You are on page 1of 20

Ancient Egyptian Astronomy:

Ursa MajorSymbol of Rejuvenation


Abstract and southern skies of the Earths Northern Hemi-

The constellation of Ursa Major became a major sphere as seen from Egypt. In these heavenly bodies,
metaphor in the religious and agricultural lives of the Egyptians envisioned many of their spiritual be-
both Predynastic and Dynastic Egyptians. Evidence ings, and most of the major Egyptian deities have
from astronomy, the Pyramid Texts, and tomb and some relationship with the sky and the movements of
coffin imagery, plus the ethnographic parallels of- the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars. It is well estab-
fered by contemporary Sudanese tribal cultures lished that Egyptian eschatology focused on the heav-
demonstrate the complex and multilayered symbolic ens, particularly on the northern sky and those stars
meanings that Ursa Major inspired for both priestly and constellations that remained above the horizon
and farming classes. It was related to the concept of
during their diurnal rotation around the polar center.
the ka, the Opening of the Mouth ceremony, and the
To the Egyptians, these circumpolar stars represented
Nile inundation, and thus was a potent symbol of
rejuvenation, perhaps from as early as the beginning the souls of dead kings immortalized in the region of
of the Predynastic, ca. 4000 B.C.E. the Imperishable Stars, and many references from the
This article is a speculative exploration of the Pyramid Texts to the king as a star, generally
multiple meanings implied by the shape of Ursa (Faulkner 1969),1 or as a star among the Imperishable
Major, drawing on Egyptian astronomy, ethnogra- Stars (Faulkner 1969),2 indicate that this belief was
phy from the Sudan, and the agricultural cycle of among the earliest eschatological beliefs of at least
ancient Egypt. the priestly and royal elites of Dynastic Egypt.
People in the agricultural sector of Egyptian soci-
ety, probably from the earliest Predynastic times, also
The Stars in Ancient Egypt looked to the stars for information they needed for
In many ways, ancient Egyptian religion was a collec- successful planting and harvesting. Unlike their Near
tion of stellar beliefs incorporating the obvious heav- Eastern neighbors from Canaan and Mesopotamia,
enly bodies of the Sun, Moon, the five recognized they did not experience the storms, thunder, lightning,
planets, and a number of constellations in the northern and other weather phenomena usually invested with

Joan Relke is currently an Honorary Research Associate with the School of Classics, History and Religion, Division of Studies in Religion,
at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. Her research focuses on Middle Eastern and South Asian Neolithic and early historic
religious imagery and iconography. Of particular interest are the implications of iconography for domestic and agricultural rituals.

Allan D. Ernest is currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow in science education within the School of Education, Faculty of
Health Education and Professional Studies at the University of New England, Armidale, Australia. He has been associated with the
university for the past 20 years, predominantly undertaking research in the area of atomic and molecular physics. He also has an interest
in astronomical research, particularly the applications of quantum physics to astronomy and cosmology, and teaches astronomy to
students enrolled in the relevant courses within the universitys distance education program.

by the University of Texas Press, P.O. Box 7819, Austin, TX 78713-7819 VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 64
spiritual importance. And the Sun, perhaps suitable
for a symbol of absolute, all-seeing, reliable author-
ity, hardly nourished agricultural life in its annual
cycle, as it brought intense heat and drought just at the
time of year when the Nile was at its lowest, com-
pounding the difficulties of having limited water:
The sun . . . was . . . a destructive force and an enemy
of farmers. Rather it was the Nile that was recognized
as the source of cosmic good will. . . . The sun was
respected for its power, but the Nile was the real ruler
of Egypt (Krupp 1984:187).3
The star we know as Sirius, rather than the Sun,
marked the beginning of the Egyptian lunar calendar
(Depuydt 1997:17) and agricultural year, for its heli-
cal rising in early July heralded the imminent inunda-
tion of the Nile after a three-month period of low
water, blistering summer heat, and accompanying
drought. In addition to Sirius, the constellation of
Ursa Major may have also functioned as an agricul-
tural symbol but had added eschatological signifi-
cance, and the following discussion explores the
possible significance of its observed behavior for both
priest and farmer.
FIGURE 1. Detail from the northern sky, region of the Imper-
ishable Stars. Tomb of Senmut ca. 1473 B.C.E. (adapted from
The Foreleg and the Opening of the Mouth
Neugebauer and Parker 1969b:Plate 1).
That part of Ursa Major, otherwise known to us as the
Big Dipper or the Plow,4 was known to the ancient
Egyptians as the Foreleg, or Meskhetiu (Neugebauer
and Parker 1969a:189; Parker 1974:51, 61). Depicted number of other lesser spiritual beings commonly
on Middle Kingdom coffins as a bulls foreleg, in the depicted in other similar tomb and coffin illustrations
New Kingdom, Meskhetiu appears as a bull, in full or and represented as a lion, a crocodile, and a man.5 In
part, in the tomb and coffin illustrations of the con- the full illustrations of the northern sky, human and
stellations of the northern sky of Earths Northern therianthrophic figures representing the 30 days of the
Hemisphere (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:183) lunar month (Neugebauer and Parker 1969:34) line
(Figure 1). In the Late and Ptolemaic periods, the up beside the principal deities on the left and right.
shape of Meskhetiu reverts to a bulls leg or a bull- The illustrations of the northern sky accompanied
headed leg (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:68, 188, several Egyptian kings, nobles, and well-off com-
1969b:Plates 26, 50). moners on the north or west ceilings of their tombs or
Figure 1, a section from the ceiling illustration on the right inside of their coffin lids. They also
from Senmuts tomb (ca. 1473 B.C.E., Dynasty 18), appear on temple ceilings and water clocks (Clagett
depicts the arrangement of deities and constellations 1995:106127).
envisioned by the Dynastic Egyptians to occupy the The central constellations of the northern sky today
northern sky. Meskhetiu is situated at the top. The revolve around the pole star, Polaris, situated at the tip
accompanying deities include Anu, the sacrificer; of the handle of the Little Dipper, or Ursa Minor. At
Hippo, a presiding deity; Isis, standing behind Hippo; the time of the ancient Egyptians, and prior to the
Serket, a goddess standing beside Meskhetiu; and a beginning of the Predynastic period, ca. 4000 B.C.E.,6

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 65

FIGURE 3. Revolution and shape of Ursa Major. Egypt 2500

FIGURE 2. Ursa Major in the Egyptian northern sky. Sunrise

October 28, 2500 B.C.E. (SkyGlobe image). represents the northern horizon. Every two hours,
Ursa Major changed direction significantly. This il-
lustration shows Ursa Major at six four-hour intervals
these constellations revolved around a blank center on October 30, 2500 B.C.E. To an earthly observer, it
circumscribed by Ursa Major (Figure 2). Figure 2 appeared to remain, more or less, in each position for
depicts Ursa Major in the northern sky as seen from about one hour, but of course, in reality, it moved
Upper Egypt in 2500 B.C.E., early in Egyptian Dynas- constantly, revolving once per day.
tic history. The illustration comes from a computer The other constellations represented by deities in
simulation of the northern sky of the Northern Hemi- Figure 1 revolved with Ursa Major. Unfortunately, it
sphere and depicts Ursa Major as an enclosed ladle- is not possible to determine which actual star forma-
shaped constellation.7 The straight line running tions gave shape to these deities, for we recognize
through Figure 2 represents the horizon to the north, only three of Egypts star patterns to this day: the
and Ursa Major can be seen above the horizon. The constellations of Ursa Major and Orion and the star
curved line represents the ecliptic, the path the Sun Sirius.9 Only Ursa Major, Meskhetiu, is located in the
appears to take across the sky, and along which the northern sky.
constellations of our zodiac are arranged and the To the ancient Egyptians, the circumpolar stars and
planets revolve. Other constellations are shown in the entities they represented were immortal. In the
outline only. Their names are not included here, as Pyramid Texts, one of the several eschatologies de-
they would complicate the illustration, detracting scribes the dead king as a star in this region, continu-
from the major concern here, Ursa Major. ing his existence as an immortal star, as mentioned
In 2500 B.C.E., and for at least 2,000 years before above. In other eschatologies, as an immortal spirit,
and after that, each day Ursa Major revolved around he accompanies Re, the sun god, in his solar bark;10
the blank center, never disappearing below the hori- becomes an Osiris, the Foremost of Westerners,
zon (Figure 3).8 Of course, the constellation could not below the western horizon;11 or goes to Orion.12 As
be seen during daylight, but at night it constituted the the theology of death advances during the Dynastic
central constellation of this part of the sky. Figure 3 period, all these eschatologies become fused together,
shows the pattern made by Ursa Major as it revolved and the king becomes Osiris as well as an immortal
around the polar center. Once again, the straight line spirit traveling with Re along the ecliptic.

a bark with legs wide apart and holding a was scepter.
The earliest surviving record of the constellations of
the northern sky and the decans comes from the First
Intermediate Period coffins of Heny, Dynasty 11,
21342199 B.C.E. (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:8).
However, the characteristic form of Orion as Osiris
can be identified from a fragment from the Old
Kingdom funerary temple of Djedkare-Isei (Eaton-
Krauss 1987:234), suggesting that the myths and
traditions associated with the illustrations of the
northern and southern skies go back at least to the fifth
The Imperishable Stars of the northern sky and the
decanal belt form the two major astronomical regions
of the Egyptian night sky. The Egyptians recognized
that the Sun and the planets follow a path across the
ORION/OSIRIS sky, but they did not recognize any constellations
along the ecliptic, as did the Babylonians and later the
JUPITER Greeks. As the Greeks increasingly came to influence
Egypt in the later phases of the Dynastic period, these
FIGURE 4. Orion as Osiris and Sopdet as Isis on the decanal belt constellations, familiar to us as the zodiac, became
from the tomb of Pedamenope ca. 560 B.C.E. (adapted from incorporated into the Egyptian system to form a third
Neugebauer and Parker 1969b:Plate 18). band of constellations in the night sky. The merger of
these two systems can be best observed in the illustra-
tion on the ceiling of the Hathor Temple at Dendera
Complementary to the northern sky illustrations (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:7885), although it
are those of the southern sky (Figure 4), which appear also appears inside coffin lids.13
opposite the northern sky on the left inside of coffin Also depicted in mortuary iconography is the fore-
lids or on the opposite side of the ceiling, the south or leg of a sacrificed bull, an important offering made to
east side (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:15). The the king or Osiris and frequently found in tomb
star formations chosen by the Egyptians from the illustrations either among the many funerary offer-
southern sky compose the decanal belta belt of 36 ings or as a single offering (Figure 5). In Figure 5, the
stars and constellations (Neugebauer and Parker judgment scene from the Book of the Dead, a single
1969a:2), which lies nearly parallel to and south of the foreleg is offered to Osiris, who presides over the
ecliptic (Neugebauer and Parker 1960:99100; ritual. A foreleg is also mentioned in the Pyramid
Parker 1978:712713). Figure 4 comprises the cen- Texts as a mortuary offering14 or as the desired food in
tral part of the illustrations of the decanal belt, with the afterlife.15 The shape of Ursa Major suggested to
a range of deities and planets lined up on both sides, the Egyptians the shape of this foreleg, when depicted
to the east and west. Although the planets can be as an offering, and Figure 6 shows how Ursa Major in
identified (in Figure 4 Jupiter stands behind Isis), only a certain position parallels the shape of the foreleg
two of these star patterns can be identified: the con- seen in the offering to Osiris.16 The ladle on the left
stellation of Orion and the star Sirius (Neugebauer and the bends in the handle of the constellation
and Parker 1960:97). In these stars, the Egyptians mirror the form of the foreleg offering. That the
envisaged Osiris in Orion and Isis in Sirius, known to Egyptians thought of Meskhetiu as a foreleg, perhaps
them as Sopdet. Rather than in his typical mummy the foreleg of Seth cut off by Horus and placed in the
form, Osiris here appears as a male figure standing in northern sky where Hippo holds it (Neugebauer and

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 67

FIGURE 5. Mortuary offering of a single foreleg to Osiris. From FIGURE 6. Comparison of the shape of the foreleg to Ursa
the Book of the Dead of Naun ca. 1000 B.C.E. (adapted from Major, as seen by the ancient Egyptians. Viewing from Qena,
Westendorf 1968:203). Egypt, October 28, 2500 B.C.E., at 5:30 A.M. (Starry Night

Parker 1969:190 191), suggests that they saw Ursa To the Egyptians, the bull had spiritual and politi-
Major a little differently than we do, that is, with a cal meaning transcending its material function as a
longer handle to accommodate the lower part of the food source. The Apis, Mnevis, and Buchis bulls
leg.17 Our perception of Ursa Major suggests the represented the power of the high gods Ptah, Re, and
foreleg up to the knee. The Egyptians may have Mont, respectively. The bull also represented the
perceived Meskhetiu extended to further stars, per- mediated power of the high gods on Earth through the
haps Lambda Botis and/or Nekkar, which are ideally king, and the iconography on the obverse side of the
situated to complete the foreleg.18 Narmer Palette associates the bull with one of the
Returning to Figure 1, in the northern sky illustra- earliest kings, Narmer. One epithet assigned to Egyp-
tions, Meskhetiu is sometimes found in the shape of an tian kings was victorious bull (Gardiner 1957:51,
abstracted bull with horns, as in Senmuts tomb, but 597).
at other times it appears as a complete bull, as in Setis The Egyptian word for bull was ka. This word
tomb (Figure 7). Thus, the offering version (Figure 5) has the same sound as the word used for one of the
more closely resembles the actual shape of the con- three spiritual essences possessed by each human
stellation (Figure 6). This departure from depicting being, particularly by the king: the ka, the akh, and the
Meskhetiu as a foreleg, as in Middle Kingdom stellar ba. The ka of the king was thought to survive bodily
clock illustrations (Parker 1974:54, 1978:712), sug- death but was believed still to require nourishment in
gests additional meanings. The abstracted bull or a the afterlife. The rituals commemorating the dead
fully illustrated bull implies the whole animal along king involved several methods of supplying the ka
with meanings, inclusive of, yet wider than, meanings with sustenance: rituals performed during the mortu-
at first implied by a single leg. ary feast; food inclusions in the tomb; spells and

FIGURE 7. Detail from the northern sky, region of the Imperishable Stars. Tomb of Seti 1 ca. 1300 B.C.E. (adapted from Neugebauer
and Parker 1969b:Plate 3).

sacrifices made during the mortuary ceremony; sacri- into one significant part of the animals anatomy, as
fices and offerings made to a statue of the king (the ka indicated by its frequent central role in the iconogra-
statue); and the magical ability of written spells and phy of mortuary offerings.
illustrations lining the walls of the tomb to provide The question is, Why did the foreleg alone come
food eternally.19 to stand for the temporal and spiritual power inherent
The word ka, written as a pair of upheld or out- or symbolized by the entire beast? Perhaps the shape
stretched arms, forms the basis for a number of words of Ursa Major suggested the shape of the foreleg and
whose meanings are associated with life and vitality: hence the entire animal, but very possibly the bulls
food (kaw), vagina (kat), pregnant woman (bkat), new foreleg already had special meaning to the Egyptians,
construction (kat), and bull (ka), as well as the vital, perhaps even prior to the rise of the Dynastic state. For
animating, soul-like force that inhabits the ka statue insight into this possibility, it might be useful to reach
(Faulkner 1988:283; Gardiner 1957:597; Gordon beyond ancient Egypt, for example, into contempo-
1996:3334). This soul-like force was not re- rary cultures living a lifestyle similar to that of the
stricted to human beings. It was extended to the entire Predynastic Egyptians.
natural world (Gordon 1996:32), including bulls Archaeologists often utilize an ethnographic paral-
perhaps especially bulls, considering their symbolic lel (ethnoarchaeology) to identify possible meanings
relationship to the king. Therefore, the relationship of and uses for prehistoric and ancient artifacts where
the word ka to mean bull and the word ka to mean textual information is limited or absent. This tech-
soul or spirit (Faulkner 1988:283) may be more nique involves identifying one or more suitable con-
than homonymous, as Gordon (1996) suggests. For temporary cultures that exhibit a significant resem-
the purposes of this discussion, the possible coinci- blance or connection to the past culture in question.20
dence of meaning will be explored. The parallel serves as an analogy to help explain
If the sacrificial bull and the ka as a spiritual entity certain past phenomena rather than provides hard
or quality are related, then it seems that the single evidence and proof: Useful models developed . . .
foreleg, as part of the sacrificial bull (ka), came to from the insights gained from ethnoarchaeology will
represent or condense the spiritual power of the bull likely not be in the form of absolutes, but rather in the

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 69

form of probabilities. . . . (Atherton 1983:98). To go to the next important members of the clan, and the
understand the spiritual or symbolic importance of the rest of the animal and accompanying wei is distrib-
bull in the earliest Egyptian culture, both Pre- and uted to others.
Early Dynastic, contemporary African tribal cultures, For both Nuer and Dinka people, the bull is meta-
particularly those from Sudan, have provided useful phorically related to their high gods, Kwoth Nhial and
parallels recently (Gordon and Schwabe 1995; Nhialic aciek, respectively. These high gods are most
Lobban and Sprague 1997; Schwabe and Gordon eloquently expressed by the majestic and gracefully
1988) and in the past (Baumgartel 1955:81, upswept horns of the bull, and both Nuer and Dinka
1970:493; Frankfort 1948:162168), and are here boys dance with their arms raised in the air to repre-
utilized again.21 sent the horns of the bull and hence their own relation-
The concentration of the spiritual essence of the ships, through the bull, with their high gods (Evans-
bull into one of its legs is a belief held today by the Pritchard 1956:4, 250251; Lienhardt 1961:1618).
Sudanese Nilotic African peoples. Until recently, The Egyptian ka, written as a pair of upraised arms,
these people, specifically the Dinka (Lienhardt 1961) perhaps signified the upraised horns of a bull as well
and Nuer (Evans-Pritchard 1956), inhabited a culture (Gordon 1996:33), the animal containing the most
very similar in many ways to that of the Predynastic spiritual power, wei, which is most concentrated in its
Egyptians. Probably the most startling coincidence right hind leg.
between the ancient Egyptians and the Nuer people is Evidence directly from Egyptian culture similarly
the institution of the Leopard-Skin priest.22 The indi- demonstrates a profound spiritual significance attrib-
vidual occupying this position in each culture wears a uted to a bulls foreleg. Illustrations depict the sever-
leopard skin as a garment and acts as a functionary in ing of the foreleg even from a live animal, often a calf
the groups rituals. (Weigall 1915). The scene from the Opening of the
The Dinka people of Sudan believe in a spiritual Mouth ceremony of Henefer shows a distraught cow
essence similar to the concept of the ka, which is also following her calf, whose left foreleg has been re-
expressed through the bull, particularly through its cently severed, with the stump dripping blood onto
legs (Lienhardt 1961:24). In Dinka philosophy, the the floor. Immediately in front of the calf and cow,
abstract notion of life as wei is sometimes translated two attendants rush the freshly severed foreleg to the
as soul or spirit (Lienhardt 1961:206207). Wei can ceremony.23 Human witnesses of accidental sudden
be augmented or decreased and is measured by the dismemberment have reported the short-term invol-
strength, health, and vigor expressed by the indi- untary spasms of severed limbs, and the foreleg, in
vidual. The bull, as a figure of vitality, fertility, and such a spasm, could have indicated to the Egyptians
strength, has more wei than a human does. Through the presence of the ka force in the limb, thus necessi-
mortuary rituals, the Dinka strive to preserve the wei tating the immediate transportation of the twitching
of their chief spiritual leaders, the Masters of the limb to the Opening of the Mouth ritual (Gordon and
Fishing Spear, thereby displaying similar beliefs and Schwabe 1995).
rituals to the Egyptians concept of and preservation A similar belief and practice exists among the
of the kings ka. In Dinka sacrifices, the right hind leg Dinka. The clan divinity of the Masters of the Fishing
is thought to be the most powerful in wei, and it is Spear clan is called Ring, which translates as flesh,
distributed to the sacrificers maternal kin (Lienhardt and represents the spiritual force in living flesh
1961:24). Despite the patrilineal nature of Dinka (Lienhardt 1961:108). The specialists in their sacri-
society, Dinka women are regarded as the life bring- fices consume the raw, trembling flesh of the bovine
ers, for, through marrying into an unrelated family, sacrifice in an attempt to replenish their own Ring
they bring bridewealth to the family they are leaving, (Gordon and Schwabe 1995:68). This practice must
paid by the husband, and new life through their have been particularly unpleasant for both Dinka and
children (Lienhardt 1961:9, 127129). The remain- Egyptian sacrificial animals, as some of the Egyptian
ing legs, as lesser but still powerful possessors of wei, illustrations show the distress of the calfs mother,

bellowing in mourning.24 Anyone who has heard a (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:185, Figure 28).
cows distressed call to her separated calf will know These various posts take a number of forms: a long
this tortured sound. The foreleg must have been a obelisk or spike, a short spike or post, a short peg, and
prized ka offering to elicit such a drastic and extreme a vertical crocodile. Hippo often holds the short peg
ritual. and crocodile with her front paws.
The bulls foreleg, as implied in the illustrations This presiding deity, however, is not Taweret.
of the northern sky by the complete or partial Sometimes she is called Isis, sometimes Ipy, or sim-
animal (Figure 1), is the focus of a scene that ply the Great One or the Great Hippopotamus
probably represents the sacrifice of a bull at the (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:190191). The fact
mortuary ceremony of the deceased king or noble that Isis, as Sopdet, is in the southern sky indicates the
contained in the tomb or coffin.25 The immortal flexibility with which the Egyptians interpreted the
stars occupy the Opfergefilde, or sacrificial celestial world, but more important, here, Isis as
realm, in the northern sky (Krauss 1997:121). The presiding deity over the mortuary sacrifice and the
animal appears attached to a tether, which is in turn procurement of the foreleg as a ka offering indicates
secured to a pole, or here, an elongated pyramid or her principal role as rejuvenator of Osiris and the king
obelisk, as mentioned in the passages from the as an Osiris.
Pyramid Texts concerning a mooring post.26 The The mooring post could represent a tethering peg to
mooring post, or posts, seems to be the pivot upon which the sacrificial bull is constrained prior to and
which Ursa Major as a foreleg, here symbolized by during the sacrifice. Once again, typical contempo-
Meskhetiu as an abstracted bull, circles the center rary Sudanese Nilotic practice suggests this use. Both
of the region of the Imperishable Stars. This post, the Nuer and Dinka tribes of southern Sudan conduct
at the very center of the universe, functions as a their sacrifices at modest shrines consisting of a raised
kind of axis mundi in the sky, the spiritual center mound or a collection of small mounds, supplanted or
around which all else revolves. It is the firm, im- accompanied by a forked branch and a tethering peg,
movable point, securing the revolving sky to its to which the beast is tied while the invocations take
immortal center. Though invisible, nevertheless, it place (Figure 8). Figure 8 is a drawing of the Dinka
holds the Meskhetiu in place, preventing its travel spear masters shrine, and the tethering peg appears
among the gods or sinking upside down into the central to the shrine, which incorporates small
Duat (Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:191) while it mounds and a forked stick. In some cases, only a peg
moves through its diurnal cycle, appearing to be at forms the shrine (Lienhardt 1961:259). The forked
the center of activity enacted in the scene. branch functions as the axis mundi, connecting
Holding on to the mooring post in some illustra- heaven and Earth, and in cases where the branch is
tions, here Figure 7 from the tomb of Seti I, is a large absent, the tethering peg marks the center, connecting
hippopotamus deity, who looks very much like the the material and spiritual worlds and opening human-
Egyptian goddess Taweret. In fact, she shares an ity during a sacred time in a sacred space to the often
identical form with Taweret, being mainly composed dangerous spiritual power behind or inherent in the
of a female hippopotamus with lion feet and crocodile universe.
teeth, with a crocodile hanging down her back. The As in the Egyptian illustrations, the Dinka moor-
only visual difference between this deity and Taweret ing posts vary in number and size. In the Senmut
is the mooring post. Taweret holds her hieroglyph of illustration (Figure 1), the sacrificial animal,
comfort and protection, while Hippo, as Neugebauer Meskhetiu (as an abstracted bull), is tethered to a
and Parker (1969a:84) call her, supports the center of mooring post, or obelisk, which resembles more the
the universe by securing the mooring post, which in large branch marking the Dinka shrines. In the Seti
this illustration resembles part of a bulls leg. Up to illustration (Figure 7), the large post is absent, while
four posts are depicted: Senmuts tomb (Figure 1) Meskhetiu is attached to a mooring post more indica-
displays three; Psusennes tomb seems to contain four tive of a tethering peg.

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 71

This scene does not match the standard Egyptian
form of sacrifice, and hence may be archaic, closer to
the typical cattle-cult sacrifice of many contemporary
African tribal societies (Parrinder 1962; Ray 1976),
similar perhaps to sacrifices of Predynastic times.
That such cattle cults existed at the time of the
Predynastic is suggested by recent excavations at
Nabta Playa, revealing cattle burials and related ico-
nography for the period prior to and during the
Predynastic (Wendorf et al. 19921993:12; Wendorf
et al. 1997; Wendorf and Schild 1998:108). Stone
megaliths and circles at this same site indicate the
knowledge and importance of astronomy, including
the north celestial pole, in the agricultural and ritual
lives of the people practicing these cattle rituals
(Malville et al. 1998).
The purpose of the Egyptian sacrifice implied by
the illustrations is to obtain crucial food, namely the
foreleg, for the deceased in the afterlife. This central
offering forms an important constituent of the Open-
FIGURE 8.Dinka spear masters shrine with spears (adapted ing of the Mouth ceremony, in which the sem, or
from Lienhardt 1961:Plate VI; illustrated by Carl Merten). Leopard-Skin, priest ritually releases or cuts the con-
straints of the deceaseds mouth, enabling it to ingest
nourishment and speak for the deceased at the judg-
Presiding at the Nuer and Dinka sacrifices, ment. The importance of the foreleg in this ceremony
officiants perform the invocations and conduct the is stressed in a passage from the Pyramid Texts: O
sacrifices with spears, which, in both Nuer and Dinka Osiris the King, I split open your mouth for you / With
ritual, play a prominent role, and in the officiants the [Hph] of the Eye of Horus1 foreleg.27 In this
hands, become expressive tools of communication. passage, the sem priest uses the foreleg as an imple-
The sacrificing officiants are chosen from among the ment to open the mouth of the deceased king in his
groups senior men, in the case of the Nuer (Evans- new role as Osiris, ruler of the underworld. The
Pritchard 1956:199), or from the clan of the Masters foreleg is both the first nourishment taken by the
of the Fishing Spear, in the case of the Dinka deceased, enabling the ka to awaken and survive, and
(Lienhardt 1961:171218). the actual implement used to open the mouth. The
The Egyptian sacrifice seems to be conducted by a word for the implement in this spell (Hph) is a pun on
falcon-headed deity called Anu (Neugebauer and the word foreleg (Faulkner 1969:3, Note 1).
Parker 1969a:191192), an obscure Egyptian deity The link between the foreleg and the Opening of
not to be confused with Anu, the Sumerian high god. the Mouth implement is perhaps no better illustrated
In the Senmut illustration (Figure 1), Anu clearly than by the paintings on the walls of the burial
spears the tethered beast, whereas in other versions, chamber of Tutankhamens tomb (Figure 9). The
such as that from Setis tomb (Figure 7), Anu seems vizier Ay, as the sem priest, holds the adze near the
to be holding a rope rather than a spear. Because mouth of the deceased king, here in his form as an
Neugebauer and Parker (1969:192) refer to this deity Osiris. On the table beside the priest lay three items:
as the spearing god, Anus role seems to be that of another adze, a single foreleg topped by a feather, and
the main officiant at this sacrifice at the center of the the feather of Maat. After Tutankhamen/Osiriss
universe. mouth is opened, his ka will receive nourishment in

Meskhetiu adze used in
Opening of the Mouth28

of the Plough

FIGURE 10. Entries for Meskhetiu in Faulkners Concise

Dictionary of Middle Egyptian (1988:118).

FIGURE 9. The foreleg offering during the ritual of the

Opening of the Mouth. From the painted burial chamber of
Tutankhamens tomb (adapted from a photograph in
Westendorf 1968:150151).

the form of the foreleg, recalling the implications of

Meskhetiu as a foreleg in the sacrifice in the region of
the Imperishable Stars. The implement and the fore-
leg appear to be connected, and the adze is also
connected to the constellation of Ursa Major.
A comparison of the adze from Tutankhamens
FIGURE 11. Ursa Major in the position of the foreleg and
tomb illustration in Figure 9 and the shape of Ursa
Meskhetiu adze. Mid-October appearance at dawn, just prior
Major in the position paralleling the foreleg (Figure 6) to planting season (SkyGlobe image).
clearly indicates that the shape of the mouth-opening
implement has been patterned on the shape of the
constellation in this position or orientation, which is
also demonstrated by one of five terms used by the the adze is depicted in the above hieroglyphs. The
Egyptians for this adze: Meskhetiu (Figure 10). hook could be said to be in the upper left quadrant of
Figure 11, taken from the computer simulation, the circle circumscribed by the diurnal rotation of the
shows the shape of Ursa Major as the Predynastic and constellation, or between 9 and 11 oclock on an
Dynastic Egyptians would have seen it in the northern imaginary clock face drawn by the rotation of the
sky, and it seems they extended the handle beyond constellation.
that of the Big Dipper and eliminated the line The Senmut illustration of the northern sky (Fig-
joining the opening of the ladle. The illustration of ure 1) most clearly indicates that Meskhetiu, as teth-
the revolution of Ursa Major in the northern sky in ered to the mooring post, also sits in the upper left
Figure 3 demonstrates Ursa Major in this horizontal quadrant of the circle circumscribed by its implied
position at the top of the circle of rotation, with the rotation around the tip of the mooring post. Meskhetiu
ladle or hook opening facing down to the Earth, as often appears in this position in the astronomical

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 73

ceiling or coffin paintings, which could be said to eternally conducted sacrifice performed magically
approximate the 9 or 11 oclock position of an imagi- through the illustration on his tomb or coffin ceiling.
nary clock face drawn by its rotation. Although the
various positions assumed by Ursa Major as it re- The Relationship of the Foreleg to the
volved were observed by the ancient Egyptians Agricultural Cycle of the Nile
(Neugebauer and Parker 1969a:51, 1969b:Plate 24),29 The foreleg is a symbol created by a society intimately
the illustrations of the northern sky identify the above connected to cattle, such as todays Sudanese Nilotic
position as the most important, perhaps sacred, of peoples and the Predynastic and Dynastic Egyptians.
all observed positions in that the adze, the constella- But the Egyptians were an agrarian people as well,
tion, and the foreleg are simultaneously indicated. and their livelihood depended as much, if not more, on
Thus, it seems evident from (1) the tomb illustra- the seasonal crops they planted in the fertile Nile
tions of the northern sky, (2) the shape of Ursa Major, basin.
(3) the shape of the foreleg as an offering, (4) the The section of the Nile River extending from the
shape of the adze, (5) the passage in the Pyramid first cataract to the Delta provided the Egyptians with
Texts, and (6) the name, Meskhetiu, shared by the the water and soil replenishment necessary for settled
foreleg implied in the northern sky and the adze for life. Without the annual inundation, the Egyptians
Opening of the Mouth that the adze, the constellation, would have remained nomadic pastoralists searching
and the foreleg share a common image and represent continually for dry pasture for their livestock. No
the same power. Surprisingly, Neugebauer and notable and reliable rain falls on Egypt, making agri-
Parker, in their comprehensive study of Egyptian culture impossible without the Nile.
astronomy in 1969, seem not to have made the con- From about 6000 B.C.E. until the building of the
nection between the adze and the constellation. The Aswan Dam, the upper and lower Egyptian Nile flooded
number of references since 1969 suggests that the on an annual basis, setting a seasonal cycle conducive
connection may have become more significant to to settled life and agriculture. Evidence for settled life
Egyptologists after the publication of Neugebauer along the Nile has survived from at least 5000 B.C.E.
and Parkers work.30 Using the illustration from (Midant-Reynes 1992:100166). Prior to 6000 B.C.E.,
Tutankhamens tomb, Krupp (1983:211213) of the the climate was wetter, catching the upper edge of the
Griffith Observatory in California clearly makes the monsoon and supporting pastoral and foraging econo-
symbolic, as well as visual, connections between the mies, but the Nile was more erratic, deterring settle-
constellation of Ursa Major, the celestial bull, that ments along its banks (Wetterstrom 1993:193197). As
is, the foreleg, and the Opening of the Mouth adze: the climate dried and the Nile became tamer, people
The leg of the slaughtered bull, the dipper-like adze, were forced to find their livelihood closer to the river
and the Big Dipper in the sky all represent the same (Close 1992:178; Hassan 1988:144). Outside influ-
thing: the symbolic renewal of life (1983:213). As ences, perhaps from the Levant, demonstrated the ad-
implied by Krupps comment, the ka of the bull, vantages of planting crops over foraging (Hassan
represented by the foreleg and Ursa Major, is commu- 1988:145; Wetterstrom 1993:198).
nicated to the deceased king via the Opening of the From at least 4000 B.C.E., Egyptians depended
Mouth implement. The king becomes immortal predominantly on the annual Nile inundation for
through ingesting the spiritual essence of the bull survival. Every year, the flood appeared in July, not
sacrificed at the mortuary ceremony, as symbolically long after the first appearance of Sopdet (Sirius) in the
depicted by the ceiling and coffin paintings. After the night sky after its two-month annual absence. About
necessary rituals, the immortalized king takes his three months later, the Nile would have receded
place as an Imperishable Star in the northern sky, enough for planting and the agricultural cycle to
while his own spiritual essence as a ka continues begin.
to receive offerings on Earth through the continuation Figure 12 illustrates the pattern created by the
of the mortuary cult that follows and through the annual Nile inundation. The graph appears frequently

harvest, or autumn, followed, and the food was stored
until the next harvest or beyond. Following the har-
vest, the drought set in, and as the Sun grew hotter and
the vegetation more parched and brown as the weeks
progressed, the Egyptians waited in anticipation and
apprehension for the return of the life-giving waters.
Therefore, to the Egyptians, the return of the Sun at
the vernal equinox did not presage life and abun-
dance, so, unlike more northern farmers, the Egyp-
tians did not look to the Sun for signs of imminent
agricultural prosperity (Krupp 1984:187).
Most discussions on the relationship of Egyptian
astronomy and agriculture focus on the reappearance
of Sopdet prior to the annual inundation. Isis, as the
goddess immanent in Sopdet, is credited with the
rejuvenation of life, most significantly in the rejuve-
nation of Osiris, the god of the underworld, also
associated with the inundation of the Nile. The sym-
bolic meanings inherent in the entanglement of Osiris
with the rebirth of the Nile and the birth of the ka, as
discussed previously, demonstrate the importance of
the river as a spiritual metaphor for the life, death, and
rebirth of the human soul as well as the source of
physical life. Sopdet was absent from the night sky for
70 consecutive days (Neugebauer and Parker
1960:97), reappearing in July. The period of drought,
or lowest ebb of the Nile, coincided with the absence
FIGURE 12. Annual inundation of the Nile, Egyptian agricul- of Sopdet. The corresponding period of drought, or
tural cycle, and the visibility of Meskhetiu (adapted from fallow, in the spiritual life of the human soul follow-
Hurst 1952). ing death was represented by the 70-day period of
embalming prior to the souls rebirth in the under-
world. Thus, the Egyptian mortuary ritual came to be
in discussions on the Nile and charts the average rise intimately bound up with the cycle of the Nile and the
and fall of the Nile based on observations from 1912 metaphor of life, death, and rebirth it inspired.
to 1936. From this graph, one can see why the Egyp- Meskhetiu, as a combined symbol of the adze, Ursa
tian new year began in July, when both Sopdet and the Major, and the foreleg, is also intimately connected to
Nile reappeared, for until this point, the Egyptians the agricultural cycle of the Nile, in addition to express-
would have suffered three months of drought, be- ing pastoral symbols of life and spiritual power. In
ginning in April, at the lowest ebb of the Nile. iconography (Figures 1, 9), it is the sign of the rebirth of
The ancient Egyptians based their agricultural cal- the ka and the beginning of immortal life for the
endar on the flux of the Nile rather than the annual deceased in the underworld, but it is also connected to
cycle of the Sun. Added to the Nile chart (Figure 12) the rebirth of vegetation through its annual cycle of
is the Egyptian agricultural cycle (Krupp 1984: revolution in the northern sky, as explained below.
190). The equivalent of spring planting began as early The Opening of the Mouth adze was usually shown
as mid-October, and the growing season, or the in the same position, mimicking the shape of Ursa
equivalent of summer, continued until February. The Major in the position of the foreleg. The constellation

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 75

Table 1. Annual Progression of Ursa Major in Sacred Position

Mid month Orientation of Ursa Time of Night at Which Horizontal Corresponding Agricultural
Major at Dawn Relative (Sacred) Positioning Is Achieved Significance
to Sacred Position (as a
Fraction of a Semicircle)
July Does not appear in sacred Nile in flood; too early to
August position (dawn arrives before plant crops
September horizontal position is reached)
October Sacred position ~5:30 A.M. Start of planting
November 1/6 ~3:30 A.M. Time to dawn denotes the
December 1/3 ~1:30 A.M. time since the beginning of
January 1/2 ~11:30 P.M. the season
February 2/3 ~9:30 P.M.
March 5/6 ~7:30 P.M. Harvest
April 1 Does not appear in sacred position Signifies end of season and
beginning of drought

reached this position once per day but was visible in this ceremony. From then on, the constellation reached the
position (at night) for only a limited period of the year. critical horizontal position at successively earlier times
Added to the graph illustrated in Figure 12 are the of the night, providing a calendar of the progress
times of the year that the adze as Ursa Major appeared through the seasons, from planting through to harvest,
to the Predynastic and Dynastic Egyptians in the from mid-October to early April.31
sacred position in the night sky described above. In Table 1 summarizes the time of night during the
July/August, the time before planting, Ursa Major season that Ursa Major achieved its sacred
would have been low in the sky at sunset. Through the position.From April to October, Ursa Major in this
night it would circle the North Celestial Pole, but position was absent, or not visible, to the Egyptians,
dawn would arrive, and the constellation would dis- as it assumed this position during the day. This period
appear before the sacred or most symbolic (hori- of its absence paralleled the period of drought and
zontal) orientation was reached. flood, when no food could be grown and the Egyp-
As October came, Ursa Major more closely ap- tians had to rely on past stores to see them through to
proached to the horizontal each night before it disap- the next harvest. Ursa Major in the shape of the adze
peared into the dawn, until mid-October, when it finally and in the position of the Meskhetiu in tomb-ceiling
achieved this horizontal position, coinciding approxi- illustrations reappeared at the beginning of the plant-
mately with the earliest time for planting and the ing period, when new grain would soon begin to
beginning of a new cycle of agricultural life. Indeed, sprout. The correct timing of planting was essential to
this very fact may have been important in triggering the the success of the harvest. Left too late, perhaps until
persistent depicting of the constellation in the horizon- December, the hot April weather would retard the
tal position in tomb and coffin illustrations and the crops, reducing yield as much as 50 percent (Hassan
shape of the adze in illustrations of the ritual, such as the 1980:17). Rather than look to the vernal equinox for
painting of Tutankhamens Opening of the Mouth the sign of imminent planting, the Egyptians would

have had the planting season coincide with the ap- 1992), Starry Night (Space Holding Corp. 1999), and
pearance and duration of the foreleg/adze in the Dance of the Planets (ARC Science 1994), one can
appropriate position, first appearing in the dawn sky see that the apparent movements of Ursa Major in
at the beginning when or shortly before the Nile combination with the fluctuations of the Nile River
receded enough to expose the fertile land in its wake. reveal the synchronous appearance of Ursa Major
Ursa Major in this position at this time presented an in the shape of the Opening of the Mouth adze with
immanent symbol for new life and the rebirth of the the beginning of the planting season after the retreat
human soul. The reappearance at planting time and of the inundation of the Nile. This combination unites
the connection of the adze to the rebirth of the Osiris the priestly ritual of the opening of the deceased
mummy in the Opening of the Mouth ritual bring to kings (Osiriss) mouth, the birth of the kings ka, and
mind Osiriss role as a grain god, symbolized by the rebirth of agricultural fecundity, infusing the
sprouting barley. This connection also reinforces the adze in its Meskhetiu form with added meanings and
intimate metaphorical relationship between the spiri- uniting elite and peasant concerns for spiritual and
tual and agricultural lives of the Egyptians and the material rebirth.
seamless merger of spiritual and material prosperity. In addition, understanding the symbolic meaning
There seems to be little doubt that the orientation of of the Opening of the Mouth adze in relation to
Ursa Major had critical, perhaps sacred, significance pastoral rituals, similar to those still practiced by
to the ancient Egyptians. This is especially evidenced todays Sudanese tribes, brings additional possible
in the part played by its horizontal positioning in the meanings to the ritual depiction of the mortuary
Egyptian foreleg as Meskhetiu (Figure 1) and the Sacrifice at the Center of the Universe, the
ritual of the Opening of the Mouth (Figure 9). It is no Opfergefilde, in which a bull is sacrificed for its
surprise then that this horizontal positioning could foreleg with its magical connection to Ursa Major, the
symbolize progress of various phases in the agricul- Opening of the Mouth adze, agricultural fertility, and
tural calendar. Being a circumpolar constellation for the immortality of the kings ka.
the Egyptians, Ursa Major would always be visible at Through the blending of multiple meanings given
any time of year in different orientations throughout to Ursa Major by various sectors of Egyptian
the night. However, what may have been most signifi- societypastoralists, crop farmers, priests, and roy-
cant to Egyptian agriculture was Ursa Majors orien- altythis constellation assumes a potent role as both
tation at dawn, a celestial combination similar in symbol and embodiment of the divine power of reju-
pattern to the reappearance of Sopdet with the rising venation, both spiritual and material.
Sun in July that signified the beginning of the new
year and the return of the Nile. Notes
1. To list a few: the Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts
Conclusion (hereafter abbreviated to Pyr.) 250, 263, 458, 516, 537, 538,
Although the Sun in Egyptian mythology represented 871, 877, 882, 1038, 1719, 2014.
the supreme authority of the high god, Re, and the 2. To list a few: Pyr. 141, 380, 733, 749, 782, 818, 940,
1080, 1220, 1926, 2102, 2264.
source of light and heat that brought the world back to 3. The Sun as the source of heat and light brought the world
life each morning, the farmers looked to the night sky back to life every morning and was worshipped for this
for the spiritual forces regulating the agricultural reason. However, the agricultural cycle followed the Nile
cycle and the source of life, the Nile: Sopdet and Ursa cycle of inundation and retreat rather than the solar cycle
Major. The role of Sopdet is widely known, but marked by the solstices and equinoxes.
knowledge of the Opening of the Mouth adze in its 4. In this discussion, this part of Ursa Major will be
referred to as Ursa Major, as the ancient Egyptians did not see
relation to Ursa Major has not been so widely dis- it as a dipper or a plow; rather, they perceived it as an adze or
cussed in Egyptology. a bulls foreleg. They also probably did not see it exactly as
By taking advantage of modern computer- we have defined it, and this will be discussed later in this
simulation programs, such as SkyGlobe (Haney article.

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 77

5. For a detailed description of these various deities and depicts Ursa Major at dawn on October 30, 2500 B.C.E., as
entities and for further illustrations of the astronomical Egyp- viewed from the Qena bend of the Nile.
tian tomb and coffin ceilings, see Neugebauer and Parker 19. General information on the ka and ba and their main-
(1969a, 1969b). tenance in the afterlife can be found in Spencer (1982:4573)
6. Although the Neolithic period in Egypt has been dated and Quirke (1992:105171).
to at least the fifth millennium B.C.E., the origins of the state 20. Discussions of this methodology as one of the many
that emerged ca. 3000 B.C.E. can be most clearly identified at tools for exploring past behavior can be found in Agorsah
the beginning of the Predynastic, ca. 4000 B.C.E., also within (1990) and Atherton (1983).
the Neolithic period (Midant-Reynes 1992:101, 169). 21. It is not possible here to provide a detailed explanation
7. SkyGlobe, available for downloading from the Internet of the reasons the Sudanese tribes should present suitable
at Results ethnographic parallels to the earliest Egyptians. A recent
obtained from SkyGlobe were confirmed with two similar explanation and lengthy comparison of the cultures can be
programs called Dance of the Planets and Starry Night, found in Relke (2001:159227). The examples provided by
both designed for professional use in teaching and plan- Baumgartel and Frankfort list several similarities, including a
etarium applications. Information on these programs can comparison between certain Predynastic Egyptian figurines
be obtained from and contemporary cow and bull dances performed by these
and, respectively. However, peoples; the similar ritual deformations of cattle horns; the
as the name of Dance of the Planets implies, it specializes symbolic use of raised arms; and the symbolic use of bulls
in orbital simulations of our solar system, whereas horns to represent spiritual ideals and high deities. In general,
SkyGlobe and Starry Night feature orbital simulation of the cattle cults of the Sudanese tribes display an affinity with
the entire night sky and thus are more suitable for this Pre- and Early Dynastic cattle rituals and beliefs, and possibly
application. SkyGlobe produces the least complicated im- some of the earliest Egyptians brought typical African cattle-
ages and is therefore used here for purposes of illustration. cult practices and beliefs with them when they joined other
Any program is only as good as its designer, and Dance was groups settling in the Nile basin. For a description of the
recommended for its reliability so served as principal confir- various peoples who composed the population of Predynastic
mation. Egypt, see Hoffman (1993:78102).
8. Ursa Major, as the Big Dipper, was a circumpolar 22. See photograph in Evans-Pritchard (1940:Plate 4).
immortal constellation from at least 4500 B.C.E. (the limit 23. See Faulkners (1985) cover illustration of a scene
of Starry Night) until ca. 250 C.E., when it began to dip below showing the Opening of the Mouth ceremony carried out on
the horizon. the mummy of Hunefer, BM 990l/5.
9. Neugebauer (1969:89) cautions against trying to iden- 24. The authors are grateful to the anonymous reviewer
tify empirically any constellation with any particular deity who pointed out the significance of the cows bellowing and
because of the inconsistencies in the star patterns assigned to made available the abstract (1995) of Gordon and Schwabes
a variety of representations of the same deity. The star paper presented at the Seventh International Congress of
patterns, he suggests, are purely decorative. Egyptologists.
10. To list a few: Pyr. 152160, 274, 357, 711, 906907, 25. The scene is symbolic, mythological, or archaic, as
1171, 1442, 21222125. sacrifices were performed on bound rather than tethered
11. To list a few: Pyr. 592, 818, 19091912, 19971999, animals during the Dynastic period.
21982199. 26. Pyr. 794, 863, 2013, 2232.
12. Pyr. 186, 882884. 27. Pyr. 12.
13. See, for example, Neugebauer and Parker (1969a:93) 28. Gardiner (1957:570) dipicts the adze in this Hiero-
and accompanying illustration of the coffin lid of Heter in glyph without the wooden block or rest. Gardiner also uses
Neugebauer and Parker (1969b:Plate 71). the longer hieroglyph for the constellation, Meskhetiu, defin-
14. Pyr. 12, 79. ing it as the Foreleg, i.e. the constellation of the Great Bear,
15. Pyr. 1936, 1947. replacing the earlier conception as Adze (ibid). This
16. The position of Ursa Major at 5:30 A.M., October 30, hieroglyph for Meskhetiu includes the foreleg in the offering
2500 B.C.E., a modern date chosen for reasons that are devel- position. See also Gardiner's sign list for the foreleg as two
oped later. positions, 180 reversed (ibid:464).
17. Roth (1993:70, Figure10) compares the foreleg to 29. This example comes from the ceiling of the tomb of
Ursa Major, positioning the foreleg in an upside-down Abu Yasin, 359341 B.C.E., and shows Ursa Major in the form
position relative to the Osiris offering, avoiding the need to of a foreleg in 36 different positions of rotation, which
modify the constellation as we perceive it. Neugebauer and Parker identify as the constellation in three
18. Figure 6 shows the handle extended to Botis and nightly positions (beginning and middle of the night, and
then on to Nekkar. The image is taken from Starry Night and dawn) for the 12 months of the year.

30. Krauss (1997:95) describes the constellation as a Davis, Virginia Lee
Mundffnungsgerte, or a model of a mouth-opening- 1985 Identifying Ancient Egyptian Constellations.
appliance. Davis (1985:S103) describes Ursa Major, vari- Archaeoastronomy 16(9):S102S104.
ously represented as an adze or finger, the foreleg of a bull or Depuydt, Leo
foreleg with bulls head or a complete bull. Roth (1993:70, 1997 Civil Calendar and Lunar Calendar in Ancient
Figures 9, 10) clearly illustrates the visual relationship be- Egypt. Uitgeverij Peeters en Departmement
tween the constellation, the foreleg, and the adze. She also Oosterse Studies, Leuven, Belgium.
makes the points that the tip of meteoritic iron connects the Eaton-Krauss, Marianne
mouth-opening implements to the popular notion of them as 1987 The Earliest Representation of Osiris? Varia
fallen stars (1993:70) and that the adze as a wood-carving Aegyptiaca 3:233236.
tool connects it to the creation of the ka statue (1993:75). Evans-Pritchard, Edward Evan
31. During the length of the growing season, Ursa Major 1940 The Nuer: A Description of the Modes of Livelihood
rotated approximately one full semicircle, the end of the and Political Institutions of a Nilotic People.
season coinciding with an upturned orientation. It can be seen Clarendon Press, Oxford.
from column 2 of the table that observation of the fraction of 1956 Nuer Religion. Oxford University Press, New York.
the semicircle through which Ursa Major had turned (at Faulkner, Raymond Oliver
dawn) relative to the sacred position represented the frac- 1969 The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts. Clarendon
tion of the time through harvest. Thus, the constellation in Press, Oxford.
this position accompanied the farmers during the planting 1985 The Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. British
season, a celestial symbol for the rejuvenation and rebirth Museum Press, London.
taking place in their fields. 1988 A Concise Dictionary of Middle Egyptian. Griffith
Institute, Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.
Frankfort, Henri
References 1948 Kingship and the Gods: A Study of Ancient Near
Agorsah, E. Kofi Eastern Religion as the Integration of Society &
1990 Ethnoarchaeology: The Search for a Self-Correc- Nature. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
tive Approach to the Study of Past Human Gardiner, Sir Alan
Behaviour. The African Archaeological Review 1957 Egyptian Grammar. Oxford University Press,
8:189208. Oxford.
ARC Science Gordon, Andrew H.
1994 Dance of the Planets. 2.71 Q.E.D. edition, ARC 1996 The K3 as an Animating Force. Journal of the
Science, ARC Science Simulations, P.O. Box 1955, American Research Center in Egypt 33:3135.
Loveland, CO 80539. Gordon, Andrew H., and Calvin W. Schwabe
dance.htm. Accessed October 31, 2003. 1995 Live Flesh and the Opening of the Mouth: Bio-
Atherton, John H. medical, Ethnological and Egyptological Aspects. In
1983 Ethnoarchaeology in Africa. The African Archaeo- Seventh International Congress of Egyptologists,
logical Review 1:75104. Abstracts of Papers, edited by Christopher J. Eyre,
Baumgartel, Elise J. pp. 6869. Oxbow Books, Oxford.
1955 The Cultures of Prehistoric Egypt I. Oxford Haney, Mark
University Press, Oxford. 1992 SkyGlobe 3.5 KlassM Software, Inc., P.O. Box 1067,
1970 Predynastic Egypt. In Cambridge Ancient History, Ann Arbor, MI 48106.
edited by I. E. S. Edward, C. J. Gadd, and N. G. L. ~gordon/skyglobe.html. Accessed October 31, 2003.
Hammond, pp. 463497. Cambridge University Hassan, Fekri
Press, Cambridge. 1980 Origin of Civilization in Predynastic Egypt: Toward
Clagett, Marshall an Evolutionary Model. Association International
1995 Ancient Egyptian Science. Volume II: Calendars, pour lEtude de la Prhistorie Egyptienne,
Clocks, and Astronomy. American Philosophical LEgypte avant lHistoire 1:1623.
Society, Philadelphia. 1988 The Predynastic of Egypt. Journal of World
Close, Angela E. Prehistory 2:135185.
1992 Holocene Occupation of the Eastern Sahara. In New Hoffman, Michael A.
Light on the Northeast African Past: Current 1993 Egypt Before the Pharaohs: The Prehistoric
Prehistoric Research, edited by Frank Klees and Foundations of Egyptian Civilization. Reprinted.
Rudolph Kuper, pp. 156183. Heinrich- Barnes & Noble, New York. Originally published
Barth-Institut, Kln, Germany. 1979, Fontana Press, London.

VOLUME XVII 2002-2003 79

Hurst, H. E. 1992 Ancient Egyptian Religion. British Museum Press,
1952 The Nile: A General Account of the River and the London.
Utilization of Its Waters. Constable, London. Ray, Benjamin C.
Available at 1976 African Religions: Symbol, Ritual, and Community.
unupbooks/80858e/80858E0R.GIF. Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.
Krauss, Rolf Relke, Joan
1997 Astronomische Konzepte und Jenseitvorstellungen 2001 The Predynastic Figurines of Upper Egypt. Unpub-
in den Pyramidentexten. Harrassowitz Verlag, lished Ph.D. dissertation, School of Classics,
Wiesbaden, Germany. History, and Religion, Division of Studies in
Krupp, Edwin C. Religion, University of New England, Armidale,
1983 Echoes of the Ancient Skies: The Astronomy of Lost Australia.
Civilizations. Oxford University Press, Oxford. Roth, Ann Macy
1984 Astronomers, Pyramids, and Priests. In In Search of 1993 Fingers, Stars, and the Opening of the Mouth: The
Ancient Astronomies, edited by Edwin C. Krupp, pp. Nature and Function of the Ntrwj-Blades. Journal of
186218. Penguin, London. Egyptian Archaeology 78:5779.
Lienhardt, R. Godfrey Schwabe, Calvin W., and Andrew H. Gordon
1961 Divinity and Experience: The Religion of the Dinka. 1988 The Egyptian w3s-Scepter and Its Modern
Clarendon Press, Oxford. Analogues: Uses in Animal Husbandry, Agriculture,
Lobban, Richard, and Michael Sprague and Surveying. Agricultural History 62(1):6189.
1997 Bulls, and the w3s Sceptre in Ancient Egypt Space Holding Corp.
and Sudan. Anthrozos, A Multidisciplinary Journal 1999 Starry Night. Backyard 3.0.3, Space Holding Corp.,
of Interactions of People and Animals 10(1): 470 Park Ave. S., 9th Floor, New York, NY 10016.
1422. and http://
Malville, J. McKim, Fred Wendorf, Ali A. Mazar, and Accessed October 31, 2003.
Romauld Schild Spencer, Alan Jeffrey
1998 Megaliths and Neolithic Astronomy in Southern 1982 Death in Ancient Egypt. Penguin, Middlesex, U.K.
Egypt. Nature 392:488491. Weigall, Arthur E. P. B.
Midant-Reynes, Batrix 1915 An Ancient Egyptian Funeral Ceremony. Journal of
1992 The Prehistory of Egypt: From the First Egyptians to Egyptian Archaeology 2:1012.
the First Pharaohs. Blackwell Publishers, Oxford. Wendorf, Fred, Angela E. Close, and Romauld Schild
Neugebauer, Otto 19921993 Megaliths in the Egyptian Sahara. Sahara 5:
1969 The Exact Sciences in Antiquity. Dover, New York. 716.
Neugebauer, Otto, and Richard A. Parker Wendorf, Fred, and Romauld Schild
1960 Egyptian Astronomical Texts I: The Early Decans. 1998 Nabta Playa and Its Role in Northeastern African
Brown University Press, London. Prehistory. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology
1969a Egyptian Astronomical Texts III: Decans, Planets, 17:97123.
Constellations and Zodiacs. Brown University Press, Wendorf, Fred, Romauld Schild, Alex Applegate, and
London. Achilles Gautier
1969b Egyptian Astronomical Texts III: Decans, Planets, 1997 Tumuli, Cattle Burials and Society in the Eastern
Constellations and Zodiacs: Plates. Brown Univer- Sahara. In Dynamics of Populations, Movements and
sity Press, London. Responses to Climatic Change in Africa, edited by B.
Parker, Richard A. E. Barich and M. C. Gatto, pp. 90104. Bonsignori
1974 Ancient Egyptian Astronomy. In The Place of Editore, Rome.
Astronomy in the Ancient World, edited by Frank R. Westendorf, Wolfhard
Hodson, pp. 5165. Oxford University Press, Lon- 1968 Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture of Ancient
don. Egypt. Abrams, New York.
1978 Egyptian Astronomy, Astrology, and Calendrical Wetterstrom, Wilma
Reckoning. In Dictionary of Scientific Biography, 1993 Foraging and Farming in Egypt: The Transition from
edited by Charles Coulston Gillispie, pp. 706727. Hunting and Gathering to Horticulture in the Nile
Charles Scribners Sons, New York. Valley. In The Archaeology of Africa: Food, Metals
Parrinder, Geoffrey and Towns, edited by Thurstan Shaw, Paul Sinclair,
1962 African Traditional Religion. Sheldon Press, London. Bassey Andah, and Alex Okpoko, pp. 165226.
Quirke, Stephen Routledge, London and New York.

Copyright of Archaeoastronomy is the property of University of Texas Press and its content may not be copied
or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission.
However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.