The Sumerian Planisphere – A forgotten star map that remains unexplained

The Sumerian Planisphere
The Sumerian Planisphere ©

In 2008, a cuneiform clay tablet that puzzled scholars for over 150 years was translated for the first time. The tablet is now known to be a contemporary Sumerian observation of an asteroid impact at Köfels, Austria. But there is no crater in Köfels territory, so to modern eyes it does not look as an impact site should look, and the Köfels event remains hypothetical to this day. However, the clear evidence in the cuneiform clay tablet ― that puzzled the earlier researchers ― remains unexplained!

The Sumerian Planisphere
The Sumerian Planisphere ©

The Sumerian Planisphere – A Forgotten Star Map

The Sumerian Planisphere | The cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538
The Sumerian Planisphere | The cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538

In the late 19th century, a strange-looking circular stone-cast tablet was recovered from the 650 BC underground library of King Ashurbanipal in Nineveh, Iraq, by Henry Layard. Long thought to be an Assyrian tablet, computer analysis has matched it with the sky above Mesopotamia in 3,300 BC and proves it to be of much more ancient Sumerian origin.

For over 150 years scientists have tried to solve the mystery of this controversial cuneiform clay tablet that indicates the so-called Köfel’s impact event was observed in ancient times. It was a phenomenal incident where a kilometre-long asteroid crashed into the Alps, near Köfels, Austria over 5,600 years ago.

The tablet is an “Astrolabe,” the earliest known astronomical instrument. It consists of a segmented, disk-shaped star chart with marked units of angle measure inscribed upon the rim. Unfortunately, considerable parts (approximately 40%) of the planisphere on this tablet are missing, damage which dates to the sacking of Nineveh. The reverse of the tablet is not inscribed.

The ancient Sumerian civilization may have been underdeveloped in the sense of a written script, for example, but they sure understood astronomy and the night sky to a certain extent. And this is evident from this 5600-year-old Sumerian Star Map.

Still under study by modern scholars, the cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538 ― known as “the Planisphere” ― provides extraordinary proof for the existence of sophisticated Sumerian astronomy.

10 Interesting Facts About The Sumerian Planisphere

The Sumerian Planisphere | The cuneiform tablet in the British Museum collection No K8538
The Sumerian Planisphere

Though it was discovered more than 150 years ago, the Sumerian Planisphere has been translated only a decade ago, revealing the oldest documented observation of an extraterrestrial object that came from space and landed on the Earth’s surface ― a comet. Here, in this article, are some of the most important facts about this ancient Sumerian Star Map.

1 | The Exact Date Of The Comet’s Impact

The inscriptions on the tablet give a precise date and time at which the alleged meteor hit the Earth ― it was the 29th June of 3123 BC.

2 | The Ruins Of The Royal Library Of King Ashurbanipal Held 20,000 More Tablets

Archaeologists spend many years excavating the ancient site of the city of Nineveh and discovered more than 20,000 ancient tablets. The one we are discussing today, called the “Planisphere” is considered by many to be the hardest to translate. Fortunately, 150 years later, the remaining inscriptions were translated and revealed incredible data.

3 | The Planisphere Is An Exact Copy Of The Original One

Scholars suggest that the Planisphere is an exact copy of a more ancient original tablet made by the contemporary astronomer and observer of the real event.

4 | A Sequence Of Eight Pictures Describe The Event From The Emergence Of The Comet To The Final Impact

The Sumerian Star Map tablet itself is small in size, measuring only 14 centimetres in diameter, but it has been masterfully divided into eight sections or pictures that describe the event in sequence. Nearly half of the inscriptions have been lost throughout the ages, but the remaining bits were more than enough for modern technology to translate. The creator of the tablet managed to present an impressively detailed explanation of the observation and final impact on such a small surface.

5 | The Sumerian Star Map Also Includes Drawings Of Constellations And Their Names

As we all know, the ancient people had a much better view of the night sky and clearly knew about the constellations. The Planisphere includes a series of drawings of constellations, including their names in connection to the flight path of the comet. For example, the third image shows that the comet reached Orion around the 9th day of observance.

6 | The Ancient Astronomer Used Impressively Accurate Trigonometrical Measurements

The ancient astronomer had an impressive knowledge of trigonometry and was able to document the flight path, time, and distance of the comet from as soon as it appeared in the sky.

7 | The First Five Images Describe The 20 Days Of Astronomical Observance

As previously mentioned, the tablet is divided into eight sections or images that form a sequence. The data presented sequentially from the first to the fifth includes the observance from the first astronomical sighting to the end of the 20th day before the impact of the 21st. Therefore, these five images depict the comet while it was in the sky.

8 | The Sixth And The Seventh Images Explain The Impact And Its Aftereffect

As described on the tablet, the observer did not witness the impact from a close distance as it would have meant the end of his life, perhaps, but he described flash lighting in the sky and the grand rise of ash plumes as a result of the impact. As summary, the seventh image documents all events in the
night after the meteor crash. Beyond the horizon, red hot-glowing ash and dust
plume columns elevate visibly in the night.

9 | The Last Eighth Image Includes Calculations Of The Comet’s Flight Path

The ancient astronomer did not end his observations before making exact calculations of the comet’s flight path before the impact. The eighth image was made after the impact on the 21st day of observation. The image presents four measurements of the comet’s flight during daylight of the impact crash. As a whole, the whole sequence of data inscribed on the tablet is more than impressive, given that the observations were made more than 5,200 years ago.

10 | The Comet Described On The Sumerian Star Map May Have brought The End To Several Ancient Civilizations

Meteors have terminated life on Earth on more than one occasion throughout history, and scholars theorize over the possibility that this comet could have had a major impact on life in the ancient world. More specifically, the ancient city of Akkad, which has not yet been found by archaeologists, could have simply been destroyed by the comet. The exact location of this ancient city is unknown. But it was perhaps so close to the area of the impact that it had been destroyed.

Could The Tablet K8535 Be The Answer To A Giant Mysterious Landslide At Köfels?

The giant landslide centred at Köfels in Austria is 500 metre thick and five kilometres in diameter and has long been a mystery since geologists first looked at it in the late 19th century. The conclusion drawn by research in the middle 20th century was that it must be due to a very large meteor impact because of the evidence of crushing pressures and explosions.

But this view lost favour as a much better understanding of impact sites developed in the late 20th century. However, the distinct evidence inscribed on the Sumerian Planisphere K8535 tablet brings the impact theory back into play. Isn’t it?


The K8535 tablet is a late Babylonian copy of an early Sumerian astronomical tablet. The original document, regarded of maximum importance, was copied over more than 2,500 years.

The observed comet passed the Pleiades, Aldebaran, moved further towards Orion and finally crashed into the highly advanced, irrigation-based agricultural civilization of Akkad and Sumer, in 3123 BC, destroying the entire Akkadian empire and its capital city of Agade.

About 40% of the tablet is missing. Fortunately, the entire flight path of the comet is preserved. Broken-off sections mostly deal with observations concerning the impact itself and with the immediate impact aftermath, recording what could be seen from the observation tower, looking towards the crash site. The information is adequate to reconstruct the detailed comet advance and the impact process sequence.

The K8538 witness account must be considered as part of a great number of preserved “Mesopotamian city laments”, which report the end of Akkad and Sumer by an enormous atmospherical tempest.

These laments were rehearsed on stage in public over millennia, accompanied with drummer background. Their poetical lamentation style misled various contemporary assyriologists to opine that those documents are nothing but entertaining poetical and mystical fiction, and that there had never been a destructive tempest in Sumer, disregarding observations of hundreds of historical witnesses.

The K8538 observation tablet was made by an unknown alert Sumerian astronomer, who sensed the historical significance of the event on his astronomical lookout tower and decided to document it. The authors Bond and Hempsell gave him the name “Lugalansheigibar – the great man who observed the sky.”

His trigonometrical observations witness the comet approach and its terrestrial impact. For this reason, K8538 was guarded, restored and copied over the millennia. The tablet demonstrates the high level of science and astronomy reached four thousand years ago.

Today, the real value of K8538 is not only confined to history. It is of immense value for today and for the future, because it contains a unique and accurate precedence observation of a disastrous cosmic asteroid, impacting Earth.


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