Friday, September 16, 2005

Astronomical Axe of Lamao Village, Qinghai, China - LexiLine Journal 360

I received the following comment at my Ancient World blog regarding my alleged decipherment of the astronomical axe of Lamao Vilage, Qinghai, China:
"There is another interpretation for this, much more in keeping with actual Chinese astronomy. Certainly Beidou is recognized, but so are many other important stars, like Zhaoyao and Beiji. The two large holes encompass Ziwei yuan, but were probably fittings (the artifact appears to be a rudimentary planisphere).

The marks on the sides are probably the 12 Branches, beginning with Chou in the bottom-left. This indicates a time near the Ploughing ceremony, which was associated with xiu Jiao (Spica), and also echoes the ancient legends of the Yellow Springs and the "drain" of the oceans and rivers."
This was my reply:

I am not sure that I understand what is meant by "actual" Chinese astronomy. We are interested in "ancient" Chinese astronomy.

I agree that the axe is a planisphere and that the two major holes were also "fittings".

Axes were surely used as ceremonial astronomical objects also in Western civilization (for example, on Sarsen 4 at Stonehenge to mark Leo - see and I have deciphered a ceremonial axe from the Brimble Pit Swallet
in England as marking Gemini and the surrounding stars. Axes were the main tools of the Neolithic age and thus surely highly revered.

A reference is made to Ziwei Yuan. As written at Circle of Asia about the Forbidden City of China:
"It is believed that the Palace Museum, or Zi Jin Cheng (Purple
Forbidden City), got its name from astronomy and folklore. The
ancient astronomers divided the constellations into groups and
centered them around the Ziwei Yuan (North Star). The constellation
containing the North Star was called the Constellation of Heavenly
God and the star itself was called the purple palace. Because the
emperor was supposedly the son of the heavenly gods, his central and
dominant position would be further highlighted by the use of the word
purple in the name of his residence."
As regards Beidou, we find written at on Taoist Feng Shui:
"The Nine Stars are based on astronomy, which was later mythologized. Since the fourth century CE, Daoists have recognized the stars of Beidou (Ursa Major) as gods. However, they claim the constellation consists of nine stars, but only seven stars are visible to ordinary people. When the Zhou observed the heavens Beidou was much nearer the north pole, just as four thousand years ago the xiu were much nearer to the equator than they are now. Ancient astronomers could extend the handle of Beidou through the constellation of Bootes as long as it remained above the horizon. It is believed that gamma Bootes ("Far- Flight" or Zhaoyao), which was lost to visibility around 1500 BCE, was once part of Beidou. (The ninth star is still unknown.) Draw a line through the "handle" of Beidou to find Zhaoyao. In the Star Manual of Master Shi (third century BCE), Beidou was eight stars plus Fu, the operator of Kaiyang (Mizar), the sixth star of Beidou. Yuheng (Alioth) was the fifth star (the Jade Observation Tube). By the time of Hanlong jing the nine stars indicated earthly counterparts of the stars in Beidou and of mountain shapes. During the Qing dynasty, when ba zhai was a popular feng shui technique, the Nine Stars provided only names for eight auspices associated with triagrams.
References: Field, Xun and Kistemaker, Joseph Yu, Lagerwey, Kalinowski (Early China), Staal."
"Chinese astronomy, like that of every other ancient civilization, had its roots in astrology. Starting from the Warring States period (480-222 BC), astrologers began to group the stars into constellations, each with a symbolic significance, in relation to which the motions of the sun, moon and planets were used as portents of earthly events. Eventually up to 283 constellations were identified, and the 28 most important were classified as lunar mansions (xiu)2. They were then further divided into 4 'palaces' of 7, corresponding with the 4 seasons and 4 compass directions. There was also a 'central palace' consisting of all circumpolar stars within 40 degrees from the north celestial pole."
At our megalithic site we write:
"There is an old Chinese system of marking the sky, consisting of 28 moon stations (lunar mansions), called xiu or sieu. Our decipherment of the Great Wall of China gives us the original position of these lunar mansions. They are much older than currently thought.

In modern times they are started at the star Spica in Virgo, but this of course was not the original position. The scholars rely on sources such as Hasumi Yasui - who wrote only in 1699 AD - thinking that Spica started the Lunar Mansions because Spica marked the Autumn Equinox in ca. 500 AD. But this undisputed fact about Spica in 500 AD has nothing to do with dating of the origin of the xiu system nor which lunar mansion was originally first - many years prior to 500
There is of course the system of 10 heavenly stems and 12 earthly branches. This is known as Gan-Zhi.

What the 12 refer to are the 12 houses of the Yellow Path:
"Ancient Chinese determined seasons through the pointing direction of the handle of the Big Dipper (the Plough). In the winter the "handle" points downward, north, at early evening. In the spring the "handle" points east at early evening, and so on. Accordingly, ancient Chinese divided the horizon into twelve sections and gave them names for linking the directions to which the "handle" of Big Dipper points in twelve months. Twelve names of these sections are Zi (north), Chou, Yin, Mao (east), Chen, Si, Wu (south), Wei, Shen, You (west), Xu and Hai, and are known as twelve Terrestrial/Earthly Branches. Each branch has its meaning, e.g.. Zi means to nurture. Finally, the twelve Terrestrial/Earthly Branches were applied to the 12 houses of the Yellow Path and arranged in clockwise direction."
That Chou ("ox") would have any role in starting this path is doubtful.

The idea that an axe would be used to symbolize the ploughing ceremony is also highly questionable.

"Yellow Springs" represent the underworld and have nothing to do with this axe.

The "drain" of the oceans and rivers are irrelevant to this artifact and there is no connection of any kind visible.

In any case, based on the above, it is quite clear that the one side of the axe represents Ursa Major (the Big Dipper) and not Spica, whose stars are never shown anywhere in ancient days as cupmarked on the axe.

The cited sources show how important the Big Dipper and its handle were to ancient Chinese astronomy and we see that verified by this axe.

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