Tomb aligned with winter solstice sunrise excavated in Egypt


The tomb’s chapel, part of which is seen here. A statue of a governor was supposed to be placed in here, and the chapel is aligned in such a way that the statue would be bathed with sunlight during the winter solstice. (Image credit: University of Jaén and Málaga)

An ancient tomb whose chapel was oriented toward the sunrise on the winter solstice may be the oldest of its kind in Egypt.
Archaeologists have unearthed an unfinished, 3,800-year-old ancient Egyptian tomb with a chapel perfectly aligned with the sunrise on the winter solstice. Archaeologists say that this might be the oldest known tomb in Egypt that is aligned with the winter solstice.
The tomb, near modern-day Aswan, was built during Egypt’s 12th dynasty, part of a time period sometimes called the “Middle Kingdom” in which Egypt thrived.
Located in the Qubbet el-Hawa necropolis, the tomb held the burials of two governors, researchers wrote in a study published in July in the journal Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry(opens in new tab). In ancient times, graverobbers plundered many of the artifacts placed in the tomb, including the governors’ mummies.
The name of the governor who originally built the tomb is unknown, while the other governor buried there was named Heqaib III according to an inscription found in the tomb and in historical records. Both governors were in charge of the nearby town of Elephantine, albeit at different times, the team noted in a statement(opens in new tab).
The tomb’s chapel contains a niche that was originally intended to hold a statue of the governor who built the tomb, the team wrote in the study. The tomb and the statue were never completed, study co-author Alejandro Jiménez-Serrano(opens in new tab), an Egyptologist and archaeologist at the University of Jaén in Spain, told Live Science in an email. Just outside the tomb, the team “found an unfinished statue” that was supposed to be completed and put in the niche, said Jiménez-Serrano, who directs the team’s excavations at the site, noting that it’s not clear why the tomb was left unfinished.
The entranceway to the chapel was built in such a way that the rays of the sun could enter and light the chapel during the winter solstice, which occurs annually on Dec. 21 or Dec. 22. In effect, had it been completed, the governor’s statue and chapel would have been bathed in light during the sunrise of every winter solstice, the day with the fewest hours of daylight. It may be the oldest known tomb in Egypt that is aligned with the winter solstice, the researchers noted.

A plan of the tomb. It was designed so that sunlight would enter the chapel during the winter solstice and bathe the spot where the governor’s statue was supposed to stand.  (Image credit: University of Málaga)

Why did ancient Egyptians value the solstice?

The winter solstice had an important meaning for the ancient Egyptians, the researchers told Live Science.
“The winter solstice marked the beginning of the daily victory of light against darkness, culminating in the summer solstice, the longest day on the earthly plane,” study lead author María Dolores Joyanes Díaz(opens in new tab), a researcher at the University of Málaga in Spain, told Live Science in an email.

RELATED: Here’s the science of the winter solstice

For many of us on Earth this year, celebrating the first day of winter, astronomically speaking, is more than a yearning for snow-covered landscapes and sips of hot chocolate — It also means we’re closer than ever to the end of the year … and the beginning of a new one!
But the winter solstice is an astronomical marvel in its own right. Today, the Northern Hemisphere experiences the fewest hours of daylight for the year all because of our blue marble’s tilt as it treks around the sun.
Although the solstice gets an entire day of recognition, it happens in an instant: At 10:59 a.m. EST (1559 GMT) on Tuesday (Dec. 21), when the North Pole is at its farthest tilt of 23.5 degrees away from the sun. This position leaves the North Pole beyond the sun’s reach, and plunges it into total darkness, according to EarthSky.org(opens in new tab).

RELATED: 6 Ancient Tributes to the Winter Solstice

This weekend marks the beginning of the end. Of winter’s darkness, that is.
Today (Dec. 21), those living in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mark of increasingly longer days, those in the Southern Hemisphere will transition to shorter days, and those at the equator won’t notice much of a difference at all.
The global discrepancy in seasonal sunlight results from Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt on its axis: During the Northern Hemisphere winter, the Earth is tilted directly away from the sun, and during the summer, it is tilted directly toward the sun. The equator does not experience much of a change during the year since it sits in the middle of the axis.
For many ancient civilizations that struggled to subsist through harsh winter months, the winter solstice marked a time of spiritual rejoice and celebration. Modern heating technology and the globalization of food markets make the seasonal transition remarkably easier for modern humans to survive, but people still do celebrate the day with festivities and rituals, including a tradition of reading poetry and eating pomegranates in Iran, and the Guatemalan ritual known as polo voladore — or “flying pole dance” — in which three men climb to the top of a 50-foot-tall (15 meters) pole and perform a risky dance to flutes and drums. [Winter Solstice: Sunrise & Sunset Times in US Cities]

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By: Miss Cherry May Timbol – Independent Reporter

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