Egypt : Sources, calendars, and chronology in ancient Egypt

For all but the last century of Egyptian prehistory, whose neolithic and later phases are normally termed “predynastic,” evidence is exclusively archaeological; later native sources have only mythical allusions to such remote times. The Dynastic period of native Egyptian rulers is generally divided into 30 dynasties, following the Aegyptiaca of the Greco-Egyptian writer Manetho of Sebennytos (early 3rd century BCE), excerpts of which are preserved in the works of later writers. Manetho apparently organized his dynasties by the capital cities from which they ruled, but several of his divisions also reflect political or dynastic changes—that is, changes of the party holding power. He gave the lengths of reign of kings or of entire dynasties and grouped the dynasties into several periods, but, because of textual corruption and a tendency toward inflation, Manetho’s figures cannot be used to reconstruct the chronology without supporting evidence and analysis.

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UFOs and area 51 secrets ... Episode 1

Manetho’s prime sources were earlier Egyptian king lists, the organization of which he imitated. The most significant preserved example of a king list is the Turin Papyrus (Turin Canon), a fragmentary document in the Egyptian Museum in Turin, Italy, which originally listed all kings of the 1st through the 17th dynasty, preceded by a mythical dynasty of gods and one of the “spirits, followers of Horus.” Like Manetho’s later work, the Turin document gave reign lengths for individual kings, as well as totals for some dynasties and longer multi dynastic periods.

In early periods the kings’ years of reign were not consecutively numbered but were named for salient events, and lists were made of the names. More extensive details were added to the lists for the 4th and 5th dynasties, when dates were assigned according to biennial cattle censuses numbered through each king’s reign. Fragments of such lists are preserved on the Palermo Stone, an inscribed piece of basalt (at the Regional Museum of Archaeology in Palermo, Italy), and related pieces in the Cairo Museum and University College London; these are probably all parts of a single copy of an original document of the 5th dynasty.

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UFOs and area 51 secrets ... Episode 2

The Egyptians did not date by eras longer than the reign of a single king, so a historical framework must be created from totals of reign lengths, which are then related to astronomical data that may allow whole periods to be fixed precisely. This is done through references to astronomical events and correlations with the three calendars in use in Egyptian antiquity. All dating was by a civil calendar, derived from the lunar calendar, which was introduced in the first half of the 3rd millennium BCE. The civil year had 365 days and started in principle when Sirius, or the Dog Star—also known in Greek as Sothis (Ancient Egyptian: Sopdet)—became visible above the horizon after a period of absence, which at that time occurred some weeks before the Nile began to rise for the inundation. Every 4 years the civil year advanced one day in relation to the solar year (with 3651/4 days), and after a cycle of about 1,460 years, it would again agree with the solar calendar. Religious ceremonies were organized according to two lunar calendars that had months of 29 or 30 days, with extra, intercalary months every three years or so.

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UFOs and area 51 secrets ... Episode 3

Five mentions of the rising of Sirius (generally known as Sothic dates) are preserved in texts from the 3rd to the 1st millennium, but by themselves, these references cannot yield an absolute chronology. Such a chronology can be computed from larger numbers of lunar dates and cross-checked from solutions for the observations of Sirius. Various chronologies are in use, however, differing by up to 40 years for the 2nd millennium BCE and by more than a century for the beginning of the 1st dynasty. The chronologies offered in most publications up to 1985 have been thrown into some doubt for the Middle and New kingdoms by a restudy of the evidence for the Sothic and especially the lunar dates. For the 1st millennium, dates in the Third Intermediate period are approximate; a supposed fixed year of 945 BCE, based on links with the Bible, turns out to be variable by a number of years. Late period dates (664–332 BCE) are almost completely fixed. Before the 12th dynasty, plausible dates for the 11th can be computed backward, but for earlier times dates are approximate. A total of 955 years for the 1st through the 8th dynasty in the Turin Canon has been used to assign a date of about 3100 BCE for the beginning of the 1st dynasty, but this requires excessive average reign lengths, and an estimate of 2925 BCE is preferable. Radiocarbon and other scientific dating of samples from Egyptian sites have not improved on, or convincingly contested computed dates. More recent work on radiocarbon dates from Egypt does, however, yield results encouragingly close to dates computed in the manner described above.

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UFOs and area 51 secrets last ... Episode 4

King lists and astronomy give only a chronological framework. A vast range of archaeological and inscriptional sources for Egyptian history survive, but none of them were produced with the interpretation of history in mind. No consistent political history of ancient Egypt can be written. The evidence is very unevenly distributed; there are gaps of many decades; and in the 3rd millennium BCE, no continuous royal text recording historical events was inscribed. Private biographical inscriptions of all periods from the 5th dynasty (c. 2465–c. 2325 BCE) to the Roman conquest (30 BCE) record individual involvement in events but are seldom concerned with their general significance. Royal inscriptions from the 12th dynasty (1938–1756 BCE) to Ptolemaic times aim to present a king’s actions according to an overall conception of “history,” in which he is the re-creator of the order of the world and the guarantor of its continued stability or its expansion. The goal of his action is to serve not humanity but the gods, while nonroyal individuals may relate their own successes to the king in the first instance and sometimes to the gods. Only in the decentralized intermediate periods did the nonroyal recount internal strife. Kings did not mention dissent in their texts unless it came at the beginning of a reign or a phase of action and was quickly and triumphantly overcome in a reaffirmation of order. Such a schema often dominates the factual content of texts, and it creates a strong bias toward recording foreign affairs because in official ideology there is no internal dissent after the initial turmoil is over. “History” is as much a ritual as a process of events; as a ritual, its protagonists are royal and divine. Only in the Late period did these conventions weaken significantly. Even then, they were retained in full for temple reliefs, where they kept their vitality into Roman times.

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Magic in Ancient Egypt

Despite this idealization, the Egyptians were well aware of history, as is clear from their king lists. They divided the past into periods comparable to those used by Egyptologists and evaluated the rulers not only as of the founders of epochs but also in terms of their salient exploits or, especially in folklore, their bad qualities. The Demotic Chronicle, a text of the Ptolemaic period, purports to foretell the bad end that would befall numerous Late period kings as divine retribution for their wicked actions.

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