Total solar eclipses in Ancient Egypt

Total solar eclipses in Ancient Egypt

David G. Smith

Published Online


Despite the fact that the sun played such a prominent part in the religion and culture of Ancient Egypt it is surprising that there is virtually no mention of solar eclipses, which would not have been understood and so would have been terrifying. This paper discusses a class of inscriptions appearing on a number of artefacts from Deir el-Medina or nearby and also material from the The Egyptian Book of the Dead. In the past the inscriptions have traditionally been interpreted by researchers as referring to blindness, often of only a temporary nature, or of spiritual darkness and their co-incidence with the occurrence of Book of the Dead Spell 135 has not hitherto been noticed. Tentative dating of these artefacts has been attempted based upon their provenance and the individuals associated with them in relation to known regnal years from a generally accepted chronology supplemented by recent research for the Amarna period.

An alternative hypothesis is proposed, namely that these artefacts record the witnessing of a total solar eclipse, which, not being understood at the time, was regarded as a punishment or omen, and was consequently interpreted in religious terms. It is suggested that in response to these events, Spell 135 was then used in a precautionary manner in the tombs of those who witnessed this event or their family. The paper shows that this hypothesis is not inconsistent with the available evidence. As such it must still stand and may ultimately form an important element in attempts to generate an absolute chronology.

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