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An Ancient Astrolabe Features Hebrew and Arabic Inscriptions

astrolabe

Astrolabes have always fascinated me, especially when I think of their intricate designs and functionality. Navigators in ancient times relied on these devices to map out the stars in the sky accurately, helping them determine their location. The history of astrolabes dates back to 220BC, but a recent discovery of one with both Hebrew and Arabic markings has shed new light on their fascinating origins.

The astrolabe in question was found to have originated in the 11th Century and was recently stumbled upon by historian Dr Federica Gigante from Christ’s College, Cambridge. The discovery was made when Dr Gigante came across an image of the astrolabe on the website of Fondazione Museo Minisccalchi-Erizzo in Verona. Intrigued by the device, she published an article in Nuncius, the Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science, detailing her findings.

Upon closer inspection of the astrolabe, Dr Gigante observed that it had undergone several modifications over the centuries, with contributions from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian sky watchers from Spain, North Africa, and Italy. The device featured beautifully engraved Arabic inscriptions, along with faint inscriptions in Hebrew, suggesting a rich history of cultural exchange and adaptation.

The astrolabe’s ‘rete’, a pierced disk representing a map of the sky, revealed that it was one of the earliest astrolabes made in Spain in the late 11th Century. Dr Gigante’s expertise in Islamic scientific instruments allowed her to draw parallels between the engravings on the astrolabe and those found in Muslim-ruled Spain, particularly in Al-Andalus.

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Further examination of the astrolabe uncovered Jewish names in Arabic script, indicating its use within the Sephardi Jewish community where Arabic was the predominant language. Additional inscriptions suggested its later use in North Africa, possibly in Morocco or Egypt, before making its way to Italy, where it was likely utilized by the Jewish Diaspora community.

The astrolabe’s journey through different communities and regions highlights the interconnectedness of cultures and the role of scientific instruments in facilitating cultural exchange. From its origins in Spain to its eventual place in the collection of Ludovico Moscardo in Verona, the astrolabe has passed through various hands, each adding to its rich history.

The discovery of this rare astrolabe not only provides insight into ancient navigation techniques but also serves as a testament to the enduring legacy of scientific collaboration across different civilizations. The device, now on display in a museum, stands as a symbol of the diverse cultural influences that have shaped our understanding of the universe.

Source: Rare astrolabe discovered in Verona reveals scientific exchange

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Black couple overcomes racism to rent to Chinese family, who show gratitude by paying rent.

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Decades ago, in the early 1900s, racism and discriminatory housing practices plagued the town of Coronado, barring many individuals from living in certain neighborhoods based on their race. In the midst of this oppressive era, an inspiring story of resilience and generosity unfolded between two families — the Thompsons, a Black couple, and the Dongs, a Chinese family.

Gus and Emma Thompson, who were among the few Black families to own property in Coronado before racial restrictions took hold, defied the norms of the time by renting their house to the Dong family. Lloyd Dong Sr., a Chinese immigrant, and his wife found solace in the Thompsons’ willingness to offer them a place to call home despite the racist barriers they faced.

Fast forward 85 years later, the sons of Lloyd Dong Sr., Ron Dong, and Lloyd Dong Jr., have decided to pay forward the kindness shown to their family by donating $5 million from the sale of the house they eventually owned to San Diego State University’s Black Resource Center. This generous gift will help expand scholarships for Black students and fund renovations at the center, creating a lasting impact on the community.

Exterior view of a single-story home

The Dongs’ family house in Coronado, originally the home of the Thompsons.

(Courtesy of Janice Dong)

This heartwarming tale of intergenerational gratitude highlights the resilience and spirit of unity that transcends racial boundaries. Brandon Gamble, the director of the Black Resource Center, expressed the profound impact of this donation on the community, emphasizing the importance of stories that challenge racism and foster a sense of camaraderie.

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Reflecting on the legacy of his father and the Thompsons, Ron Dong shared, “That was the big plus for our family, because it has made all the difference for us.” The intertwined histories of the Thompson and Dong families serve as a testament to the power of empathy and solidarity in the face of adversity.

Gus Thompson’s journey from slavery to becoming a respected community leader in Coronado, coupled with Emma Thompson’s advocacy for civil rights, exemplifies the resilience and determination of marginalized communities to thrive in the face of oppression.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

Gus Thompson in 1947.

(Norman Baynard Collection / San Diego History Center)

The legacy of allyship and support exemplified by the Thompsons extends to their willingness to assist Asian Americans facing similar discriminatory practices. This act of solidarity echoes the sentiment that in times of oppression, helping others regardless of race is not just a gesture but a necessity.

As the Dong family embraced their new home in Coronado, overcoming discrimination and forging their path to homeownership, they carried forward the spirit of resilience and unity shown to them by the Thompsons. The bond between these two families serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration in a society marred with division and prejudice.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and tent city on the beach, 1908.

The Hotel del Coronado, a Victorian-style beach resort outside San Diego, and a tent city on the beach, 1908.

(Smith Collection / Gado / Getty Images)

The resilience and determination displayed by the Dong family in the face of discrimination, coupled with their unwavering commitment to education and community upliftment, exemplify the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. The decision to give back to the community through education underscores the transformative power of generosity and empathy in creating a more inclusive and equitable society.

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As the Dongs’ generous donation paves the way for future generations to access educational opportunities and resources, their story serves as a beacon of hope and inspiration for all who strive to overcome adversity and champion unity in the face of division.

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