Contributed Talk - Splinter Historical

Friday, 25 September 2020, 14:50   (virtual room E)

Taharqa’s Resurrection Machine: The Solar Alignment of Jebel Barkal and his Pyramid at Nuri

Tim Kendall; E. C. Krupp
former Associate Curator, Egyptian Dept., MFA Boston; Director, Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles

Jebel Barkal is a lone table-mountain on the Nile, about 350 km NNW of Khartoum in N. Sudan. It marked the site of the city of Napata, which was the chief cult center of the later Kingdom of Kush (ca. 800 BC to 300 AD). From the time of the Egyptian conquest of the region about 1450 BC, Jebel Barkal had been identified as a creation site, where the Creator god himself still dwelt inside the hill. The god was believed to be a primeval form of the Theban Amun, who dwelt 1260 km downstream. The most unusual feature of the hill is its 75 m high pinnacle. To ancient eyes, this natural formation was imagined as a statue representing multiple things at once: an erect phallus, a rearing cobra (“uraeus”=goddess), and a vague royal figure, wearing the tall, knobbed “white crown,” symbolic of royal authority over the South. Since the god was believed to embody his own father (=phallus), mother (=uraeus), and child (= first king) simultaneously, the pinnacle had a powerful supernatural presence, as if it were the god himself, or Osiris, the mythological first king. The pinnacle summit is 11 m distant from the cliff edge and inaccessible to human climbers (without modern climbing equipment). Nevertheless, in a hugely complex and dangerous engineering project run from the cliff top, Taharqa was able to place a monument to himself on the summit, which consisted of a gilded inscribed panel and a statue. His objective seems to have been to unite himself both with his “father” Amun - and Osiris, god of eternal kingship and fertility. On the other side of the Nile, Taharqa built his pyramid at Nuri, visible 9.7 km to the NE from the summit of Jebel Barkal. It was built in two stages, which made it the highest in Sudan at 64 m. Taharqa was the first of 20 kings to build his pyramid there. Why did he choose Nuri, which was 26 km from the old ancestral cemetery at el-Kurru? About 2000 we began to suspect that the reason was astronomical. (An inscription found at Jebel Barkal speaks of Osiris as one “born on the first of the year” and calls him by the name of “Pillar,” apparently referring to the pinnacle.) When viewed from the summit of Jebel Barkal, Taharqa’s pyramid seemed to be located at the exact point of sunrise on what would have been the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day, the day when the star Sirius was first visible at dawn in its heliacal rising at Thebes. The day would have marked the annual “rebirth” of Osiris, which also marked the start of the Nile flood. It would also have meant the resurrection of Taharqa. (Today the date is July 31; in 664 BC it was August 6). Three and a half months later, when viewed from the summit of Taharqa’s pyramid, the sun sets directly over the Jebel Barkal pinnacle, which looks like a statue of Osiris. The day, Nov 16 (in 664 BC Nov. 23) fell during the so-called “khoiak Festival,” which marked the end of the inundation and the annual “death” of Osiris. The setting sun over the pinnacle was a metaphor for the dying god. When the sunset was seen from the cliff top at Jebel Barkal, the pinnacle cast a shadow that pointed to Taharqa’s pyramid, as if “the god” were returning to his tomb. Although the theory was first published in 2008, the presentation today will re-examine the data and discuss the implications for refining our understanding of the Egyptian calendar of this period.