The ancient Egyptians were renowned for their religious beliefs and astronomical knowledge of the Sun, Moon, and planets. However, it was unclear what role the Milky Way played in Egyptian religion and culture.

A recent study by an astrophysicist from the University of Portsmouth sheds light on the relationship between the Milky Way and the Egyptian sky goddess Nut. Nut is the goddess of the sky, often depicted as a woman adorned with stars who arched over her brother Geb, the earth god.

She protected the earth from the flooding waters of the void and played a key role in the solar cycle by swallowing the Sun at sunset and giving birth to it again at dawn.

Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu (ca. 1550-1458 BC). With outstretched arms, Nut protects the deceased
Coffin of Ahhotep Tanodjmu (ca. 1550-1458 BC). With outstretched arms, Nut protects the deceased. Credit: Public domain / Metropolitan Museum

The article argues that the Milky Way may have illuminated, so to speak, Nut’s role in the sky based on ancient Egyptian texts and sky simulations.

It proposes that in winter, the Milky Way highlighted Nut’s outstretched arms, while in summer it traced her spine across the heavens.

Associate Professor of Astrophysics Dr. Or Graur stated that he came across the sky goddess Nut while writing a book about galaxies and studying Milky Way mythology.

After bringing his daughters to a museum where they were enchanted by an image of the arched woman, it sparked his interest in combining astronomy and Egyptology for a dual astronomical and cross-cultural analysis of Nut and her potential link to the Milky Way.

The Milky Way
The Milky Way. Credit: NASA / Wikimedia Commons

Dr. Graur referred to rich ancient sources like the Pyramid Texts, Coffin Texts, and Book of Nut, comparing them with sophisticated simulations of the Egyptian night sky. He found compelling evidence that the Milky Way highlighted Nut’s divine presence.

He also related Egyptian beliefs to those of other cultures, showing similarities in how different societies interpret the Milky Way.

Dr. Graur concluded that his research shows how combining disciplines can provide new insights into ancient beliefs, highlighting how astronomy connects humanity across cultures, geography, and time.


Sources

University of Portsmouth | Or Graur, The ancient Egyptian personification of the Milky Way as the sky-goddess Nut: An astronomical and cross-cultural analysis, Journal of Astronomical History and Heritage (2024). DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1440-2807.2024.01.02


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