|HISTORY OF ASTRONOMY IN ARMENIA|
Armenia is one of the cradles of ancient science, and astronomical knowledge was developed in ancient Armenia as well. Contrary to its small territory and relatively small population, Armenia was and is rather active in astronomy. Astronomy in Armenia was popular since ancient times: there are signs of astronomical observations coming from a few thousand years ago. Among the astronomical activities that have left their traces in the territory of Armenia are: the rock art (numerous petroglyphs of astronomical content), ruins of ancient observatories (two of them, Karahunge and Metzamor are especially well known; Karahunge is the Armenian twin of the Stonehenge and is considered even older), the ancient Armenian calendar, astronomical terms and names used in Armenian language since II-I millennia B.C., sky maps from Middle Ages, and most important, one of the largest modern observatories in the region, the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory (BAO) with its 2.6m and 1m Schmidt telescopes.
Read the most complete information about history of Armenian astronomy in the book:
Toumanian B.E. 1985, History of the Armenian Astronomy, Publishing House of the Yerevan State University, Yerevan, 286p. (in Armenian).
Constellations. It is believed that the division of the sky into constellations was made a few thousand years ago in the Armenian Highland. According to the German astronomer and historian of science Olkott, the signs of Zodiac contain such animals that lived many thousand years ago in the territory of Armenia and around. It is very probable that ancient people named the constellations after animals living in their countries rather than known from elsewhere. Moreover, many constellations have their own Armenian names which were different from the Greek ones, however, many of them correspond to each other by the meaning.
Read H.A. Harutyunian’s article about the Armenian name of the Milky Way in ArASNews #6.
Rock art. Studies of the Armenian rock art present in the territory of modern Armenia (historic Armenia was ten times larger, having 300,000 square km area) show that the Armenians were interested in heavenly bodies and phenomena. The Earth, the Sun, the Moon, planets, comets, Milky Way, stars, constellations are reflected in these pictures drawn on rocks in mountains around Lake Sevan and elsewhere in Armenia. These pictures and drawings are being studies by a number of historians, archaeologists, and astronomers. However, there is not enough governmental attitudes to organize large-scale studies or at least try to catalog and preserve these ancient treasures.
Find the most complete information about the Armenian rock art here.
Contact: ArAS member Karen Tokhatyan
Armenian calendar. According to investigations by H.S. Badalian (1970), B.E. Tumanian (1985), and G.H. Broutian (1997), the Armenian calendar was one of the most ancient in the world, may be even the most ancient one. Armenians used Lunar, then Lunar-Solar calendar, and since mid the 1st millennium B.C. they changed to Solar calendar, which contained 365 days (12 months by 30 days and an additional month of 5 days). The new year began in Navasard (corresponding to August 11), when the grape harvest was underway and the constellation Orion (Armenian “Haik”) became visible in the night sky. Together with the months, all days of any month also had proper names. The year 2492 B.C. was adopted as the beginning. The Armenian Great Calendar was introduced in VI century, and the difference with the Julian one was re-calculated. It is remarkable that the Mkhitarians from Venice are the oldest publishers of the Armenian and world calendars (since 1775).
Badalian H.S. 1970, History of Calendar, Publishing House of the Armenian Academy of Sciences, Yerevan, (in Armenian).
Broutian G.H. 1997, The Armenian Calendar, Echmiatzin Publishing House, Echmiatzin, 560p. (in Armenian).
Ancient observatories. The most fascinating historical astronomical building is Karahunge (the “Armenian Stonehenge”, the name derives from kar “stone” and may mean “singing stones”; and the other famous name is Zorats Kar). It is a megalithic assemblage, 200 km from Yerevan, and 3 km from town Sisian; at an altitude of 1,770 m. The northern latitude is 39. 34’, and eastern longitude is 46. 01’. It is an assemblage of many stones put in a circle and a few arms starting from it. As many other such buildings, Karahunge was thought to be a religious assemblage. However, only in the middle of 1980th, Karahunge was first interpreted as an archaeoastronomical monument and was studied by Prof. E.S. Parsamian (1999) and Prof. P.M. Herouni (1998). Estimations give from 7700 to 4000 years for the age of Karahunge.
There are 222 stones with a total extent exceeding 250 metres, including 84 with holes (with 4-5 cm diameters). Dozens of astronomical stone instruments with accuracy of 30 arcsec may be found. 40 stones form the central ellipse with 45x36 m sizes, having a ruined stone-cluster in the centre. There is a 8m wide 8-stone road to N-E. Some stones were used to find the directions to definite stars. By some estimations (observations of definite stars), the observatory was used during 7700-2200 B.C., for about 5500 years. According to many authors (ex. Bochkarev & Bochkarev 2005), a comparison of the present state of the monument with its situation a hundred years ago reveals a considerable degradation. Thus, the monument needs an urgent protection. The monument is unique of its kind at least in the Trans-Caucasian region and could be even the oldest known observatory in the world. If the estimated age of Karahunge is confirmed by archaeological methods, it clearly should be included in the UNESCO World Heritage list of the most important cultural memorials of our planet.
Metzamor is the other ancient observatory in Armenia. Metzamor was an ancient town near river Metzamor, 35 km from Yerevan, in Armavir province. There was a settlement since V millennium B.C. It was first interpreted as an archaeoastronomical monument in the middle of the 1960s by Prof. E.S. Parsamian (1985a). There is an observatory out of the fortress. The most probably estimation of the age is 4600 years. As Karahunge, Metzamor also needs a better study and proper attitude both from the Armenian government and world archaeoastronomical community.
Among the other archaeoastronomical sites in Armenia, the Angelakot dolmens may be named (Parsamian 1985b). As Karahunge, this site is also in Sisian region, 13 km from the town of Sisian. The dolmens are from Neolithic and Bronze eras. There are a few other sites in Armenia that are associated with astronomical activity of our ancient habitants.
Bochkarev N.G., Bochkarev Yu.N. 2005, Armenian Archaeoastronomical Monuments Carahunge (Zorakarer) and Metsamor: Review and Personal Impressions, Proceedings of SEAC Tenth Annual Conference: Cosmic Catastrophes, held in Tartu, Estonia, 2002, eds. Mare Koiva, Izold Pustylnik, & Liisa Vesik, Tartu, p. 27-54.
Herouni P.M. 1998, Carahunge-Carenish, a Prehistoric Stone Observatory, Proc. National Academy of Sciences of Armenia, Vol. 98, 4, p. 307-328.
Parsamian E.S. 1985. On Astronomical Meaning of the Small Hill of Metsamor, Communications of BAO, Vol. 57, p. 92-100.
Parsamian E.S. 1985. On Possible Astronomical Significance of Megalithic Rings of Angelacot. Communications of BAO, Vol. 57, p. 101-103.
Parsamian E.S. 1999, On Ancient Astronomy in Armenia, Proceedings of the International Conference Oxford VI and SEAC 1999, ed. J.A. Belmonte, La Laguna, p. 77-81.
Records of astronomical events by ancient Armenians. Halley’s comet. Coins of Armenian king Tigranes II the Great (95-55 BC), silver and copper-bronze tetradrachms and drachms, clearly reveal a star with a tail on the royal tiara which may be associated with the Halley's comet passage of 87 BC. If so, one has another case when astronomical events can be useful for historical chronological problems, this would be a far earlier record of Halley in Armenia than was previously known from chronicles and also one of the earliest known images of Halley's comet.
Gurzadyan V.G., Vardanyan R., Halley's comet of 87 BC on the coins of Armenian king Tigranes? // Astronomy & Geophysics, Vol. 45, No. 4, p. 4.06, 2004.
One of the most remarkable scientists in the Middle Ages was Anania Shirakatsi (VII century), who had rather progressive astronomical ideas for those times. He was the most important scientist in Armenia, as he was a philosopher, mathematician, geographer, astronomer, chronologist, etc. He has left a few books and writings that survived up to nowadays. Many of them are kept in Matenadaran, the museum of ancient manuscripts. Anania Shirakatsi knew about the spherical shape of the Earth. He accepted also that the Milky Way consisted of numerous faint stars, could correctly interpret Lunar and Solar eclipses, and had a number of other progressive astronomical knowledge for that time. Anania compiled chronological tables, astronomical textbooks, etc. Anania Shirakatsi’s works serve as the main source for establishing the ancient Armenian astronomical terminology, including the names of constellations and stars.
According to Prof. Pskovskiy, the 1054 Supernova was first seen and recorded in Armenia in May 1054 (and only later in summer in China). Interestingly, its remnant, the famous Crab nebula has been studied in detail in the Byurakan Astrophysical Observatory and was one of its famous objects of investigation. This nebula has been a natural laboratory for many astrophysical investigations in various multiwavelength ranges.
Ghukas (Luca) Vanandetsi (XVII-XVIII centuries) and Mkhitar Sebastatsi (1676-1749) lived and worked in Europe in 17th-18th centuries and are known for their detailed charts of the heavens. Lukas Vanandetsi made astronomical instruments, published the first sky chart with Armenian names of constellations in Amsterdam at the beginning of XVIII century. Mkhitar Sebastatsi was the person who founded the Armenian Catholic Church community in St. Lazar island near Venice, a touristic site for many visitors.
Due to absence of independence for many centuries, Armenia did not have enough high level of science in the Middle Ages, however, interest in nature and admiration to heavens lived in Armenians since ancient times, and it became the basis for appraisal of the modern Armenian astronomy.
“Astghalits Erkinq” (“Starry Sky”) by Mkhitar Sebastatsi.
Additional information about modern Armenian astronomy is available in:
Mickaelian A.M. 2001, The Armenian astronomy, EAS Newsletter No. 22, p.14.