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        Egyptian Astronomy: (A Record of Achievement)

'Egyptian astronomy has been termed "primitive" or "non-existent" far too many times: It is therefore appropriate to assemble the actual achievements of Egyptian  astronomy and let the facts speak for themselves. The ancients unencumbered by racism, could take a more honest view of the matter: for example, Aristotle wrote: "...the Egyptians and Babylonians have studied these matters thoroughly since time immemorial, and through whom we have many reliable reports about each of the stars."

Extract from (1) - (By John Pappademos):

Quick Links:

 

The design on the ceiling of Senenmut's tomb (Chamber A, Tomb TT353), who was the chief architect and astronomer during the reign of Queen Hatchepsut. (c. 1473-1458 B.C.), is the oldest astronomical presentation known in Egypt (with the possible exception of the Giza pyramids).

 

 

   The Orientation of Egyptian Temples:

The precise alignment of temples and pyramids was undoubtedly a result of astronomical observation.  (A feature noticeably absent from Djoser's pyramid at Saqqara). Sir Norman Lockyer suggested that several of the great Egyptian temple complexes were orientated towards astronomically significant points on the horizon. His theories are disputed to this day even though there is now a substantial amount of supporting research in favour of his original suppositions.

 

The astronomical division between 'Upper' and 'Lower' Egypt:

A clear division can be identified between the orientation of ancient Egyptian temples of upper Egypt when compared with those of Lower Egypt. Lockyer (2), made note of the fact that whereas the early dynastic northern 'Memphite' pyramids, Giza pyramids, and Sphinx were orientated cardinally to face equinoxial phases of the solar cycle, the great temples in the south of Egypt, such as Karnack, the Colossi of Memnon and  Abydoss, were all orientated to capture the suns rays on Solstice days of the year.

It is interesting to note that both the Valley temple (North) and the Osireion (south) appear to conform to this theory.

The Valley temple, Giza was associated with Isis (As evidenced by the inscriptions on the 'Sphinx' stella). The Osireion, which shows remarkable similarities in construction, as seen below:

The Osireion (left), and the Valley-temple (right).

The location of certain prominent Egyptian temples and complexes reinforces the idea that a knowledge of longitude and latitude existed from at least the time of Karnack, if not from the time of construction of Giza itself.

 

The Egyptians divided the stars into 36 "decans" (each of which spanned 10° of a 360° circle). Each decan had its group of associated stars (constellations). These stars are represented in tombs and elsewhere.

The applications of early Egyptian astronomy are visible in: (a) the orientation of temples and pyramids: (b) the  reorientation of temples; (c) The heliacal rising of Sirius, which was used by ancient priests-astronomers in order to fix the New Year's Day and determine the seasons of the civil year.

 

 

 

   Astronomical Firsts: (A Chronology of Discovery).

The elements of the following compendium have all been separately discussed in journals and literature, but rarely are they placed together in the sense of a mutual context. They are listed in chronological order where possible.

 

The invention of the 365-day calendar, based on astronomical observation - Mankind's first 'official' measurement of time. The development probably took place at least as far back as 3,000 B.C. (1)

 

The development of instruments of quantitative astronomical measurement - These included the sundial, water clocks, and the merkhet (which used a straight-edge and a plumb line, which enabled measurements of stellar azimuths). (1)

It is clear that the Egyptians were using their knowledge of the stars to assist them in their architectural projects from the beginning of the pharaonic period (c.3100-332 BC), since the ceremony of pedj-shes ('stretching the cord'), reliant on astronomical knowledge, is first attested on a granite block of the reign of the Second-Dynasty king Khasekhemwy (c.2650 BC).                                           

Ref: (http://www.bbc.co.uk)

 

 

Charles Piazzi Smyth in his 1878 book "The Great Pyramid" recorded several relics found in the north shaft of the Queens chamber by Dixon and Grant. These items were found in the hermetically sealed north shaft broken into by a Bill Grundy under the direction of W. Dixon. The relics were sent to Piazzi Smyth in a cigar box where they were recorded in his diary with accompanying drawings and sketches. Unfortunately, these relics are now lost to us, but it has been suggested on several occasions that the brass hook, was probably a form of Pesh-en-Khaf, a sighting device for stellar alignment.

 

 

Discovery of the precession of the equinoxes - The "precession of the equinoxes" refers to the very slow, cyclic changes in the coordinates of the fixed stars that takes place with a period of some 26,000 years (25,920). The discovery of this phenomena can be seen through three different mediums:

The first is through the successive re-alignment of the axis of symmetry of various temples as first noted by Sir N. Lockyer, which showed that the Egyptians were aware of the change in positions of the stars over the course of centuries. (The orientations of Egyptian temples were set with extreme precision by astronomical observations in accordance with their worship of the stars or the sun).

The second is in the suggestion that a knowledge of Precession is suggested in the dimensions of the great pyramid, which through accident or design, are a particularly accurate scale model of the Earth's dimensions: (1:43,200).

Which brings us to the third form in which evidence of precession is displayed in the form of sacred figures stored in myths, texts and the dimensions of sacred buildings. While this theory is not accepted by everyone, there has been some serious research in this subject (i.e. Hamlets Mill: Santillano), and it should not be dismissed out of hand.

(1:43,200)

(A new constellation appears on the horizon each 2,160 years...)

(...and 2,160 x 2 = 4,320 years)

 

Knowledge of stellar constellations - At least 43 constellations were familiar to the Egyptians in the 13th century B.C. (1).

The oldest known copies of an almanac date from 1220 BC at the time of Ramses the Great. In 1100 BC Amenhope wrote "Catalog of the Universe" in which he identified the major known constellations.

 

The writing of astronomical texts - Clement of Alexandria gives the titles of four Egyptian astronomy books (which have not survived): a) On the Disposition of Fixed Stars and Stellar Phenomena, b) On the Disposition of the Sun, Moon and Five Planets, c) On the Syzergies and Phases of the Sun and Moon, d) On Risings. These texts may not have been intended for publication, but were available only to the priesthood, which forbade the general exposure of their philosophy. This may help to explain why so little of Egyptian science has come down to us directly from the Egyptians, rather than indirectly from the Greeks such as Pythagoras, who was initiated into the Egyptian mysteries. (1)

 

Tables of star culminations and risings. (1)

 

Knowledge of planetary astronomy - Five planets were known to the Egyptians; the retrograde motion of Mars was known; the revolution of Mercury and Venus around the Sun was known. (1)

 

Prediction of eclipses.

 

Discovery of the occulations of the stars and planets by the dark side of the half-moon. (1)

 

Discovery that the Earth is spherical - The first (official) measurement of the radius of the earth was made by Erasthenes (b. 275 B.C.), who was the head of the great library of Alexandria. He was born in Cyrene, now Libya. It seems likely that the ancient Egyptians, much before Egypt's conquest by Alexander the great, had already grasped the idea of a spherical Earth, and it was from them that this doctrine was adopted by Pythagoras, who, as we know, spent many years of study in Egypt. (1)

 

Discovery of the obliquity of the ecliptic - Diodorus Siculus (70 B.C.) reports that Egyptian priests claimed it was from Oenopides of Chios that we learned the sun moved in an inclined orbit and oppositely to the motion of the other stars. In this connection, it should be noted that the priority of Oenopides claim to this discovery is disputed by Pythagoras. In view of the fact that both Pythagoras and Oenopides went to Egypt to study astronomy, it would seem only fair to give their Egyptian teachers at least some of the credit. (1)

 

First proof that the angular diameters of the sun and moon re unequal - Sosigenes (2nd Cent. A.D), the Egyptian astronomer who gave Europe the Julian calendar, showed that the angular diameters are unequal by advertising to the phenomena of annular eclipses of the sun. (1)

 

First use of the Clepsydra (water clock), to measure the angular diameter of the sun. (1)

 

Discovery of the conjunction of the planets with each other as well as the fixed stars - This is on the testimony of Aristotle in his Meterology. (1)

 

The Heliocentric theory of the rotation of the earth and other planets about the sun. (1)

 

 

 

The Nabta-Playa Stone-circle.

'The discovery of megalithic alignments and stone circles next to locations of Middle and Late Neolithic communities at Nabta, suggest the early development of a complex society. The ceremonial complex of Nabta, dating to the Fifth millenium BC, has alignments to cardinal and solstice directions, was a very early megalithic expression of ideology and astronomy. Five megalithic alignments within the playa deposits radiate outwards from megalithic structures. The organization of the megaliths suggests a symbolic geometry that integrated death, water, and the Sun'.

Ref: (www.nature.com/nature/journal)

The Nabta Stone-circle is located one degree of latitude from the Tropic of Cancer (22° 32' 00"). This means that for several days each side of the solstice, the megaliths cast no shadows.

(More about the Nabta-playa complex).

 

 

 

 

   Astronomy at the Giza Plateau;

 

Apart from the obvious evidences of astronomy in the 'Polar' passages of the pyramids and the orientation of the Sphinx, Giza demonstrates several other instances of astronomical influences at the time of construction.

It is a well known fact that the N/S axis of the Khufu (Cheops) is only 03' 06" to the west of true north, a fact which confirms the levels of skill/accuracy attained by the ancient Egyptian astronomers (and builders).

 

It has been noted that (Through accident or design), the Great pyramid of Giza is a particularly accurate scale model (1:43,200), of the Earth's dimensions.

The number 43,200 is a specific 'precessionary' number, one of several that are repeated in Egyptian myth, text and construction.

The Precessionary cycle lasts approximately 25,920 years, which results in a new constellation appearing on the horizon each 2,160 years.... and 2,160 x 2 = 4,320 years.

(More about Precession)

The Giza plateau was built on the 30th latitude.

It seems unlikely that when combined with the other specific geometric and astronomic figures in the dimensions at Giza, that the site was chosen for its latitude accidentally. The same latitude was chosen by the Persians (Persopolis), The Sumerians, (Larsa), and the Tibetans (Lhasa) for their sacred centres.

 

 

The original Egyptian zodiac.

 

The Astronomical significance of the three small pyramids next to Khufu's pyramid.

In the common opinion of Egyptologists, the small pyramids next to the great pyramid of Khufu served as burial places for the relatives of the Pharaoh. Certain facts, which have not been previously considered, indicate that there is a chance that the pyramids — due to their ground plan arrangement — are not only burial places but also the components of a yearly calendar. Research by the Hungarian architect András Göczey has demonstrated that there are clear alignments between Khufu's pyramid and the three smaller burial pyramids of his relatives. The Basic Principles of the 'Khufu Calendar' are as follows:

 

Göczey has demonstrated that when the three smaller pyramids were complete, the apex's of their shadows would have cast a 'shadow point' on the Great pyramid at significant times of the year (The solstices and Equinoxes). The YouTube video above demonstrates the procedure in its basic form.

(Follow this link for a more detailed description of the Khufu Calendar)

(All credits and copyright to András Göczey)

 

 

 

   The Sothic Cycle:

According to ancient Egyptian mythology, after his death Osiris became the constellation Orion.

Astronomers later found many connections between the Orion constellation and the way ancient Egyptians built the Pyramids. For example, Orion's "belt" of three stars in the middle matches the arrangement of the three Pyramids on the Giza Strip (including the Great Pyramid), a feature also seen in both Chinese and South American pyramids. This idea first entered the public imagination in the 1970's by J.J Hurtak. (3), and was later revived by Graham Hancock.

In ancient Egypt, the rising of the star Sothis (Sirius, the "Dog Star") with the Sun in the summer foretold the annual flooding of the Nile River at the capital, Memphis. Egyptians found that the stars were more accurate over thousands of years than their solar calendar of 365 days. Because the Egyptian calendar did not have leap years, their year cycled through the seasons completely every 365 times 4, or 1460 years. This was known as a "Cycle of Sothis" because Sothis (Sirius) would rise with the Sun on the same day every 1460 years. Actually because of precession of the equinoxes and proper motion of Sirius the period was slightly less, but Egyptians found this cycle of 1460 years.

Although the Egyptians knew of this quarter-day error, they maintained their 365-day calendar for ceremonial reasons. Their year was divided into twelve 30-day months, followed by a five day feast period that was not considered lucky for any work. Over ancient Egypt's history of at least three thousand years, the months completely rotated through the seasons at least twice.

 

(More about Orion Worship in Prehistory)

(Archaeoastronomy)

(Ancient Egypt Homepage)

 

 

 

References:

1). I. Van Sertima. Journal of African Civilisations. Vol 12. Spring, 1994.
2). J. N. Lockyer. The Dawn of Astronomy. 1964. M.I.T. Press
3). J. J. Hurtak, The Book of Knowledge: The Keys of Enoch. Los Gatos: The Academy for Future Science, 1973.

 

 
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