In 1609, a polymath in Pisa built a rudimentary telescope and pointed it at the moon’s distant, luminous surface. Galileo Galilei was the first person in history to use such a tool, and it revolutionized astronomy. But he was far from the first human to train his mind and gaze toward the heavens. For thousands of years, ancient civilizations around the globe attempted to make sense of the stars—often with rather impressive results.
In what is now Iran, the Radkan Tower is a testament to the intellectual might of the Persian Empire. Archeologists believe that the famed astronomer Nasir al-Din Tusi engineered the tower to accurately predict the changing of the seasons and months. Meanwhile, in North Macedonia, a 3,800-year-old set of ruins once told Bronze Age inhabitants when to plant their crops from miles away. And over in modern-day Uzbekistan lie the nearly 5,000-year-old remains of an observatory built by Ulugh Beg, the grandson of an emperor with a passion for furthering human knowledge.