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Archaeoastronomy in East Asia: Historical Observational Records of Comets and Meteor ...

Chapter 1:  Comets
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Archaeoastronomy in East Asia:

Part 1


1.1. Ancient East Asian Observations of Comets

In “An Investigation of Cometary Records in the Yin-Shang Period” and elsewhere (Xu & Jiang, 1993), the authors discussed possible records of cometary apparitions found as early as the oracle-bone inscriptions from the Shang Dynasty (1554–1046 BC), which suggest that observers may already have taken note of different kinds of comets in the late 2nd millennium BC. From that time on, the historical accounts of comets gradually become increasingly systematic, with by far the largest number being recorded in the standard dynastic histories. Others were occasionally noted down in the writings of private individuals and local gazetteers. For example, representative early accounts appear in the “Basic Annals of the First Emperor of Qin” in the Shiji (Grand Scribe’s Records), China’s first comprehensive history compiled by Sima Qian at the end of the 2nd century BC, “in the 7th year of the First Emperor of Qin; a broom star initially emerged in the east, was observed in the north, then in the 5th month appeared in the west” (see figure 1.1); and again, “[in the 9th year]; a broom star appeared in the north, from the Dipper southward for eighty days.” Both accounts provide detailed and informative descriptions of the circumstances of the comets’ appearance, disappearance, and actual movements.