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Margaret Wendall: The Ramesside Starclock

Margaret Wendall: The Ramesside Starclock

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Published by: Gérôme Taillandier on Jun 23, 2013
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The RamessideStar Clocks
Ive been attempting for some time to discern whichstars might be represented on what are commonly knownas the Ramesside Star Clocks. The monuments stud-ied include two sets of diagrams on the tomb of RamessesVI (A and B, 1148-1138 BCE, Dynasty XX), the tomb of Ramesses VII (C, 1138-1137 BCE, Dynasty XX), andthe tomb of Ramesses IX (D, 1130-1111 BCE, DynastyXX). All these tombs are located in the Valley of the Kings at Luxor, at 26.25° north latitude. Theprimary sources I studied are
Egyptian Astronomical Texts
, Vol. II: The Ramesside Star Clocks, byOtto Neugebauer and Richard Parker (Brown University Press, 1964), and Astronomical and Astro-logical Inscriptions on Ancient Egyptian Monuments by Heinrich Brugsch, translated in serial for-mat by Joseph Miller in
(Griffith Observatory, 1978-1980). Part 18 of the GriffithObserver series is devoted to the Ramesside star clocks.The star clocks are diagrams of the positions of stars relative to the overhead meridian at thir-teen positions on twenty four dates during the year, the first and sixteenth days of each of thetwelve Egyptian months. The epacts  the five days outside the year  are not counted, andthere is no table for the end of the 360-day Egyptian year. The star clocks begin at the top row of hieroglyphics and the accompanying star in the grid. The hieroglyphic give the Egyptian month anddate, the name of a star and its position relative to the body of the astronomers assistant, such as over his heart. Each row of hieroglyphics then begins with the hour of the night, followed by thestar name and position. The diagram shown here differs from most in that it only has twelve rowsfor the hours. In it, either the first row is for the first hour, and the end of twilight is not counted,or there is a row missing, for the second row states that the information is for the second hour of night.There are many discrepancies in the diagrams of the four tombs being studied. Just for the onestar we know with reasonable certainty, Sirius, we find the following:Sirius shows up in two positions in Table 3 for Hour 11 in the tomb of Ramesses VI. This is similarto the star in hour four of the chart above, and could possibly have been noted because of theimportance of the star and the fact that a star will cross the meridian at slightly different times indifferent years due to the length of the day which is not exactly 24 hours. The Egyptians observedthe heliacal rising of Sirius at different times in reference to the Sun in each of the years of a leapyear cycle.The right ascension of the overhead meridian in the above data is based on twilight beginningand ending when the Sun is depressed 12°. The dates are two days prior to those given by Neugebauer
and Parker for the epoch 1500 BCE . They present a valid argument for the Egyptians having usedthis earlier date, even though the tombs were constructed in the twelfth century BCE, namely, theEgyptian religion was relatively static and change of any kind was unwelcome. The overhead me-ridian for each of the twelve hours of night was determined by dividing the period between the endof evening twilight and the start of morning twilight, based on the Suns depression, by twelve. Theobservers latitude of 26.25° north latitude, and obliquity of the ecliptic were considered in thecalculations. The overhead meridian at midnight, the end of hour six, was checked against the rightascension of midnight at vernal equinox. I calculated the position of Sirius in 1500 BCE to havebeen 04h11m18.5s right ascension, 62.83 decimal degrees, -18°1037" declination.In his article, The Earliest History of the Constellations in the Near East and the Motif of theLion-Bull Combat, in
 Journal of Near Eastern Studies
(Vol. XXIV, No. 1-2, 1965), Willy Hartnerpresented several planispheric sky maps for the year 4000 BCE. To double check my own work onproper motion and precession, I duplicated Hartners work within a second of arc, and my mapsshow the stars in the same positions. Therefore, I am confident that my coordinates for Sirius in1500 BCE are reasonably accurate. Any discrepancy between my figures and Hartners would begreater the further back one goes in time.By using the methods described above, I have five hits out of six positions for Sirius in theRamesside star clocks. There are several reasons why I dont have all six hits. First, the means of observing used by the Egyptians led to errors. The means used to determinethe end of an hour was a water clock with variations depending on the seasons. An hour of nightwas longer in winter than in summer. Observations were done by an astronomer using a plumb lineto measure the position of a star over the body of an assistant - over his left shoulder, his heart,etc., as shown in the diagram on page one. The astronomer sat facing the north pole, which was notmarked by a bright star in 1500 BCE. I question whether any two individuals could have sat in
the same position for each of the times measured in the twenty four diagrams, or 312sightings.Next, the extant star clocks are in tombs, not in what might pass for scientific documentation.Jerome Lettvin in The Gorgons Eve (
Technology Review 
, Vol. 80, No. 6, 1978, made the observa-tion that the Egyptians had some truly scientific astronomical equipment, but the documentationwas like a Dr. Seuss book. There are many noticeable errors in various examples we have of 
TheBook of Coming Forth by Day 
, such as entire sections that have been omitted. The artists whopainted the diagrams of the Ramesside star clocks may have made outright errors because theywere artists, not astronomers, or they could have even painted nice designs without any regard foraccuracy. (I believe the former, not the latter, is the case.) The purpose of the star clocks was toguide the deceased on his path toward immortality. However, the star clock illustration whichappears in many places has an error: there should be thirteen rows for the hours, and there areonly twelve.All of this must be reckoned with in order to have the star clocks work as they should. Ive begunto decipher them. Breaking the code of Sirius was the first step. The next step is to determinewhich stars fit into which asterisms, and these are undoubtedly unfamiliar to us. Fortunately, thereis some help available. Richard Hinckley Allen in
Star Names: Their Lore and Meaning
(Dover,1963), provides the following hints:Sahu = OrionSent, Set, Sothis = SiriusHippopotamus (Reret?) = part of DracoThigh = Ursa Major (or Cassiopeia)Deer = CassiopeiaMena, Menat = contains Arcturus and Antares and covers over one fourth of the skyMany Stars = Coma BerenicesArit=
AndromedaeFleece = some stars in AriesGoose (Bird?) =
Arietis.Khu/Khau= PleiadesCynocephalus = AraServant, or Jackal = PegasusTwo Stars = Castor and PolluxLute Bearer, or Repa = Spica.

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