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Astronomy is often thought of as a field that has developed from ancient Greek scholars. However, it has a longer history and initially played a vital role in the agricultural cycle and early religions. For us, these early innovations have led to major advancements in developing our calendar, system of time, understanding of astronomical movements and prediction, coordinate system, and mathematical developments.<ref>For a history of astronomical developments and mathematics in Mesopotamia see: Hodgkin, Luke Howard. 2013. ''A History of Mathematics: From Mesopotamia to Modernity''. Oxford: Oxford University Press.</ref>
Most likely astronomy begins to develop when agriculture becomes significant in the Neolithic in the ancient Near East. However, we only learn about astronomy in the 3rd and particularly in the 2nd millennium BC. By this time, astronomy had developed in part to regulate the agricultural cycle; however, perhaps more significantly for ancient Mesopotamian societies, it was used to create a calendar utilized in the worship of gods.<ref>For information on how early observations may have developed or utilized in agriculture and religion, see: Olson, Richard. 2010. ''Technology and Science in Ancient Civilizations. Prayer Series on the Ancient World''. Santa Barbara, Calif: Praeger, Pg. 99.</ref> In effect, much of the learning that had to do with the understanding of the movement of celestial bodies was generally conflated with astrology. In fact, the signs of the zodiac were invented in Mesopotamia probably by the 3rd millennium BC.<ref>For information about the development of the Zodiac signs, see: Nardo, Don. 2009. ''Peoples and Empires of Ancient Mesopotamia''. Lucent Library of Historical Eras. Farmington Hills, MI: Lucent Books, Pg. 108.</ref> Specifically, this occurred in southern Mesopotamia, a region that eventually became synonymous with Babylonia and by extension the Babylonians, who provided much of our knowledge of how ancient astronomy developed there.
The first astronomers, in fact, were priests who were responsible for recording their observations on cuneiform tablets (Figure 1). Their observations were utilized as signs from the gods and that information was then interpreted to understand events that might affect the king and his kingdom.<ref>For information on Mesopotamian (or Babylonian) astronomers, see: Powell, Robert, and Kevin T. Dann. 2010. ''The Astrological Revolution: Unveiling the Science of the Stars as a Science of Reincarnation and Karma''. Great Barrington, MA: Lindisfarne Books.</ref> Although on the surface these seems to be nothing more than a system of superstition, the nearly continuous observation, over many centuries, of the celestial bodies led to secondary developments that have influenced our own scientific progress in the area.
The importance of celestial bodies such as the stars, moons, planets, comets, and asteroids to interpreting and providing omens meant that a system had to be developed to understand when specific bodies would be evident in the night sky and where.<ref>For information on observations and mathematical concepts used to determine movement of celestial bodies in Mesopotamia, see: Ossendrijver, Mathieu. 2012. ''Babylonian Mathematical Astronomy Procedure Texts''. New York, NY: Springer. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3782-6.</ref> This led to the creation of a calendar that would be timed around the movement of the moon in particular and also a system to predict when specific events would occur, such as eclipses. The eventual calendar that emerged began to have features we now also have in our calendars.<ref>The calendar system of the Babylonians is discussed further here: Cohn, Marc. 2007. ''The Mathematics of the Calendar''. Raleigh, NC: Lulu.com, Pg. 6.</ref> The calendar was based on the lunar cycle but also the rotation of the Earth around the Sun, thus a form of lunisolar calendar, giving the calendar 12 months, with the name of the months still used in Arabic and other Near East calendars. Leap months were utilized to makeup for the shortfall in days for a given year. Because the Babylonian calendar was relatively accurate, this means many historical events that are recorded in their calendar could be dated to the exact day in some instances. For instance, we know the exact period in which Halley’s comet was observed for the first time (Figure 1). While Herodotus is often called the first historian, more accurately the Babylonians should have this title as they provide the first set of accurate ancient dates anywhere in ancient history.