|The astronomical chart on the ceiling of the Kitora Tomb. (Credit: Agency for Cultural Affairs)|
A star chart carved into the ceiling of an ancient tomb in Japan is believed to be the world’s oldest, and may show the sky as it was seen from China.
By Michelle Starr
The Kitora Tomb, located near the village of Asuka in Japan’s Nara Prefecture, is known for gorgeous, colourful paintings at the four cardinal points of the compass. A black tortoise guards the north of the ancient tumulus, which has been standing since the seventh or eighth century. A red phoenix stands at the south, a white tiger at the west and a blue dragon at the east.
The ceiling of the tomb is decorated differently, with a map of the night sky, charting 68 constellations, with the stars picked out in gold leaf. Three concentric circles are drawn with vermilion, showing the movement of celestial objects, one of which is the sun. . . .
. . . One thing that has baffled researchers, however, is the area of sky the chart depicts. . . .