Out of Africa

Posted by Rich Talcott
on Thursday, April 26, 2007

While most of my friends and colleagues were enjoying beautiful spring weather this past weekend, I was attending the annual meeting of the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE) in Toledo, Ohio. The weather was beautiful there as well, but I spent most of my time indoors, attending talks by scholars from around the world and delivering one of my own.

As always, the topics at the meeting ran the gamut of Egyptology. At various times through the weekend, you could enjoy talks about archaeology, art, literature, religion, history, ongoing archaeological digs, conservation, and more.

And, of course, archaeoastronomy. That was the reason for my attendance. For the 5th consecutive year, my coauthor (Patricia Blackwell Gary) and I presented a talk on our ongoing research into how the skies over ancient Egypt influenced ancient art and architecture, and led to the origins of the Egyptian solar cult. (We wrote about some aspects of our work in "Stargazing in ancient Egypt" in the June 2006 Astronomy.) Patricia is the Egyptologist of the team; I recreate images of the night sky as the Egyptians might have seen it.

This year, we concentrated on depicting the sky during the Neolithic period (c. 7000 to 4000 B.C.) and how a select few astronomical markers along the ecliptic and celestial equator played a role in the mythology of the sky goddess Nut. Nut — considered by many Egyptologists as a representation of the Milky Way — resurrected the Sun god Re every sunrise and swallowed him again at sunset.

The second most anticipated talk at the meeting (okay, that's probably a minority opinion) was the Keynote Address, delivered this year by the Honorable Zahi Hawass, who heads the Supreme Council of Antiquities in Egypt. He discussed several ongoing digs and mentioned there may be a few big announcements coming during the next several months. It seems that just as the world's oldest science (that would be astronomy) keeps surprising us with spectacular revelations about the universe we live in, one of the world's oldest civilizations also may have a few surprises in store for us.

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