Ancient egyptian astronomy
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Ancient Egyptian Astronomy - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Ancient Egyptian Astronomy. Some Historical Background. What Constituted Ancient Egypt. Timeline. 7500 BC: Earliest permanent settlements. 3100 BC: Early Dynastic, Egypt unified 2700-2150 BC: Old Kingdom 200-1750 BC: Middle Kingdom 1550-1050 BC: New Kingdom

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  • 7500 BC: Earliest permanent settlements.

  • 3100 BC: Early Dynastic, Egypt unified

  • 2700-2150 BC: Old Kingdom

  • 200-1750 BC: Middle Kingdom

  • 1550-1050 BC: New Kingdom

  • 1050-332 BC: 3rd Intermediate/Late Period

  • 332-30 BC: Ptolemaic Period

  • 30 BC: Roman Conquest

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Early Dynastic Period

  • Egypt grew out of a loose collection of farming villages, each with various traditions.

  • Villages formed alliances, creating kingdoms.

  • Egypt was finally unified around 3100 B.C.

  • The Early Dynastic Period was a time of internal consolidation. Other than for trading, there were no international aspirations.

  • Even in this early period, the features of pharonic were established.

  • The first stone buildings were constructed.

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Old Kingdom

  • The pyramid age.

  • Pharaohs considered divine.

  • Centralization of power in the pharaoh.

  • Concrete evidence of Egyptian presence beyond the Nile Valley in Lebanon and Sinai.

  • Huge advances in the fields of building, technology, writing, and art.

  • First funerary texts, which mention the stars.

  • Ended with a gradual decentralization of power that led to complete anarchy.

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Middle Kingdom

  • Emerged with the recentralization of power in the pharaoh, originally a local ruler from Thebes.

  • Never reached the heights of the Old Kingdom.

  • Pyramids were still built, although now with mud brick faced with stone.

  • With internal stability, Egypt expands South into Nubia (Sudan) for trading goods, especially gold. However, Nubia is not annexed and remains more of a colony.

  • Eventually, Northern Egypt is invaded by the Hyksos, who established themselves in the delta region at Avaris. Egyptians retained the South and were based in Thebes.

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New Kingdom

  • A reunified Egypt builds an true empire and annexes many conquered peoples.

  • No more pyramids, building now concentrates on temples and tombs in the Valley of the Kings.

  • Most of these gains are lost under the religious reformer/heretic pharaoh Akhenaten.

  • Successors to Akhenaten regain what was lost. Egypt peaks in influence under Ramesses the Great.

  • After Ramesses’ death, Egypt goes into a slow decline, with high priests eventually rivaling the pharaoh in power. Egypt splits internally, greatly weakening the country.

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Later Egypt

  • Egypt is no longer the dominant power in the region.

  • Characterized by brief resurgences and periods of foreign domination.

  • Last native pharaoh, Nectanebo II flees into exile in 343 BC after losing a major battle to the Persians.

  • Alexander the Great conquers Egypt in 332 BC. Descendants of his general, Ptolemy, establish a line of Greek pharaohs, who increasingly come under the influence of Rome.

  • With the Roman conquest in 30 BC, Egypt ceases to be a sovereign nation.

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  • Egyptians were farmers.

  • To anticipate the Nile, which flooded annually, Egyptians needed a calendar.

  • Measuring flood depth was helpful for anticipating the growing season.

  • With just the right amount of water, the flood would deposit a thick layer of nutrient- rich Nile mud.

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Telling Time of Day

  • 24 hour days. Sundials during daylight

  • For night, divided the path along the ecliptic into 36 groups of stars called decans, which rise about 40 minutes apart.

  • Called decans because first helical risings of each decan are about 10 days apart.

  • The Egyptian hours were lengthened/shortened so that day/night would always be 12 hours.

  • This was done for religious reasons so that rituals could be done by the hour.

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The Egyptian Calendar

  • 365 day year.

  • New year started with the first helical rising of Sirius, more importance of Sirius later.

  • 10 day weeks, 36 weeks in a year.

  • 12 lunar months of 30 days.

  • 5 extra days to make lunar and solar calendars align.

  • 3 seasons: Inundation: Jul.-Oct. (Nile flooded), Sowing : Nov.-Feb (planting crops), Dry: Mar.-Jun. (harvesting).

  • It is believed that the monuments were built during inundation, when the fields were flooded.

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Calendar Problems

  • The approximate ¼ day left over was discounted.

  • No leap years.

  • After every four years, the calendar would be about a day off.

  • In 100 years, the calendar would be about 25 days off. A complete cycle was 1460 years.

  • This 1460 year cycle was called a “Sothic Cycle,” after Sirius, “Sothis” in Greek.

  • In time, the calendar alone was useless for predicting the Nile’s movements.

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Not to Fear…

  • Sirius, visually the brightest star, could also be used to predict the Nile.

  • Shortly after the helical rising of Sirius, just ahead of the Sun, the Nile flooded. Because of precession, this is no longer accurate.

  • As a result, Sirius became important, eventually becoming associated with the goddess Isis, goddess of among other things, rebirth. This becomes important later.

  • The Nile flood leads to rebirth of the land.

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The Dog Days of Summer

  • We have the Egyptians to thank for this phrase.

  • Every summer, Sirius becomes invisible when it moves into the glare of the Sun.

  • Thinking the bright Dog Star lent it’s heat to the sun, the Egyptians coined the term “Dog Days of Summer” to describe the hottest period of the year.

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  • Tombs started off simple and became increasingly complex, culminating in the pyramids.

  • The earliest pyramids were stepped, creating a staircase to heaven.

  • The Step Pyramid is 200 feet tall and almost 5000 years old. It also has 3 ½ miles of tunnels underneath.

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The Giza Pyramids

  • Oldest and only surviving member of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World.

  • The Great Pyramid is almost 500 feet tall, has a base of 13 acres, contains about 2.3 million blocks weighing an average of 2.5 tons each.

  • More interesting are the architectural features, which may have astronomical significance.

  • The other pyramids are “only” 450 and 215 feet tall.

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More Mythology

  • The Southern facing “air shafts” point to Sirius, associated with Isis and to Orion, associated with the god of death/rebirth, Osiris.

  • The Northern shafts point to circumpolar stars Alpha Draco and Kochab, more on this later.

  • The circumpolar stars were called “The Immortals” because they never set.

  • Sirius and Orion equate to rebirth.

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More Pyramid Astronomy

  • All pyramids are orientated to the four cardinal directions.

  • The Great Pyramid is closest, being less than 1/20th of a degree (3 arc minutes) off of true North.

  • Perhaps done by looking at the Immortals.

  • There was no North Star, the Celestial Pole was a point directly between Mizar and Kochab.

  • When these stars were vertical of each other, true North was indicated.

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Later Pyramids

  • Stars remained important to a lesser degree.

  • Ancient texts still mention the king’s spirit stellar journey.

  • However, architects would not take the trouble to construct shafts pointing at the stars after the Great Pyramid.

  • Quality of construction declined.

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The Valley of the Kings

  • By this time, the sun was the central symbol of rebirth.

  • Although less important than before, stars were still depicted in tombs.

  • Astronomical ceilings often depicted constellations and the hours of the day as seen by Egyptians.

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Obelisks, Stone Sun Pillars?

  • Tall pillars carved from a single stone, often capped with Gold and dedicated to the sun god, Ra.

  • Coincidently, as Ra rose in importance, stellar associations lessened.

  • This transition started taking place shortly after completion of the Great Pyramid

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Celestial Alignment

  • Built by Ramesses II, known as “The Great,” this temple not only has statues 70 feet tall in the front, but extends almost 200 feet into the mountain.

  • Despite its vast size, the temple is aligned so that on the 20th of October and February, the sun shines into the inner sanctuary.

  • According to legend, one of these dates is Ramesses’ birth or coronation day.

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An Astronomical Achievement

  • At a cost of $80 million at the time, the two temples at Abu Simbel were dismantled from 1964-8, moved up 200 and back 600 feet to escape the rising Nile, caused by construction of the Aswan High Dam.

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At A Glance

  • Like many other ancient societies, the Egyptians first became interested in astronomy for practical purposes.

  • As civilization progressed, people began to attach deeper meanings to objects in the night sky.

  • More than anything else, architecture embodies the astronomical knowledge of Ancient Egypt.

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When reading about Ancient Egypt, especially works of a speculative nature, be on the lookout for…


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…Bologna… speculative nature, be on the lookout for…

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…Cheesy Theories Filled With Holes… speculative nature, be on the lookout for…

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…and Loony Toons speculative nature, be on the lookout for…

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Getting Serious speculative nature, be on the lookout for…

  • There is a lot of outlandish, recklessly speculative material on Ancient Egypt.

  • Often, authors take a quite reasonable theory or genuine unknown and transform it into something completely unrecognizable.

  • These books make a good read, but shouldn’t be taken too seriously.

  • Speculative authors often completely ignore any evidence that contradicts their theories.

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Pyramids have been… speculative nature, be on the lookout for…

  • Encoded ancient mathematics.

  • Repositories for lost, ancient knowledge.

  • The Biblical grain storehouses of Joseph.

  • Prophecies in stone.

  • Built by survivors from Atlantis.

  • Built by aliens.

  • Power plants.

  • Weapons of mass destruction (not kidding!)‏

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Yeah Right… speculative nature, be on the lookout for…