Plumb With the Sun: Is Karnak Temple Egypt’s Stonehenge?

Caretaker of KarnakNew research suggests some of Egypt’s most famous ancient temples charted the heavens in much the same way as Stonehenge, with many built to align with various stars as well as the sun and moon.

One of the country’s most recognisable landmarks, Luxor‘s Karnak Temple, was constructed so that New Year coincided with the midwinter sun hitting its central sanctuary. An article in New Scientist reports that Many of the temples, some dating back as far as 3,000 years, would have been precisely aligned so that their people could set agricultural, political and religious calendars by them.

Experts have long been convinced hieroglyphs on temple walls depicting the ‘stretching of the cord’ ceremony – in which a pharaoh marked out the temple‘s dimensions with string – have inferred astronomical purpose.

But this research goes a step further, and shows that each temple was aligned to its own celestial phenomenon. Links to both solstices and equinoxes have been found, as well as alignments with the rising of Sirius, the sky’s brightest star.

“Somebody would have had to go to the prospective site during a solar, stellar or lunar event – as we did – to mark out the position that the temple axis should take,” says Juan Belmonte of the Canaries Astrophysical Institute in Tenerife, Spain. “For the most important temples, this may well have been the pharaoh, as the temple drawings show.”

The idea of pharaohs marking out plumb lines much like a modern builder is good enough for me, personally. Astronomy has always fascinated ancient civilizations. Since the first cities of Sumer, man has looked skywards for farming, religion and sheer curiosity. Indeed, some of the world’s first writing deals with the chronicling of the heavens.

However, the most famous monument known for its astronomical alignments must surely be Stonehenge. Twice yearly thousands (including Heritage Key) flock to the ‘sacred’ stones to celebrate their spectacular synergy with the solstices.

Maybe now we’ll see druid pilgrimages to Cairo, Luxor et al? It’d be a bit too hot for all those robes…