Abri Blanchard Calendar: Yíngshì One

I have used what Liú Xiàng said as inspiration in interpreting the diagram on the bone. I therefore need to explain what Yíngshì is, and something of its role in a calendrical system.

Citing Huang Yilong, Douglas J. Keenan says that: ‘No ancient texts so far gave an explicit definition for 五星聚合(the five planet conjunction).’¹ Therefore, there is no explanation in Chinese of what exactly Liú Xiàng meant. It follows that the English translation may be even less reliable.

I don’t think that there is an explicit reference to Yíngshì in the diagram on the bone. Its presence is implicit in the sense that the movement of the bodies in the solar system takes place against a backdrop of stars. In order to use that backdrop in a calendar system, some of the brightest stars were grouped into patterns known as constellations.

Image: Sky-Map.org: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Sky-Map.org: Annotation: Lynn Fawcett

Yíngshì 營室 or Shì is one such constellation. A star chart for the constellation can be seen on the right. The diagram on the bone is based on the path of the sun (the ecliptic). I have therefore created the star chart of the constellation Shì as it appears in relation to the ecliptic. The line between α Peg and β Peg forms the right hand (western) side of what is known as the Great Square of Pegasus.

Historically, the Chinese, Arabs and Indians all divided the ecliptic into segments, and charted the orbit of the Moon around the earth according to those segments. The segments were known as stations, houses or mansions, and although each culture’s system differed, they all had one segment for which the marker star was either α Peg, or both α Peg and β Peg. Therefore, in each lunar cycle the moon will spend one night in the area of the sky marked by stars from the constellation Shì.

Liú Xiàng said that the calendar began in Yíngshì. At this point take another look at the star chart for the constellation, and then take a look at the geometry page. If you are going to divide the night sky into segments, and you want to use the patterns in the stars as markers for those segments, why not start with a constellation that looks like one of the tools that you would use to complete the task?

Image: Your Sky: Additional Annotation: Lynn Fawcett
Image: Your Sky: Additional Annotation: Lynn Fawcett

I do not have access to a sky map for 35,000 years ago, so I have created some sky maps for 2 February 2013. The observer is positioned at the Abri Blanchard. The first map (left) shows the position at sunset (UTC 17:03 equals CET 18:03). Sitting in the south west quadrant of the map, and relatively close to the ecliptic, you can see Yíngshì (ringed in yellow). It shares some stars with Pegasus (the software has linked the stars in Pegasus with purple lines). At this point, it is important to note that although Yíngshì is in the south west quadrant of the sky map, it is still located to the north of the ecliptic.

In the gallery (below), you can see how the position of Yíngshì changes by the hour, moving west and north until it sets. That is, it is no longer visible to the observer at Abri Blanchard.

Maps prepared with Your Sky from www.fourmilab.ch, using the decimal coordinates: Latitude: 44.999556° and Longitude: 1.101306°. Times shown are UTC. Add one hour to get CET.

The time at which β Peg sets is of interest. It sets at around 22:12 UTC; 23:12 CET. The local solar time would be around 23:00. This is significant because in ancient China the New Year began at 23:00 which is the start of the double hour of the rat. It therefore, seems possible that the setting of β Peg was used to mark the start of the New Year.

Now let’s take a look at the horizon as seen from the Abri Blanchard.


Image Credits:

Sky map of the constellation Shì: Sky-Map.org: Rotated to simulate the ecliptic view and annotated by Lynn Fawcett: www.sky-map.org: Accessed: 25 July 2013

Sky maps for an observer at the Abri Blanchard: Your Sky by John Walker: Circles marking the constellation Shì added by Lynn Fawcett: http://www.fourmilab.ch/yoursky/: Accessed: July 2013


1. Citation of a private letter from Huang Yilong: Douglas J. Keenan, 2007: Defence of Planetary Conjunctions for Early Chinese Chronology is Unmerited: Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage, 10(2) p.143: http://www.informath.org/pubs/AH207a.pdf: Accessed: 31 July 2013