[FOUNTAIN]Wisdom on new billA discovery that greatly excited Japanese archaeologists took place in 1998 at the Kitora tomb in Asukamura, Nara Prefecture. The archeologists discovered an astronomical chart no one expected to find there. The estimated date of the chart is around A.D. 700, making it the oldest astronomical chart in the world.
Unlike its outside appearance, the inside of the Kitora tomb is a romantic space. Imagine the eternal sleep of the dead with the starlit night sky above. The painter of the Kitora tomb expressed the twinkling of the stars by putting gold foil on each of 350 stars. Between the stars, he drew red lines to depict 68 constellations. It was a full-fledged astronomical chart that includes the Great Bear, Altair and Vega, the Scorpion and Orion as well as the exact equator and ecliptic.
What also surprised academia was that the night sky depicted in the astronomical chart in the Kitora tomb was that of Goguryeo. The Japanese astronomers revealed that the location of the observation was near latitude 38 degrees north. Taking the margin of error into account, some presumed that it must be the night sky observed from Pyongyang, the capital of Goguryeo, which boasted advanced astronomy at the time.
The link connecting the two charts is national treasure number 228, “The Chart of the Constellations and the Regions They Govern,” created during the reign of King Taejo of Joseon. It is a detailed astronomical chart carved on a stone with some 1,500 stars and 280 constellations. It was made in 1395, much later than China’s 1247 Star Chart. However, its origin goes back to the Goguryeo period. There is a record that it was a revised reproduction of the “Stone-Carved Astronomical Chart” of Goguryeo. The original Goguryeo chart used to be in Pyongyang, but it got lost in the Daedong River during the war against the allied forces of Silla and the Tang.
The most convincing theory in Japanese academia is that the copy of the Stone-Carved Chart was brought to Japan by someone from Goguryeo and became the model of the Kitora chart. In fact, the Kitora chart is an abbreviated version of the King Taejo chart. Perhaps the owner of the tomb might be someone from Goguryeo who missed the night sky of the native land. The new 10,000 won bill will feature the King Taejo chart, the revised version of Goguryeo’s astronomical chart. Goguryeo had some of the most advanced astronomical knowledge of ancient times. I feel rich already just thinking that I can carry the wisdom of Goguryeo in my wallet.
*The writer is a Tokyo correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Yeh Young-june