Ancient Egyptians described Algol's eclipses

December 17, 2015
Inside the superimposed rectangle is the hieratic writing for the word 'Horus'. Credit: Lauri Jetsu

The Ancient Egyptian papyrus Cairo 86637 calendar is the oldest preserved historical document of naked eye observations of a variable star, the eclipsing binary Algol - a manifestation of Horus, a god and a king. This calendar contains lucky or unlucky prognoses for each day of one year. Lauri Jetsu and Sebastian Porceddu from the University of Helsinki have performed a statistical analysis of the Cairo Calendar mythological texts.

Their analysis revealed that the periods of Algol (2.85 days) and the Moon (29.6 days) strongly regulate the actions of deities in this .

"Until now, there were only conjectures that many of the mythological texts of the Cairo Calendar describe astronomical phenomena. We can now unambiguously ascertain that throughout the whole year the actions of many deities in the Cairo Calendar are connected to the regular changes of Algol and the Moon," says Master of Science Sebastian Porceddu.

This research confirms that the first , as well as its period, were discovered much earlier than was previously thought. These two "classical" milestones in the history of natural sciences need to be shifted three millennia backwards in time to 1244 - 1163 BC.

This also confirms the two "modern" astrophysical results reported by the Helsinki group in the year 2013: The first direct observation ever of the expected increase of Algol's period and the accurate long—term estimate for the mass transfer in this binary system.

"I would have serious doubts, if someone claimed, for example, that the Bible contains information about water in Mars. We claimed that Ancient Egyptian religious texts contain astrophysical information about Algol. It was no surprise to us that there were, and there still are, sceptics," says docent Lauri Jetsu.

The research also confirms that the brightest phases of Algol and the Moon had particularly positive meanings for the Ancient Egyptians.

Explore further: 57 ancient tombs with mummies unearthed in Egypt

More information: "Shifting Milestones of Natural Sciences: The Ancient Egyptian Discovery of Algol's Period Confirmed", L. Jetsu and S. Porceddu, December, 17th, 2015 in PLOS ONE, dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0144140

Related Stories

57 ancient tombs with mummies unearthed in Egypt

May 23, 2010

(AP) -- Archeologists have unearthed 57 ancient Egyptian tombs, most of which hold an ornately painted wooden sarcophagus with a mummy inside, Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities said Sunday.

Leap years prevent 'calendar climate change'

March 1, 2012

Without leap years, Earth would experience "calendar climate change" and the seasons would completely swap every 750 years, a Queensland University of Technology scientist says.

Egypt archaeologists find pharaoh chapel

April 14, 2015

Archaeologists excavating an ancient temple site in Cairo have discovered part of a chapel used by a pharaoh about 2,300 years ago, Egypt's antiquities ministry said on Tuesday.

Egypt puts King Tut mask on exhibit after botched epoxy fix

December 16, 2015

Egypt put the famed golden burial mask of King Tutankhamun back on display at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo on Wednesday evening after the relic was repaired following a botched attempt to reattach the mask's beard with epoxy.

Recommended for you

First stars formed even later than previously thought

August 31, 2016

ESA's Planck satellite has revealed that the first stars in the Universe started forming later than previous observations of the Cosmic Microwave Background indicated. This new analysis also shows that these stars were the ...

Dawn sets course for higher orbit

August 31, 2016

After studying Ceres for more than eight months from its low-altitude science orbit, NASA's Dawn spacecraft will move higher up for different views of the dwarf planet.

Galaxy cluster discovered at record-breaking distance

August 31, 2016

A new record for the most distant galaxy cluster has been set using NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory and other telescopes. This galaxy cluster may have been caught right after birth, a brief, but important stage of evolution ...

The rise and fall of galaxy formation

August 30, 2016

An international team of astronomers, including Carnegie's Eric Persson, has charted the rise and fall of galaxies over 90 percent of cosmic history. Their work, which includes some of the most sensitive astronomical measurements ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.