discovered a low passageway of a well-known cave leading to an unexplored section. The research team would later discover the area had been sealed off since the first century B.C.
What followed was years of putting them together, finding more bits and pieces, and figuring out what they were, Forenbaher told LiveScience.
The fragments have proved to be part of the world's oldest astrologer's board and radiocarbon dating indicates that the pieces date back to around 2,200 years ago. It is believed the fragments would have been attached to a flat, possibly wooden surface.
The two researchers believe ancient astrologers would position the board in a certain fashion to show the place of the sun, moon and planets at the time of a person's birth. This positioning would determine the person's horoscope with indications for their future success, temperament and compatibility, among other factors.
According to LiveScience, the archaeologists do not know how the board ended up in the cave.
It is possible that the board was left in the cave by a Greek astrologer, who may have come to perform a consultation. However, the cave would not have been the best location considering the enclosed nature of the space and the inability to judge the position of the moon, sun and planets, crucial for astrological readings.
It doesn't sound like a very practical place for doing the homework for the horoscope like calculating planetary positions, Jones told LiveScience.
Another theory posits that the board may have been stolen and that the board and drinking vessels were offered to a deity by the thieves in the cave.
There is definitely a possibility that this astrologer's board showed up as an offering together with other special things that were either bought or plundered from a passing ship, Forenbaher told LiveScience.
Despite the mystery that remains about how the astrologer's board ended up in the cave, the ivory fragments shed light on the practice of astrology from over 2,000 years ago.
The art of astrology first began in ancient Babylon over 2,400 years ago, spreading to the eastern Mediterranean 2,100 years ago. Astrology became extremely popular in Egypt and was later adapted and modified by the Greeks. The astrological symbols identified by most people today come from a foundation developed by the Ancient Greeks.
While most scientists today believe astrology has no scientific grounding, some believe astrology is a discipline predicated in biology, astronomy and physics. While astrology seeks to anticipate future events and aspects of a person's life, the lack of consistent predictive power of the study does not normally qualify the practice as science.
See pictures of pieces of the world's oldest astrologer's board here.