Egyptian Art and Astronomy
The Egyptians are fascinating for their vast history, which stretches to before 4000 B.C. During the reign of several dynasties, the civilization of ancient Egypt erected some of the most impressive monuments ever created in the history of mankind. The majority of building occured during the reign of Ramses II, and his monuments to himself crowd the banks of the Nile river and speak to us through the ages.
The pyramids of Giza are the most famous of the egyptian monuments. These pyramids have some astronomical alignments, which are discussed in the book "In search of ancient astronomy" by E.C. Krupp. One of the most prominent is the alignment with the upper culmination of Thuban and one of the passageways in the pyramid. A small vent in the pyramid, only a few inches across, aligns nearly perfectly with the uppermost locations of Thuban, allowing the light of this star to illuminate the inner recesses of the burial chamber. During the time the pyramid was built, Thuban was the closest star to the north celestial pole, and probably represented the power of the pharaoh.
In addition to the alignment with Thuban, the belt of Orion appears to have a good alignment with a small passageway on the opposite side of the pyramid. The passageway appears to align nearly perfectly with the center of the three belt stars. These stars are associated with the god Osirus, lord of the underworld. By allowing the light to illuminate the center of the chamber, it probably was thought to bring protection to the pharoh during his passage to the underworld.
The star Sirius also played a vary important role for the Egyptians, and was and the Egyptians carefully watched for its appearance at dawn and its disappearance at night. Sirius was associated with the goddess Isis, and a third passageway connecting the queen's burial chamber with the outside has recently been shown to align with the culmination of Sirius. The period between the heliacal rising and settings of Sirius, 70 days, appears to have great importance in funereal ceremonies, as this time is when Sirius is journeying into the underworld. This disappearance of Sirius was observed in funeral rites by observing a period of seventy days between the arrival of the body at the embalming house, and its burial. The reappearance of Sirius at dawn in late summer coincided with the beginning of the rising waters of the Nile, and symbolized the renewal of life on earth, just as the disappearance symbolized death.
Below are a series of images of cultural and astronomical significance for the Egyptians.
from p.235 of In Search of the Ancient Astronomers, this image presents a cross section of the Giza Pyramid and shows the alignments with Thuban and Orion.
A Precession of Gods
Here we see a precession of Gods, which are heavily associated with astronomical symbolism. The precession accompanies the moon as it travels in its boat across the waters of the sky. The Egyptians naturally had a large amount of water imagery in their sky lore, and their legends.
(below) an Egyptian map of the sky, showing a large variety of constellations represented by dieties.