No Eclipse In Ancient Egypt?

The sun played such an important role in the life of Ancient Egyptians, particularly in their religion that it is surprising that there is virtually no mention of solar eclipses in ancient records from the Nile valley. These events would have been terrifying and, not being understood in physical terms, would surely inevitably have been incorporated in some way into the religious corpus. Despite this, these spectacular natural events and their likely effect on those witnessing them have received no academic attention and indeed have merited virtually no mention in the historical and archaeological records of Ancient Egypt. During a deep solar eclipse, when the moon’s disk more than covers the sun’s disk, the light level can fall by up to six orders of magnitude and stars may become visible. Given the importance of the stars in Egyptian Theology and Cosmology1 , to an Ancient Egyptian observer, used to cloudless, clear skies, without industrial atmospheric pollution, their sudden appearance during the daytime would have been of great concern. Indeed, Brewer2 remarked that “it is hard to imagine that the spectacular recurrence of total eclipses could go unrecorded, especially by a culture that so worshipped the sun”. It is however possible that such events my have been recorded on papyrus rather than on stone and although many papyri have survived, the relative rarity of these events has not yet resulted in an extant example. But, as Baines3 pointed out, the sources were not created and then almost randomly preserved or destroyed to supply us with a balanced picture of Egyptian religion – absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! The proportion of the population witnessing a total eclipse will inevitably be small because of the narrow trajectory of the event and its transitory nature. If it occurred when the sun was high in the sky and it was very hot, many of the potential witnesses may have been sheltering indoors. Of those who did witness it, the vast majority would have been peasant workers in the fields and, being illiterate, such people would not have recorded the event.

Read the full article at EGTM


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