Alumni Events

An Online Introduction to Egyptian Astronomy

(Only open to current MA CAA students and alumni)

When:Three Wednesday Seminars at 19:00 - 21:00 GMT

25 November, 2 December and the 9 December

Where: On Webex. All those registered will receive a link to the seminar room via email earlier on the day of a seminar

The Short Course

The material evidence of Egypt leaves us with many tantalising clues concerning their astronomy and its role in Egyptian culture. The Pyramid Text of the Old Kingdom, reveal an astronomy which blended naked-eye observations of the heavens with religious beliefs and aspirations of the individuals of the Old Kingdom. It is through the material evidence of the Coffin Text which reveals that this cultural astronomy moved into the Middle Kingdom period where the soul sought to join with the stars to reach for immortality. By the New Kingdom the astronomy is revealed in the innovations of the Ramesside star clocks and great astronomical ceilings of that period. However later by the Hellenistic period the Dendera Zodiac shows that the Egyptian sky became mixed and finally consumed by the Hellenistic view of the heavens.

This short course is designed to introduce you to the Egyptian sky with its mythic, religious as well as civil role in Egyptian society. It will begin with the pyramids of the Old Kingdom and carry through to the Hellenistic period and the implications of the Dendera Zodiac. Handouts will be provided for each week.

PLEASE NOTE: These webex will not be recorded.

Lecturer: Bernadette Brady holds a PhD in Anthropology (2012) and MA in Cultural Astronomy and Astrology (2005). She is a tutor in the Sophia Centre for the Study of Cosmology in Culture at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, UK from 2008.

Her main areas of research are within the field of ethnographical/astronomical work where she has published on the cultural influence of stars and the religious and cultural significant of the sky's movement. Some of her publications which are focused on the Egyptian use of the sky are 'The Egyptian Ascension mythology of the Pyramid Texts with the phases of the stars' (CRE XII proceedings, Oxbow 2012) and forthcoming, 'The So-called northern constellations of the New Kingdom sky' Presented at Malta 2014, (SEAC).

Booking is now closed

Cost: £25.00 for all three seminars, no individual seminar registration is available.

All proceeds go to the Alumni.

Outline of the Introduction to Egyptian Astronomy Short Course

Seminar One: Wednesday 25 November

Images of Nut in the Books of the Sky. Click to enlarge

The Old Kingdom to Middle Kingdom. The Sky, Stars and Calendars

The Old Kingdom division of the sky into canals, lakes and marshes. The cosmic map of the stars, Nut and Geb and how the sky moves against this backdrop of the land of the heavens.

The role of calendars in the Middle Kingdom. The civic calendar of three seasons, the lunistellar calendar and the role played by the bright star, Sirius. The resulting Sothic Year and the Sothic Cycle. Counting the hours of the night.

Reading the diagonal star clocks of the coffin texts and the cultural implications for the variations within these clocks.

Seminar Two: Wednesday 2 December

The Middle Kingdom to New Kingdom - Coffin text star clocks and Ceilings

Coffin text continued then moving to the New Kingdom. The ceiling of Senenmut and Seti I - the planets, the sun and the stars. The Ramesside ceilings and what do all these ceilings tell us about the Egyptian constellations and the 'so called' Northern Constellations.

Seminar Three Wednesday 9 December

New Kingdom to the Hellenistic Period Star - Star Clocks and the Dendera Zodiac

Star Clocks continued. What is a Star Clock, how does it work. The problems the Ramseside star clock present modern scholars and what those problems imply about the Egyptian of the New Kingdom and their relationship to the sky.

A clash of cultures. The domination of the Greek sky into the Egyptian constellations. The evidence of the Dendera Zodiac. The eventual loss of the Egyptian cartography and sky lore with only the importance of the horizon being retained within Hellenistic astrology.

Optional reading for the short course

The definitive scholars in this field are Otto Neugebauer and Richard Parker, however their books are hard to find:

Outer hypostyle hall of the Hathor Temple at Dendera. Click to enlarge

Otto Neugebauer, and Parker, Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Vol. 1. The Early Decans, (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1960).

Otto Neugebauer, and Richard A. Parker, Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Vol. 2. The Ramesside Star Clocks, (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1964).

Otto Neugebauer, and Richard A. Parker, Egyptian Astronomical Texts. Vol. 3. Decans, Planets, Constellations and Zodiacs, (Providence, Rhode Island: Brown University Press, 1969).

The Pyramid Texts translated by Samuel Mercer 1952,

Marshall Clagett, Ancient Egyptian Science, a Source Book: Volume Ii, Calendars, Clocks and Astronomy (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1995).

This book is available and is a good source book for text and translations of astronomical material.

Giulio Magli, Architecture, Astronomy and Sacred Landscape in Ancient Egypt (2013).

Optional Reading

James P Allen, The Ancient Egyptian Pyramid Texts (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005). Available online as a PDF.

Bernadette Brady, 'A Consideration of Egyptian Ascension Mythology as a Reflection of the Mythopoeic Nature of Star Phases and Its Implication for Belief in the Descent of Divine Beings', in Current Research in Egyptology Volume XII, ed. by Heba Abd El-Gawad, et al. (Oxford: Oxbow, 2012), pp. 40-47. (Email Bernadette if you would like a copy of this paper).

Juan Antonio Belmonte, Mosalam Shaltout, In Search of Cosmic Order, Selected Essays on Egyptian Archaeoastronomy ed. by Juan Antonio Belmonte and Mosalam Shaltout (Cairo: The Supreme Council of Antiquities Press, 2009), Parts of this book are available online, if you Google the author's names.

Juan Antonio Belmonte, and Mosalam Shaltout, 'The Astronomical Ceiling of Senmut: A Dream or Mystery and Imagination', in Light and Shadows in Cultural Astronomy, ed. by Mauro Zedda and Juan A. Belmonte (Cagliari: 2005).

Juan Belmonte - 'The Constellations of the Ancient Egyptians'

These two papers are just one set of opinions about the identification of the parts of the Egyptian sky. They can be a good starting point, however, if you wish to pursue the subject you should read widely of the many different views within the academy.

Susan Tower Hollis, 'Women of Ancient Egypt and the Sky Goddess Nut', The Journal of American Folklore, 100 (1987), 496-503. A free paper from JSTOR

Peter Der Manuelian, 'An Essay in Document Transmission: Nj-Ka-Anx and the Earliest Hrjw rnpt', The Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 45 (1986), 1-18.

This is an online paper from the Journal of Near Eastern Studies focus on the earliest calendar information on the epagomenal days and thus the Civil calendar from the Old Kingdom tomb of Nj-kA-anx, Keeper of the King's Property and Steward of the Great Domain.

Richard Parker - Ancient Egyptian Astronomy - Free online article from JSTOR:

Other Resources


The astronomical ceiling from Chamber A, Tomb TT353, the second tomb built by Senenmut. Click to enlarge

Stellarium Software - this is free planetarium software which will run on a MAC or PC and will allow you to recreate the ancient skies over Egypt and watch how the sky moved.

Also you can add different landscape views, for example the Egyptian one I am using in the seminars I downloaded from this web site:


Pyramid Text online:

Inside Kufu's Pyramid: A virtual tour by Ken Klein University, USA, of Kufu's Pyramid. This is a good inside tour of the passages within the pyramid. There are some odd assertions in the tour, particularly concerning viewing the Moon from the Grand Gallery and the statement that a southern air shaft points to the northern constellation Draco shows that the commentator from the university does not have an understanding of the sky. However, apart from these problems it is a good 'look inside'.

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston: The website is a comprehensive resource for research on Giza. It contains photographs and other documentation from the original Harvard University - Boston Museum of Fine Arts Expedition (1904 - 1947), from recent MFA fieldwork, and other expeditions, museums, and universities around the world. There is also a large number of papers and articles available for free download.

Theban Mapping Project: Discover each tomb in the Valley in this interactive Atlas. Investigate a database of information about each tomb, view a compilation of more than 2000 images, interact with models of each tomb, and measure, pan, and zoom over 250 detailed maps, elevations, and sections. Experience sixty-five narrated tours by Dr. Weeks and explore a 3D recreation of tomb KV 14.

Festivals in the Ancient Egyptian calendar