Have Scientists Discovered the Oldest Known Man-Made Telescope, in Portugal?
But once in awhile, scientist find something that seems innocuous but turns out to be so much more. According to a new study led by Fabio Silva—of the University of Wales Trinity Saint David—recently analyzed tombs showed evidence of a connection to astronomy. The tombs date back roughly 6,000 years and are located within Portugal’s Seven-Stone Antas. Perhaps most interesting, this ancient “telescope” appears to be focused on Aldebaran, which is the brightest star in the Taurus constellation.
“This first rising of Aldebaran occurred at the end of April or beginning of May 6,000 years ago, so it would be a very good, very precise calendrical marker for them to know when it was time to move into the higher grounds,” Silva explains.
In addition, Nottingham Trent University undergraduate student, Kieran Simcox, comments, “The first seeing of this star would have indicated to the civilization that it was time to move to the mountains, as these civilizations spent the winters on low ground near the river and the summers on higher grounds in the mountain area.”
Of course, this new understanding also leads to more questions, the most prime of which is why they built this telescope. What was its purpose? Why, does it seem, they were tracking this particular star?
Obviously, there is still not enough information to truly distinguish its purpose, but scientists argue that the narrow entrances of the structure’s so-called “passage graves” can improve visibility of several—very specific—stars; stars which we can see from Earth.
For example, some experts say that, perhaps, the “passage grave” could have made the star visible earlier in the year than it would normally be observed. Furthermore they argue that it is also easier for a stargazing to look deeper into the night sky after spending a night/day inside the pitch-black tomb, which could have been part of a special ritual.
Silva goes on to describe that the construction of the tombs was so precise that it is in perfect alignment with the movement of many celestial bodies.
He continues, “The key thing is that a passage grave with its long corridor acts like a telescope that does not have a lens – it is a long tube from which you are looking at the sky. Its characteristics are going to impact how you are looking at the sky in three or four ways.”