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27 Stanley Lombardo, translator: “Sky Signs: Aratus’ Phaenomena”, North Atlantic Books, Berkeley, California, 1983, lines 1124-26, page 48.




28 Not to be confused with the much faster wobble the planet performs when you get up early after a late night.







  The northern night sky on an ivory cherub


and the spirit in its wheels   


1.5. The Cherub’s celestial north pole

In his once widely read astronomical poem “Sky Signs”, the ancient Greek hexameter- smith Aratus (c. 315 to 240 BCE) offered this rule of thumb for evaluating the evidence from sky observations:

“... two signs in agreement confirm you in hope,
but confidence comes with concurrence of three.”27

In the case of the Cherub centers, the hunch- clinching third corroboration was in the real sky not a star but an invisible yet clearly defined and literally pivotal spot. The by far smallest of the Cherub circles, the hollow #15 which joins the inner bend of the tail to the rump, lies close to the position that the celestial north pole occupied in the sky at the time of the carving.

That pole is not fixed. Our planet rotates and so does not form a perfect sphere. The centrifugal force flattens it at the poles and bulges some of its mass towards the equator. The masses of moon and sun and planets pull on that bulge and so cause the earth’s axis of rotation to advance around an imaginary cone, like the axis of a children’s’ spinning top that leans and moves its upper end through a slow circle above the lower end’s point of contact with the ground.

This slow wobble28 makes the pole drift through the starry background in a leisurely and mostly circular motion which is called the precession of the equinoxes; it has a cycle of about 25,800 years and will take the pole as far away as Vega before returning it to its historical positions.

You can see a quarter of the pole's sweep in Figure 1-8 at left which zooms in on that area of the SkyMap.   I marked on it some pole locations for various dates past and future.  The grid is centered on the pole of 848 BCE.

Now compare that ancient location of the pole with Cherub center 15 on Figure 1- 9 which gives you the corresponding close-up on the ivory chart.

You can see there that # 15 lies approximately in the same location as the ancient pole in the sky, roughly two thirds up between the centers representing Dubhe, in the pan end of the Dipper, and Kochab/Pherkad above that pan. Its relative distances from Kochab are 27% of the Kochab - Dubhe separation on the SkyMap, and 35% on the Cherub.

The pole center on the Cherub lies at the proper vertical distances between Dubhe and Kochab, but its lateral position is shifted slightly to the left compared with the sky pole’s actual place in the mid- ninth-century BCE. The shift is small yet amounts to about four or five hundred years along the slow path of the pole.

However, this difference does not mean we should redate the carving. The left- shift of the Cherub’s pole could be due to artistic considerations similar to those that may have made the carver move the center for Thuban even farther leftward.

The outdated pole position could also reflect a correctly measured earlier location of the pole that had become enshrined in the teachings and so acquired immunity to the growing need for corrections. Such dominance of dogma over data is common in the history of science, including that of astronomy with its notorious delays of calendar reform.

On the other hand, assigning this star chart against the stylistic evidence to an earlier Canaanite artist, a contemporary of the ivory- carvers attested by beautiful finds from 12th and 13th century BCE Megiddo and Ugarit, would be like attributing Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting to one of the Van Eycks who were artists from the same region and general culture, and who also painted in oil though several centuries earlier.

Taken together with the matches of the star pairs in the right locations, this mapping of the approximately period- appropriate pole among the Cherub centers confirms that this carving was not only the splendid image of a celestial being we see, but also a chart of the sky which said being represents and inhabits. So, before we let the Cherub take us to the next levels of its heaven, let us look at this star chart.




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