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Open letter to science editors



Solar Eclipses and the Historical Record
Charles Raspil

Because of Astronomy's claim that the heavens have behaved with predictable stability within the timeframe of written history, historians have often sought the astronomer's help in dating material that seems to describe celestial events; and the historian's favorite event is the solar eclipse, the time and location of which, astronomers claim they can pinpoint backward through several millennia.

In these pages, it will be argued that Astronomy's confidence in celestial stability is not backed by the solar eclipse record. Using the work of the astronomer Robert R. Newton [Ancient Astronomical Observations and The Acceleration of The Earth and Moon, Ancient Planetary Observations and The Validity of Ephemeris Time, Medieval Chronicals and The Rotation of The Earth, The Crime of Claudius Ptolemy, and The Moon's Acceleration and Its Physical Origins As Deduced from Solar Eclipses], the record of solar eclipses that range in date from the 7th Century A. D. will be examined. Not only shall we see that the historical records challenge the claim that solar eclipses always occur at their proper times and places, but also we shall see evidence that even timely solar eclipses have aspects that contradict the expected behavior of the heavens.

Historical observations of solar eclipses were, by and large, private. Until relatively recently, recordings of eclipses were made by an individual or a small group within a limited geographical area. Our observer may have seen any one of three kinds of solar eclipses: a total eclipse, a partial eclipse, or an annular or ring eclipse.

During the total solar eclipse, an observer sees the moon completely obscure the sun's disk. In another location, where the obscuration is not 100%, the observer will see a partial eclipse. (At the same time, observers on still other areas of the earth will see nothing happen to the sunlight at all.)

Figure 1 shows why our observers see different events. When the moon obscures the sun it creates a shadow on the earth (ABCD). This shadow has two sections; the penumbra or partial shadow (the triangular sections ABE and CDF) and the umbra or actual shadow, the wholly darkened area between the penumbral segments. During the eclipse, the umbra's length measured across the earth's surface is relatively short, at most 167 miles. This narrow area, in which the sun is totally obscured, is known as the eclipse's zone of totality. Because the moon moves about twice as fast as the earth rotates, the moon will rapidly bypass the sun, ending the period of totality within a period of a few minutes (totality can never exceed more than seven and a half minutes).

[*!* Image: Figure 1. Solar eclipse diagram. LABELS: Sun. Earth. Moon. Zone of totality. Partial eclipse zone. Penumbra]

The penumbral zone, as Figure 1 shows, is much larger than the umbral. In the penumbral zone, an observer will see only a partial eclipse of the sun. Because of the sun's great brightness, an observer cannot look directly if it shows more than a bright crescent and may not notice the obscuring disk of the moon at all. The sky may become visibly darker, but it will not be dark enough for an observer to see the stars. They will only appear during eclipses of at least 98% totality. The duration of the partial eclipse is considerably longer than totality; it can last up to four hours.

Figure 1 also shows that the eclipse does not affect the greater part of the earth's surface. This is because of the size of the moon and its distance from the sun. If the moon was as large as the sun and about the same distance from the earth as the sun, the moon's passage in front of the sun would darken the entire earth. However, because the moon is 400 times smaller than the sun and also so near the earth, the eclipse's area of visibility is quite small.

Not only are total solar eclipses limited to small (and shifting) areas of the earth, they are also relatively rare, occurring on the average about three times a year. This infrequency is due to the five-degree variation in the plane of the moon's orbit around the earth and the plane of the sun's apparent movement (the ecliptic) in the skies. If sun and moon moved in the same plane, then at each new moon (i.e., month) a solar eclipse would occur, the moon passing precisely in front of the sun.

This difference in angle between solar and lunar planes also accounts for the existence of solar eclipses without any degree of totality. In these cases, either the moon covers the top or bottom limb only of the sun. The entire solar disk is not covered by the moon.

The third kind of solar eclipse is the annular or ring eclipse (see Figure 2). Here, the moon is at a greater distance from the earth than usual, and hence appears to have a smaller diameter than the solar disk. At totality, the outer rim of the solar disk is clearly visible.

[*!* Image: Figure 2. Annualar (ring) eclipse]

[*!* Image: Figure 3. Solar corona]

[*!* Image: Figure 4.Prominences visible at totality]

Finally, it is important to know that during totality, one can see features of the sun's outer atmosphere, the corona, haloing the darkened solar disk (figure 3). One may also see the solar prominences, gaslike jets that erupt from the corona (figure 4). Both corona and prominences become visible during totality because the greater brightness of the solar disk no longer pales their features.

Newton's Approach

Newton had noticed that modem records of solar eclipses revealed that either the moon or the earth deviated a little (less than 1/60 of a degree) from their expected motions. Curious about these deviations, he decided to make his own survey of the eclipse record.

Newton's method was to seek out texts that described obscurations of the sun, see if they or secondary sources dated the event, and then compare the results with expected dates, locales, and types of past solar eclipses. Such comparisons perhaps would enable him to chart those suspected deviations in the moon's or earth's motions, and maybe lead him to their cause.

Because he's a uniformitarian, and consequently expected only minute discrepancies in his comparisons, Newton is very selective in his acceptance of past eclipse records. Therefore, let us first summarize his own analysis of his results and then give some examples of the data he disregards. The results may surprise those who trust absolutely in the use of astronomical retrocalculation in the dating of ancient events.

In passing, let us note that Newton cannot find a usable eclipse before 720 B. C. This should be interesting to readers familiar with the work of Immanuel Velikovsky, since it was he who insisted that the current structure of the solar system, including the earth-moon relationship, had not stabilized before the early 7th Century, B.C. We will not enter into this controversy here since our concern is with following centuries; Newton's summary of solar eclipses for the period between 720 B.C. and 1567 A. D.

Solar Eclipses, 720 B.C. to 1567 A.D.

Newton finds 220 specific eclipses that are acceptable for study, with about 630 actual accounts of these 220 events. You might expect that the number of acceptable accounts increases as one approaches recent times, much as an archaeologist might expect more artifacts as he approaches the surface of his dig. But, just as a field archaeologist often discovers, strange gaps appear as one works upward.

Newton uncovers three periods of history in which no usable solar eclipses occur: (1) July 26, 300 B. C. to August 7, 198 B. C.; (2) January 18, 120 A. D. to June 5, 143 A. D.; and (3), from 243 A. D. to June 6, 346 A.D. Regarding these periods, Newton comments, "there are numerous observations of other astronomical phenomena from 300 to 198 B. C., but none from 120 to 143 A. D. or from 243 to 346 A. D."

Newton also finds that acceptable European sources are surprisingly scarce for the period between the Fifth Century, B. C. and 59 A. D. Considering the comparatively large number of classical historians of this period - Livy, Thucydides, Plutarch, etc., this scarcity seems odd. Yet, there are only seven separate accounts of solar eclipses that Newton finds acceptable. Here it may be illuminating to see how a couple of accounts prove troublesome.

In describing the Persian march led by Xerxes toward Sardis in Book VII of his Persian Wars, Herodotus writes, "[The Persians observed that] the sun quit his seat in the heavens and disappeared, day turning into night. "Later in Book IX, Herodotus cites the Greeks'observation of the same event. Historians have claimed that Herodotus' narrative must describe the retrocalculated solar eclipse of February. 17, 478 B.C. Nevertheless, as Newton shows, Xerxes' departure from Sardis must be dated to either 480 or 481 B.C. At that time, no eclipse was visible in Asia Minor.

Historians have also assumed that Thucydides observed the solar eclipse of August 3, 43 1 B. C., and that Plutarch's "Life of Pericles" corroborated this event. Yet, as Newton shows, difficulties in acceptability arise if one looks closely at the details that these authors provide. Thucydides does not specify the date of the eclipse; he only writes that it occurred in the summer of 43 1 B. C. Further, he might not have seen the eclipse himself since it was only visible east of where he lived, the city of Athens. And, Thucydides' description of the eclipse may conflict with the phenomena of totality: he claims that stars were visible; yet he also likens the sun's appearance to a crescent moon, implying the likelihood of too much sunlight for stars to appear.

Plutarch's assumed corrobaration is not actually so. He writes that Pericles observed a solar eclipse while aboard a ship leaving Athens.' However, he gives the year as 430, not 431 B.C.; and we don't know if Pericles was travelling eastward. Nor does Plutarch provide us with any more details.

Newton also discounts the use of Livy, the famed historian of Rome who flourished around the time of Jesus of Nazareth. Newton has branded Livy's accounts of possible eclipses as "magical", i. e. incredible. Not only is Newton irked by Livy's frequent claim that heavenly torrents of stones followed solar obscurations, but finds that the dates of such events do not match expected eclipse dates. Newton says that, "Livy recounts many eclipses. Whenever we can test him, he proves to be wrong."

Let us return to Newton's overview. One of his findings shows not only the rarity of recorded total solar eclipses, but also points to the general barrenness of the early eclipse record. In commenting on the Babylonian record of the solar eclipse of April 15, 136 B.C., Newton says, "[this eclipse] is the earliest record which tells us that an eclipse of known date was total at a known place, and it is the only such record before 840 A.D." Other records do not give certain determinations of time, duration, and locale.

Besides periods in which few if any records of eclipses appear, there are those in which eclipses that would seem certainly to have been recorded, are not. Spanning five centuries of the early medieval period, the Anglo-Saxon Chronicles record six solar eclipses, but miss ten or more that were either large or total. Though tempted, Newton refuses to speculate on the reasons for these gaps.

Though gaps might be expected in earlier records, Newton surprisingly finds them after the 14th Century, A. D. While Newton had found over 300 acceptable records within the 12th and 13th Centuries, A.D., the following centuries, the 14th, 15th, and two-thirds of the 16th, provided him with considerably less: 47, 30, and six, respectively. Thirteen of these records came from the eclipse of January 3 1, 1310. Though in these last three centuries, acceptable reports had fallen throughout Europe, especially in France, the greatest drop occurred in Britain, where only nine acceptable reports appear in the 14th and 15th Centuries. The drop is indeed great when compared with the number of 13th Century British records; 38.

In attempting to explain these startling drops, Newton points to the disastrous effects of the Black Plague in the middle of the 14th Century on all levels of culture in Europe. Many chroniclers and other men of letters had died. Nevertheless, Newton does find in those few annals that were written numerous reports of celestial portents, most particularly comets. Newton wonders if by then annalists were ignoring eclipses, perhaps having become too sophisticated to bother with them.

Newton pays special attention to the Chinese record of eclipses. Evaluating the records from the late 8th Century, B.C. through the end of the T'ang Dynasty (late 9th Century, A. D.), Newton finds the most detailed accounts of solar eclipses in the Former Han Dynasty, 206 B.C. - 23 A.D.

Given the Chinese reputation for observational accuracy, one is surprised that Newton says, "in about a fourth of the records from the Former Han Dynasty, the date listed is not that of an eclipse visible in China, " [and] further, of all the solar eclipses recorded in the annals of the Han Dynasty in China, only four are correct to within a degree of Right Ascension. These are [the eclipses of] July 17, 188 B. G, September 20, 80 B. C., January 3, 55 B. C., and June 19, 28 B.C."

One of Newton's sources, H. H. Dubs' translation of the Annals of The Former Han Dynasty, leads to some additional details. According to Dubs, Chinese observers could have seen 98 solar eclipses during the entire period of the Former Han. If you don't count position in the sky (i.e. Right Ascension), observers correctly reported 40 of these eclipses, did not mention or notice 25, recorded ten that were barely visible, dated 12 incorrectly, and observed five that should never have occurred. There are also ten other eclipses which may have been recorded inadvertently.

Dubs also spots three periods during the Former Han that are particularly troublesome: (1) 174-176 B.C., during which observers missed five plainly visible eclipses, (2) 157-141 B.C., during which observers incorrectly reported four of eight eclipses, and may have mistakenly recorded observations of the same eclipse twice; and (3), 112-96 B. C., during which observers missed four eclipses completely (and coincidentally or not, the emperor changed the Calendar).

Dubs next evaluates Han success in recording the position of the sun, i.e. Right Ascension, during eclipses. In most of the Han records, observers describe the sun's position in terms of the Chinese zodiac. Converting the latter into our own zodiac, a comparison with retrocalculated solar position is possible. But Dubs admits that the Han record is poor. Large discrepancies, some as great at 66 103, 105, and 130, appear in several eclipses. Of the 37 eclipses in which the Right Ascension is determinable, 24 are correct to eight degrees or less, seven or more are in error by 10 to W, and six others (in 201, 196, 126, 161, 141, and 80 B. C.) are off by 42 to 105. Even when recognizable stars become visible during a total eclipse as they did in the eclipse of 181 B. C., they are in the wrong position, by 14 in the latter eclipse.

Paralleling the scarcity of European records, there are few acceptable post-Han records of eclipses until the T'ang Dynasty (618-906 A.D.). Though Newton has not completed his study of T'ang records, he has presented a preliminary survey of their validity. Of the 100 eclipses recorded with calculable Right Ascension, 27 of them could not have been visible within heartland China or in heartland Asia at all. In an attempt to explain these difficulties, Newton suggests that many of the recorded eclipses were actually predictions, not real observations. Newton adds a rationale that many analysts of Chinese astronomy offer; that eclipse announcements could be fabrications created by opponents of the emperor.

Newton has also analyzed some Japanese eclipse records of the 7th Century, A. D., that appear in the Japanese annals, The Nihongi. A cluster of three of them, April 10, 628; April 11, 636; and April 1, 63 7, are acceptable. But a cluster of eight others from the end of the century present a mixed bag of acceptability. The dates with their levels of acceptability are as follows: (1) November 27, 680-definitely visible; (2) November 16, 681-possibly visible; (3) October 27, 691-impossible; (4) April, 693impossible; (5) October 5, 693-possibly visible; (6) March 31, 694-impossible; (7) September 24, 694-possible; and (8) August 13, 696-impossible.

In his overview, Newton analyzes each of the parameters (i.e. the area of the report, the time, the duration, etc.) that each eclipse report yields. Often, eclipses that satisfy certain parameters of retrocalculation, fail to satisfy others. Thus, as mentioned before, only at 98% of totality can planets and bright stars appear. Only at 99% of totality, can stars of average magnitude appear. Yet, Newton declares that in reports of totality, i.e. those which report the visibility of stars, "in about a fourth of the ancient and medieval observations, totality at the stated place was impossible."

Newton also finds reports of exaggerated duration, eclipses that accounts say last several hours, not several minutes. As an alternative to blaming such accounts on exaggeration or superstition, New ton suggests they may have resulted from the sun's obscuration. But, as we'll see later, the annals usually report only what was seen and hardly mention changes in temperature.

Finally, Newton finds a scarcity in reports of annular eclipses. Though actually more common than total eclipses, sources first describe them only in the early 6th Century, A. D. Strangely enough, if one considers the theories of Claudius Ptolemy, the famed astronomer of the 2nd Century, A.D., annular eclipses are impossible. According to Ptolemy, at the moon's greatest distance from the earth, the sun's apparent diameter is not greater than, but equal to the apparent diameter of the full moon. Ptolemy's theory would also imply that during total eclipses when the moon is closer to the earth, the moon would appear to have a greater diameter than the sun. Total eclipses would then have different periods of duration and produce longer periods of total darkness. Also, observations of the solar atmosphere - corona and prominences - would become more difficult it not impossible. Since, according to Newton, descriptions of these solar phenomena do not appear in eclipse records until centuries later, one may wonder if Ptolemy's conception once had observational grounds.

Before examining in detail some "acceptable" individual eclipse accounts that Newton cites, let's look at some of those that he classifies as "impossible", i. e. records of solar obscurations that are not possible for a specified date. From 687 B. C. - 1567 A. D., 220 eclipses match a particular date in a year; 52 are undated; and 78 are impossible. Here are some of the latter.

  1. April, 217 A. D. to June, 218; Dio Cassio reports that a solar eclipse occurred some time during the reign of Macrinus (April, 217 to June, 218). Newton says that the nearest possible solar eclipse is October 7, 218, about four months too late.

  2. 450 A. D.; Michael 1 (ca. 1195) writes that at the coronation of Marcian (dated as 450) there was darkness all over the earth. The nearest visible eclipse in the vicinity of Constantinople occurred the year before.

  3. At the death of Roland at the battle of Roncevales, dated August 15, 778, Turoldus (ca. 1100) writes that the following events happened: "... great and marvelous trouble: a storm of wind and thunder, of immeasurable wind and hail; lightning strokes came close and fast, and there was truly a great earthquake from Mount St. Michael to Seinz... there was not a house where walls did not burst. About noon there was a great darkness; there was light only when the heavens were rent. . . "

    The reference to a great darkness "about noon" suggests a solar eclipse. Newton wonders whether the above passage alludes to the eclipse of August 16, 779. Though the year is off, the similarity of month could point to errors in transcription. Nevertheless, the entire passage seems so fanciful to Newton that he refuses to consider the matter any further; he therefore labels the entire event "magical. " Yet, one cannot deny that the details of the narrative do offer a sense of reality.

  4. June 7, 810; though impossible by retrocalculation, an annal from Central Europe reports a solar eclipse on this date. A possible penumbral eclipse dated July 5, 810 is the nearest alternative. Other annals report an eclipse near this time but none give the correct date; nor are the dates consistent enough to suggest a scribal error.

  5. December 22, 956; this French source initially describes the moon's appearance as blood red, leading Newton to identify this event with the retrocalculated lunar eclipse of September 4, 955. Then, in June of 956, the annalist writes, "a wonderful sign appeared in the sky, namely a great dragon but without a head." An eclipse of the sun followed and is recorded on December 22. Newton tries to identify this eclipse with one falling on December 22, 12 years later, and finds this a little out of line. A strong footnote; in describing the solar eclipse, the annalist speaks of the stars becoming visible from the first to the third hours.

  6. 1014; a German reports that, "the sun and moon and stars gave sad signs this year." Newton notes that no eclipses of any kind should have occurred this year.

  7. March 21, 1137; Welsh and Danish annals report a solar eclipse on this date. Again, no eclipse is possible. Newton suggests the eclipse of March 20, 1140.

  8. February 20, 1148; a German annal (Erphesfundensis) describes this "sign" near the sun:

    [*!* Image]

    What appears to be a crescent moon lies on a bed of rather unusually bright stars. No retrocalculated eclipse is near and, though the date is near a new moon, neither waxing nor waning crescent appears in this orientation except near the equator. Newton himself can't believe that the sign merely depicts the moon and stars. The use of the term "sign" indicates something out of the usual.

  9. A source from Constantinople - dated sometime between 1244 and 1254 - describes a solar eclipse in the constellation Cancer. But no such eclipse would be visible in Constantinople during that period. The eclipse of July 25, 1245 is the closest possibility.

  10. August 16, 1249; a German report that dates a solar eclipse on August 16, 1249 is impossible by retrocalculation. After hinting that the source is identifying the solar eclipse of August 14, 1254, Newton withdraws his suggestion, noting that even this eclipse would probably not be visible in Germany.

  11. 1473; from an Irish annalist, an entry under a person's death record states, "the harvest of a black day. " A later gloss explains that an annular eclipse of the sun occurred on April 27. But according to Newton, no eclipse would be visible at harvest time in Ireland until October 1, 1502. An annular eclipse dated April 27, 1473 was only visible in Siberia.

Next is a listing of solar eclipses that meet expected dates of retrocalculation, and yet reveal details that raise questions.

  1. 145 B.C., March 26; this eclipse reported in the annals of Han, was by retrocalculation, barely visible.

  2. 80 B. C., September 20; the reported magnitude from the annals of Han differs from retrocalculated expectations.

  3. 29 B.C., January 5; earthquakes follow this Han eclipse.

  4. 360 A.D. (month and day unknown); a source, apparently from Byzantium, reports that stars were visible the entire morning. If a solar eclipse is described, it's in the wrong area, since it is west of the zone of the retrocalculated totality.

  5. July 19, 418; a Byzantine report of a solar eclipse also describes an unusual cone of light then visible in the sky. The annalist apparently associates an ensuing drought with the eclipse events. 6. June 20, 540; according to the Venerable Bede, stars appeared during this eclipse for half an hour. Bede may have seen this eclipse while still in Italy before his trek north to England.

  6. October 4, 590 (?); this annal from Byzantium only reports the year, not the date. After the end of the eclipse, the annal records that, "a violent and roaring South wind arose almost tearing the pebbles from the bottom of the sea."

  7. March 19, 592; Rampones, an Italian source, reports that sometime during the reign of Pope Gregory (590-604), the sun remained crescented from the early morning to noon.

  8. March 19, 592 is a possible date. Gregory of Tours only perfunctorily records the eclipse.

  9. May 5, 840; this Italian annal's record of a total eclipse differs from the partial eclipse anticipated by retrocalculation.

  10. October 29, 878; this French annal reports that "mortality of men and beast" followed the eclipse. Was there a connection?

  11. August 8, 89 1; several reports record a solar eclipse in this year, but none actually specify a date. A number of these reports describe how seven people inside the Roman Forum, perhaps waiting for the end of the eclipse, were suddenly struck and killed by a bolt of lightning. Also, the annals describe this eclipse as total; by retrocalculation, it should've been annular. A footnote to the last report: the annals laconically mention the appearance of the "star comet."

  12. July 19, 939; an Italian source records this eclipse as beginning at noon; retrocalculation places it well before. A Swiss account presents no such difficulties.

  13. October 21, 990; a German account relates that the event was followed by "mortality of men and beast. " Again, the two events seemingly are connected by the annalist.

  14. April 29, 1009; a German account tells of a terrible cloud covering the sun for more than two days. Was this a meteorological event?

  15. June 29, 1033; French accounts of this barely annular eclipse report it as total. Two reports tell of the sun changing colors: to sapphire in one, and to green, then yellow, in another.

  16. August 22, 1039; in the only available report of this eclipse, the Belgian source has it begin earlier than expected by retrocalculation.

  17. November 22, 1044; a German report from Fulda seems to exaggerate the length of this eclipse, claiming that it lasted from the first to the ninth hour.

  18. 1073; in verifying a Chinese account of an eclipse that occurred in this year, Newton remarks that the annals comment on the failure of the eclipse to reach its expected magnitude.

  19. February 1, 1079; this Iberian report claims that darkness lasted for two hours.

  20. September 23, 1093; in discussing the many accounts of this eclipse, Newton is especially interested in two from Germany that tell of the appearance of dragons. Newton guesses that solar prominences inspired this observation. It's noteworthy that Newton associates the dragons with a celestial phenomenon. A Central European annal reports much pestilence and famine thereafter.

  21. August 11, 1124; several anomalies are associated with this eclipse: a Czech report times the eclipse at the 11th hour, five hours off from the retrocalculated sixth hour; the annals blame the eclipse for the outbreak of a pestilence; a Russian source incredibly reports the appearance of stars and the moon following the sun's obscuration; and a Belgian source reports the moon travelling from East to West, a reversal of its proper motion. Concerning this movement, Newton wonders if the annalist had observed this eclipse in a reflecting pool, a medium which would reverse the moon's apparent direction.

  22. August 2, 1133; again, an increase in the number of available sources seems to match an increase in the number of anomalistic reports. Though a partial eclipse by retrocalculation, reports persist of lengthy periods of darkness, with stars seen for half an hour in one report and an hour in another. An English source reports that earthquakes accompanied the eclipse; and a German source reports that streams of water came to a halt during the eclipse.

  23. March 20, 1140; a Belgian source reports that thunder accompanied this eclipse.

  24. October 26, 1147; in this retrocalculated annular eclipse, a source again reports the visibility of stars. A German source, reporting the event's duration from the third to the sixth hour, records, ". . . in which disappearing it stood fixed and unmoving almost an entire hour, as marked by the horologe. "

  25. January 26, 1153; though the annals report this eclipse as partial, by retrocalculation it was annular and total. One source mentions that later that night, a great splendor appeared, accompanied by thunder. Another source fixes the eclipse at an evening hour on January 29, instead of the retrocalculated ninth hour on January 26.

  26. April 11, 1176; Newton's only source for this eclipse, the annals of Michael 1 from Russia, report a moon seen near the sun during the solar obscuration. The annals comment on the great fear felt by men and animals. Was the source of this fear the unexpected "moon"?

  27. September 13, 1178; though the annals in their comparison of the sun's appearance to a crescent moon, obviously report a partial eclipse, Venus is reported visible; and, as mentioned earlier, this is only possible at 98% of totality. Three accounts of this eclipse come from Great Britain and at least one of them implies that the eclipse was total in most of England; yet by retrocalculation, totality was impossible there. In Holland, there are reports of floods that followed the eclipse.

  28. July 13, 1811; a French account of this eclipse records a longer duration than retrocalculated. The amount is small - just 24 minutes.

  29. May 1, 1185; two separate accounts report strange solar behavior; in one, the sun became brighter; in the other, it become blood red.

  30. 1186(?); an undated account from a Central European source reports that the event was followed by "a mortality of men."

  31. September 4, 1187; two German accounts record the apppearance of stars, not expected by retrocalculation.

  32. June 23, 1191; interesting reports come from many different European sources: while indicating that the sun was only half eclipsed, Michael I again reports the visibility of a moon and stars; in English accounts, the hour is later than retrocalculated, and one report records the visibility of stars for a period of three hours; a source from Bologna reports that the eclipse lasted four hours, a source from Venice, six hours; a source from Liege in Belgium mentions that a flood ensued; and finally, a source from Douai in France, in reporting the upper half of the sun illuminated, differs from retrocalculation, which fixes the path of the eclipse north of Douai, thereby requiring the illumination of only the sun's lower limb.

  33. February 28, 1207; a French account gives an early hour.

  34. 1208(?); an English annal for the year 1208 says, "monsters were seen in England, because the sun and moon fought at the same time. Also, a horrible eclipse appeared. " According to Newton, the nearest possible solar eclipse occurred on February 28, 1207 (if indeed the annals record a normal solar eclipse).

  35. May 4, 1230; this eclipse appears in many sources. A Scandinavian source claims that "mortality of men and kine" followed it.

  36. June 3, 1239; a report from Germany describes the sky becoming red and the air dark. Another reports that a river began to run backwards.

  37. October 6, 1241; again, a widely reported eclipse; a Central European source reports the appearance of stars for four hours; a German account records a change in solar color, the sun's rays becoming green, then purple.

  38. May 25, 1267; several anomalies appear. An account from Central Europe describes an earthquake at the third hour preceding the eclipse. Retrocalculation fixes the eclipse at the fifth hour. Yet, a different Central European source reports the eclipse lasting until vespers in the evening; by retrocalculation, the eclipse begins at mid-morning and ends at noon. Finally, another report gives the right time but the wrong date, May 24.

  39. January 3 1, 13 10; this is one of the few 14th Century eclipses that many sources report. One attributes a red and yellow sky that accompanied the eclipse to the planet Jupiter, said then to be dominant (astrologically?)

  40. July 5, 1312; a German account of this eclipse, recording the date as July 6 and the time about noon, differs from the retrocalculated date, July 5, and the retrocalculated time, about 9:00 a.m.

  41. June 26, 1321; by retrocalculation, this total annular eclipse appears in a very narrow band of totality. This contradicts the reports of totality from all over Germany. According to Newton, reports from cities such as Ellwangen and Augsberg are impossible. This makes Newton muse about the meaning of certain Latin words such as "generalis" or "universalis", words commonly used in descriptions of eclipses. He wonders whether they have always implied totality.

  42. August 7, 1384; an English source speaks of horrible thunder and lightning the night before. The next day, the annal records a simultaneous eclipse and conjunction. Since the latter is technically the former, the report seems to make no sense.

  43. October 29, 1399; Newton amends the date of an Italian source to the retrocalculated October 29, 1399. The source also declares that, "...stars in the manner of fire falling from heaven were seen in many parts of Italy." Newton interprets the passage as a description of a meteor shower.

  44. April 15, 1409; this is another account of extended duration, the eclipse lasting 26 minutes too long.

  45. August 29, 1448; two reports suggest too short a duration.

  46. April 27, 1473; the source describes a long period of totality, thus contradicting the retrocalculated annular eclipse of shorter duration.

  47. July 29, 1478; in putting this eclipse two hours after sunrise, an Italian source differs from the retrocalculated two hours after noon.


This paper intended to 'show that the historical record of solar eclipses does not necessarily validate astronomical uniformitarianism. And we have seen how that record is full of holes. Uniformitarians have tried to fill them by patching them with error labels, usually of three kinds:

  1. Errors of omission; errors either in transmission or copying of records; or errors in observation because of incompetence or primitive instrumentation.

  2. Errors of belief; errors caused by the contamination of religious beliefs or superstition into the historical record.

  3. Errors of commission; deliberate lies inserted into the historical record for political or other malicious reasons.

In order to analyze the relative merits of retrocalculation, one must examine not only the discrepancies themselves, but look at the whole fabric in which they appear, i.e., study what was happening at the same time in other areas of the world. If other discrepancies consistently appear, then one can begin to try to identify what, in effect, is a new fabric. An initial effort will be described in future issues.

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