Monday, April 18, 2011

Ursa Minor in Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction, and Use by Emilie Savage-Smith and Andrea P.A. Belloli, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, 46, 1985

When discussing systems of ancient stars and constellations, the following is a very useful source:

Islamicate Celestial Globes: Their History, Construction, and Use
by Emilie Savage-Smith and Andrea P.A. Belloli, Smithsonian Studies in History and Technology, 46, 1985

The book in plain text as below is found at

The original pdf can be seen at
"Abstract: Islamicate celestial globes made as early as the eleventh century are found in museums and private collections today. There are also references in classical Greek and Roman literature to carlier globes that are no longer extant. These globes are of interest to the history of astronomy, of art, and of technology. The globe presently in the National Museum of American History of the Smithsonian Institution, which is a fine example of a seventeenth-century Mughal Indian globe, was selected for detailed analysis and serves as the focus for this monograph. The first part of the study compares this particular globe with other known Islamicate globes and places the development of such globes within the historical perspective of the earlier Greco-Roman world from which it drew many of its traditions. An historical survey is given of all references and artifacts from the Greco-Roman and Islamic world that can have bearing on our knowledge of the design, construction, and use of such globes. The nature and general characteristics of three basic types of Islamicate celestial globes, and their probable uses as well as methods of construction, are the subjects of the second chapter of the study. Photographs of selected Islamicate globes from the thirteenth to the nineteenth centuries, as well as line drawings based on written descriptions, accompany the historical and analytical discussion. The fourth chapter on iconography analyses the constellation figures on the Smithsonian globe from the perspective of an art historian. This chapter was contributed by Belloli, Andrea P.A.. The second major part of the study presents a discussion of the star names engraved on the Mughal globe, tracing the origins of the terms in Greek mythology or early Bedouin constellation outlines. The discussion of each constellation is accompanied by a photograph of the constellation as depicted on the Smithsonian globe. An account of lunar mansions is included as background to early Bedouin asterisms, which greatly affected later Islamicate star names and eventually "modern" western star names. The sixth section presents an extensive descriptive catalogue of the 126 Islamicate celestial globes known to scholars prior to 1982. The references in the other sections to particular globes are keyed to the entry numbers in this catalog. Following the catalog are tables comparing the features of the globes and transcriptions of the signature inscriptions. Six entries (Nos. 127-132) were added to the catalog while the study was in press."
In the plain text of the above work (see the original PDF for foreign language terms that do not resolve as plain text), we find the following discussion involving the Lesser Bear (Ursa Minor) and the Pole Star (I have corrected errors in the plain text version that was apparently converted with imperfect OCR):

Constellation 1. The Lesser Bear [Ursa Minor]


The Lesser Bear, like the Greater Bear, was called both a bear and a wagon in Greek times, the latter probably being the older image. One can easily observe our asterism of the Little Dipper in the seven formed stars comprising the constellation. The Lesser Bear does not appear in Homer. Aratus (lines 30-44) recounts the story of Zeus having as a child been hidden and nurtured by two bears, the other being the Greater Bear, for which he rewarded them by placing them in the heavens. He also says that the constellation is called [Kunosoura], the Cynosura (dog's tail) as well, and that the Phoenicians sailed by the Lesser Bear, while the Greeks steered by the Greater Bear. In the Islamic world the Lesser Bear was also used as a guide in travel.

The notion of a bear for this constellation as also for the Greater Bear, unfortunately requires that a nearly tailless creature have a long, incongruous tail. The depiction of the Lesser Bear on the Smithsonian globe is with an exceedingly long tail, even longer than that of the Greater Bear, giving it a striking resemblance to a binturong, indigenous to India, rather than a bear. The Greek notion of the Lesser Bear was superimposed in the Islamic world over an earlier Arab conception of the region. The title of the constellation in Figure 49, written in front of the bear, reflects the Greek asterism and reads surat dubb al-asghar (constellation of the Lesser Bear).

In the Bedouin tradition a bier or corpse-bearing plank with three accompanying mourning daugthers was also seen here, parallel with the image seen in the Greater Bear. This traditional image was called banat na'sh al-sughra (the smaller form of the daughters of the bier), the bier being the four stars in the square [beta, gamma, zeta, eta] Ursa Minoris] and the daughters the three in the tail [epsilon, delta, alpha Ursa Minoris]. This name does not appear on the Smithsonian globe, but does occur on globes No. 4 and No. 5 (see Kunitzsch [1961], no. 96).

Two calves were also seen by the Arabs as belonging to the bier, which [al-Sufi] identified as the two bright stars of the square, those on the shoulder and front leg [nos. 7 and 6; gamma, beta Ursa Minoris], respectively. In Figure 49 the star on the shoulder [gamma Ursa Minoris] is labeled over the top of the back akhfa al-farqadayn (the more obscure of the two calves). The inscription across the middle of the bear applies to the one on the front leg [beta Ursa Minoris, Kochab] and reads anwar al-farqadayn (the brighter of the two calves). The particular designations of the two stars appear to be unique to the globes made by the Lahore family, though the terms appear in [al-Sufi's] text and catalog as well as other writings, such as those of Ulugh Beg.

The star at the end of the tail, the Pole Star [alpha Ursa Minoris, Polaris], is labeled al-jadi (the goat) in Figure 49. This name is also of ancient Arab origin. The large hole drilled next to it is the hole of the celestial (equatorial) North Pole.

The constellation has in addition to seven formed stars, one unformed one beneath the stomach of the Lesser Bear. This star is labeled fa's al-raha "the axis of the millstone" [Flam. 5, Ursa Minoris] in Figure 49. [Al-Sufi] (Suwar, 28) said it resembled the axis of a millstone that had in its center the North Pole; some people called the star simply "the axis of pole" ([al-Biruni] Astrol., sec. 160; Kunitzsch [1961], no, 97c). The word fa's more precisely means the protuberance on the edge of a millstone where the axis or rod was attached to turn it. The Pole was seen as being the center of the millstone turning in a socket, while at the fa's a beam or rod was attached to the millstone that had at the other end of the rod the two [calves], farqadan [beta, gamma Ursa Minoris], who turn the grist mill.

It was also said (Ideler, 15-16; Kunitzsch [1961], no, 970) that around the North Pole were obscure stars that together with the "smaller form of the daughters of the bier" formed the shape of a fish in whose middle is the North Pole. Ulugh Beg states that the small stars around the Pole form ihlilaj (the fruit of the myrobalan), the latter being the name of a tree native to Asia bearing edible red or yellow fruit. These images are not known to be represented on any celestial globes."
What is confused in the above discussion is the relationship of the celestial North Pole to the Pole of the Ecliptic, which never moves, and around which the position of the celestial North Pole "revolves" in the course of ca. 26,000 years.

That path of precession is a circle upon which the star Polaris is almost directly located. By chance in our modern era it also directly marks the celestial North Pole, whereas at the time of the building of the Great Pyramid, e.g., Polaris was NOT the pole star. Rather, the very weak star Thuban marked that North Pole spot, so that is was logical that the ancients more likely used the much brighter star Kochab -- above Thuban and a bit to the right -- to mark that celestial North Pole. That is why one of the shafts in the Great Pyramid points to Kochab.

Ancient World Blog wrote previously about this at Great Pyramid Cheops Shafts Kochab Thuban Pole Star.

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