Before talking about the wall carving, which I call the "Pointing Man", some astronomical background in the movement of the northern sky's pivot point is needed. The pivot point is called the north celestial pole (ncp). The 26,000 year journey of the ncp is shown in this first drawing.
The drawing below is a closer view of the path that has happened during recorded history. This drawing also includes the proper names of most of the easily seen stars
As the drawing shows, in 2800 BC The ncp was close to the star Thuban. This met that during the course of a night, Thuban would appear to stand still and all the other stars in the sky would circle it.
Astronomy in ancient Egypt was just starting so generations of students were probably taught that the whole sky rotated around Thuban. But 300 year later it was not still anymore. Thuban could be seen moving in a circle around a dark area of the sky.
It is reasonable to assume that this was a small crisis for the court astronomers and they probably worked long and hard to find some device that would help them find where the ncp actually was. The device I think they found is explained below.
The trapezoidal object in the drawing, I call
the "north celestial pole finder" (ncpf). I think it
was first needed around the year 2500 BC. The ncpf figure is made
by connecting all lines between 4 stars. The stars are Alioth,
Ed Asich, Pherkad and kap Dra (kappa Draco). The picture shows
that the ncpf was not perfect at finding the ncp. But this picture
was computer generated and the Egyptian astronomers had only their
naked eyes and maybe some sticks and string to use.
Now we come to the wall carving. It's well known that there were special artists that did the carvings. So I believe that this carving was a collaboration between an ancient artist and an ancient astronomer, maybe the first in history.
I did some simple geometry and the first thing I found was that the seated man was pointing at the ncp (labeled polar point in this picture)
A couple of people by email had told me what the next step was. That was to take an image of the night sky and lay it over the picture to see if any stars lined up with certain parts of the picture. The mottled background made that hard. So I went about carefully making the background white (it took me two days). The picture below is my rendering of the carving.
Donald M. in an email, identified some of the objects, some he could not. He also said "In the upper right, a winged serpent which may be a commentary on the rest of the drawing and not anything you might actually see in the nighttime sky". What I wanted to know, was, what were the bubbles behind Ra? And what did the jars stand for?
Here is the approximate star field for this picture. The curved red line on the right is the ecliptic (this is generally the path of the sun, moon and planets). The Milky Way stars are to the left of the wandering black line. The straight red lines I put in by trial and error.
Now all I had to do was to make the star field transparent and then rotate and scale it so I could overlay it with the carving and see what fits.After several tries I found that if the two stars Alioth and Ed Asich were placed just right on the little shelves, four other stars lined up with points on the carving.
So I joined the carving to the star image.
I find this picture amazing! How could an artist ever create an image that so closely matched the night sky? The only guess I could come up with was that the artist was given a papyrus with ink dots on it that corresponded to the stars of the night sky. He then used that papyrus to lay out his carving.
In astronomical terms the width of the image is over 120 degrees and that caused problems with my astronomy program (Redshift 4). It did not want to display such a wide swath of the sky. I had to turn off the refraction correction and that could affect some of the vertical positions of the stars. I was pleased though to find that the point, that the man was pointing at, is 30 degree above the floor. That's how far above the horizon that point was around 2500BC in Egypt.
Starting from the left, first comes the Goddess Hathor. The wife of Horus. In early Egypt she was considered the personification of the sky. I drew in the approximate boundary of the Milky Way in this picture. I interpret this as the artist trying to represent the most beautiful part of the sky (the Milky Way) and he chose Hathor to do it.
Next come the jars. The obvious explanation for there being one band on jar 1 is the line between the stars Vega and Etamin. But why jars anyway? Finally I moved and scaled the star overlay so that my ncpf was over the jar stand. This picture shows the fit is ok but not perfect. The red line curve is the little bear's tail (Ursa Minor). The jar stand is symmetrical but the ncpf is not quite. I think the artist is at work here, turning the ncpf into a symmetrical table and the curve into a bigger jar
This picture shows that the bubbles behind Ra (the sun god) were probably the sun and the moon, because of their proximity to the ecliptic. Also the line of the ecliptic defines the back of Ra. A date may be inferred because the elbows of Ra are part of, what we know today as, the constellation Leo. It may suggest a time when the sun was in Leo but I have not checked on this.
Finally, something is obviously missing from the carving and that is the stars of the big dipper. They are the brightest stars in that part of the sky. I suspected that the big dipper might be hidden somewhere. I slid my star overlay around and I think I found it in the seated posture of the king. I'd be interested to find if this is a common posture in other carvings
And that's it for me. This was a very hard project. I had to use 4 astronomy programs and 3 graphic programs to get this far.I know I have not identified all the parts of this carving but I need a rest, I'll leave that for others. Any applicable email I receive I will append to this page.
Terrance G. Nevin