History: Origins of Science

Mozelle Martin

What is science?

Perhaps a simple way to describe it is knowledge about the world that people obtain by studying and testing ideas. Of course, I'm sure that online dictionaries and encyclopedias would elaborate on that simplistic definition.

One thing is certain.

The knowledge we have gained throughout time has taught us many things via writings, pictures, and artifacts left behind by ancient civilizations.

Although initially, science was a systematic study of the natural world around us, today's science is divided into many categories, such as geophysics, biochemistry, oceanography, and many more.

In ancient times, science was mixed with religion and even magic.

Was astronomy the first area of science?

Around 9100 years ago, people started growing crops, raising animals, and living in settlements. They had to study nature and seasons closely to be successful farmers.

The first scientists observed the movements of the stars, moon, and sun to create calendars to measure the passage of time. China created the abacus, a "calculator" (counting frame). Initially used in China since 5000 B.C., the abacus was used in the ancient Near East, Europe, and Russia, centuries before they started using the Hindu-Arabic numeral system. The abacus consists of rows of movable beads that are strung on a wire similar to making jewelry. Each bead represents a number(s). These beads could perform addition and even configure square or cubic roots.

Then, around 4700 years ago, ancient people started building astronomical observatories such as Stonehenge in England. These carefully positioned stones reveal the positions of the sun and moon during the day and year.

Ancient astronomers learned that the stars changed their positions regularly and used them as a guide to the seasons. The leading astronomer in ancient Greek times was Hipparchus (190-120 BC). Hipparchus was so smart he didn't even know he knew trigonometry! He created a catalog of 850 stars, generated the concept of a star's brightness (magnitude), and took exact measurements of star positions using only his ordinary eyesight.

  • As an aside... I'd love to have eyesight that good, wouldn't you?

Is it just me, or were humans way smarter back then?

Hipparchus Geometric ConstructionPhoto byWikipedia

In my next article, I'll write more about the Ancient Greeks in science, so please be sure to follow me, so you don't miss it.

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