Stars of the Pharaohs
Length 35 minutes.
Middle school through adult.
Egyptians used observations of the night sky to raise the pyramids, monitor the passage of time, cultivate their understanding of the natural world, and form a basis for many of their religious beliefs.
This program begins with an examination of some of Egypt's ancient cultural treasures and their relationships to the sky. The 2,500-year-old Temple of Hathor and the Tomb of Tut-ankh-amon are reconstructed in computer graphics, revealing the details that explain the Egyptian beliefs. These temples were aligned with the stars so precisely that some people have speculated they were designed by aliens. Most archaeologists approach them as examples of ancient ingenuity and keen astronomical observation.
The Egyptians thought of the stars as oil lamps or boats carrying their gods across the sky. The modern constellation Orion was Osiris, who held special religious significance. The leg of Osiris' brother, Seth, which we call the Big Dipper, was a symbol of resurrection and immortality. It belonged to the imperishable stars, which forever circle the North Star without setting. Heavenly order brought order to the Earth, yet for ancient Egyptians, even the rising of the Sun was never guaranteed. The Sun deity, Ra, traveled through the dangerous underworld to rise each day.
In modern times, we have lost touch with using stars to mark the passage of time and season. The Egyptians used the stars and Moon to create the 24-hour day, a 360-day lunar calendar, and a 365-day solar calendar to regulate civic events. The first appearance of the bright star Sirius in the dawn sky coincided with the annual flooding of the Nile river, a crucial annual event for Egyptian farmers.