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Unknown Constellations And More Discovered At Egypt’s Esna Temple

Unknown Constellations And More Discovered At Egypt’s Esna Temple

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While the world was locked-down this summer, a team of brave researchers in Egypt cleaned up an ancient cult temple, and what they discovered is truly astronomical. The Esna Temple (or Temple of Esna) is located on the west bank of the Nile River some 55 km south of Luxor. Two centuries ago, this magnificent Egyptian temple was first excavated, and now, a team of German and Egyptian scientists has uncovered hundreds of colorful, 2000-year-old inscriptions and paintings, from beneath layers of compacted bird dropping, earth and soot. And through this cleanup process the team discovered evidence of previously “unknown” constellations in the Esna Temple precinct.

Despite The Coronavirus The Team Managed To Succeed

The team of German and Egyptian researchers involved in this ambitious restoration project was led by Christian Leitz, a professor of Egyptology at the Institute for Ancient Near Eastern Studies ( IANES) at the University of Tübingen, and researchers from the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities. Since 2018 the Tübingen University researchers have worked alongside Egyptian authorities uncovering, preserving and photographically documenting the hitherto hidden paint layers at the mysterious Esna Temple.

A cleaned wall in the Esna Temple restoration project. (Esna Project)

A cleaned wall in the Esna Temple restoration project. (Esna Project)

Even while the coronavirus pandemic had the world on lock down, 15 enthusiastic conservators photographically documented all of the layers of soot revealing the treasures which lay beneath. Measuring 37 meters (121 ft) long, 20 meters (65.61 ft) wide, and 15 meters (49.21 ft) high, this once blazingly colorful sandstone structure was located in front of a temple building founded during the rule of Roman emperor Claudius (ruled 41-54 AD). Today, however, only the original vestibule, known as the “ pronaos,” remains intact.

The Esna Temple: A Pillar For Every Hour Of Day And Night

Temple architects in ancient Egypt expressed universal numbers in buildings through carefully selected measurements, angles, ratios, and proportions. However, groups of architectural features were also used to express “magic numbers.” For example, at the Esna Temple 24 enormous columns supported the ceiling, one for every day of the year. Of these columns 18 are free-standing and it was these that were found to be elaborately carved and painted with plants, trees and other organic designs and motifs.

A wall section in the Esna Temple being cleaned. (Esna Project)

A wall section in the Esna Temple being cleaned. (Esna Project)

It is thought that the Temple of Esna took as long as 200 years to complete and in a press release University of Tübingen Egyptologist, Daniel von Recklinghausen, says this temple is “an absolute exception,” compared with other examples of ancient Egyptian architecture.

The Temple of Esna is unique in many ways but it is particularly famous for its “astronomical ceiling.” At the heart of this cult temple the night sky was expresses in hieroglyphic inscriptions revealing not only the spiritual and religious beliefs of the ancient Egyptians, but also the cosmological ideas maintained by the high priests of the cult who operated from this site.

While the discoveries made during this project are numerous, perhaps the most interesting was discussed in a PHYS article speaking with the lead researcher, who says, they discovered a series of rare inscriptions revealing “for the first time the ancient Egyptian names of unknown star constellations.”

A wall section before cleaning. (Esna Project)

A wall section before cleaning. (Esna Project)

The same wall section after cleaning. (Esna Project)

The same wall section after cleaning. (Esna Project)

Esna Temple Discoveries Reveal A Lost Cosmos

The astronomical discoveries at the Temple of Esna are a rarity among ancient Egyptian temples. The Esna Temple cult center was first excavated by the French Egyptologist Serge Sauneron (1927-1976), who published a black and white book presenting some of the inscriptions. This monochromatic format was chosen not because color printing was unavailable.

The “first” research team to examine the temple didn’t have the chemicals or technologies required to see through the layers of soot and bird droppings that had encased the inscriptions, hiding their original colors. Professor Christian Leitz says the hieroglyphics that Sauneron examined were “often only very roughly chiseled out, the details only applied by painting them in color,” and this means only preliminary versions of the inscriptions had been discovered.

On occasion time destroys but sometimes it protects, and in this case it was the later. Now, the layers of time have finally been carefully cleaned from the columns and ceiling in this unique and domineering cult temple. The latest photographs show what the Esna Temple surfaces would have looked like at the height of its functionality, roughly 2,000 years ago. And now, according to the lead researcher, the names of ancient Egyptian constellations, “which were previously completely unknown,” have been discovered. This opens a new cosmos of research that I can hardly wait to see!

Top image: The towering columns of Egypt’s mysterious Esna Temple, where unknown constellations were found during a recent restoration project.                    Source: Cisek Ciesielski / Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie

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Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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