Astronomically Aligned Temple in Siwa Oasis is Ancient Calendar Device

Astronomically Aligned Temple in Siwa Oasis is Ancient Calendar Device

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Ever wondered what would become of humanity if the power grid were to collapse, nulling every technological advancement man has ever made? Long before ego tricked humans into thinking they were the center of the universe, ancient civilizations used to turn to nature for wisdom and knowledge that is core to survival. In the absence of clocks, calendars and today’s various time managing applications, the sun and its sequential movement used to serve as man’s most trusted time indicator around the day and year.

Commonly known as archaeo-astronomical structures, many monuments across the world still stand witness to their ancient cultures’ ingenuity in understanding the cosmos and utilizing such knowledge in the regulation and improvement of their civilizations. Among the most famous archaeo-astronomical structures that are globally celebrated are Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Tikal in Guatemala and Pyramid of the Sun in Mexico among others. However, three years after its discovery, it remains fairly unknown to the world that the oasis of Siwa is in fact home to one of Ancient Egypt’s astounding solar-calendar technologies– the solar equinox alignment between the Timasirayn Temple and the Temple of Amun Oracle in Aghurmi.

On March 21, 2013, American-Canadian co-discoverers Dustin Donaldson and Robynn Iwata unveiled the only solar equinox temple alignment to have been discovered in Egypt to date. The discovery was later confirmed and reported to the Siwa Council of Antiquities on September 23, 2013 during the fall equinox.

Desert stars over Siwa Oasis

Desert stars over Siwa Oasis ( Mohamed Ashal / Flickr )

Siwa and the Key to the Solar Gate

Upon the mention of Ancient Egyptian civilization, people often think of cities like Giza, Luxor or Aswan. However, cast and preserved in the heart of Egypt’s western desert, the oasis of Siwa is rarely recognized for its true historical value.

Despite the absence of grand Ancient Egyptian structures in Siwa such as the temples found in other cities, it is strongly believed that Siwa was an important center for the Ancient Egyptian god Amun. Worn out and partially destroyed, the only structures denoting the worship of Amun in Siwa are the Temple of the Oracle and Temple of Umm Ebeida.

Resting atop the Aghurmi mound, the Temple of the Oracle derives its worldwide fame not only from its Ancient Egyptian value, but from Alexander the Great’s famous visit to the temple around the year 332 BC where it is believed that the oracle told him he was ‘god’. However, Donaldson’s and Iwata’s recent archaeo-astronomical discovery adds even more historic depth to the structure.

The view from where one would consult the Oracle of Amun at Siwa

The view from where one would consult the Oracle of Amun at Siwa ( public domain )

“I always pull out my compass when we go to a temple. The construction of such structures and the choice of their specific geographic locations were often decided upon based on astronomical considerations, and served as symbolic and literal connections between earth and sky," says Donaldson. “Timasirayn temple is perfectly north, south, east, west aligned, and we consequently expected it had something to do with a sunrise or a sunset. That simple initial observation is what ultimately led to the discovery."

What may go unnoticed by a lot of people was a matter of common knowledge to Donaldson and Iwata – the sun actually rises in different locations on the eastern horizon every day, and only twice a year does it rise exactly due ‘compass’ east. These two occasions are known as the spring and fall equinoxes (which take place on March 21 and September 22 respectively). Due to Earth's 23.5 degree axial tilt as it revolves around the sun, we undergo the changing of the seasons.

The sun rises right behind the Aghurmi mound on the spring equinox.

The sun rises right behind the Aghurmi mound on the spring equinox. Credit: Enas El Masry

"These climatic shifts are physically marked by the sun’s location at four primary points on the horizon: the two equinoxes and solstices. These four days have unique qualities that reveal exactly where we are in the yearly cycle. The summer solstice is the longest day and shortest night of the year. The winter solstice is the opposite, with the shortest day and longest night. The two equinoxes are halfway between the solstice days on the calendar, and feature days and nights of almost exactly equal sunlight and darkness. Taken all together, these four special days reveal the cyclical pattern of the passage of one year in time," Iwata elaborated.

“We were there in January and we noticed that it was the only temple that we had encountered in Siwa that was  aligned to the compass, so we decided to come back at the next point of the 'four corners of the year' as we call them,” says Donaldson. “The spring equinox happened to have been the next one.”

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