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Sun-Earth Day Presents: Ancient Observatories, Timeless Knowledge

Technology Through Time: Issue #3, El Karnak

To ancient Egyptians, the sun god Re was the bringer of light, and in other incarnations, the creator of the universe. The magnificent temple at Karnak celebrates this unity through its enormous pillars, designed in harmony with the sun and stars over a span of nearly 2000 years.


Egypt, northeast area of Luxor
Latitude: 25.44 N
Longitude: 32.36 E - 25.44N, 32.39E.


Built by the Ancient Egyptians in several episodes of construction and enlargement from 2055 B.C to 395 A.D. It was originally surrounded by the famous city of Thebes, which was completely sacked in 667 B.C by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal. Most of the original temple compound still lies under the city of Luxor and is inaccessible by archeologists. The major purpose of the temple complex at Luxor was to honor the god Amon-Re. The main function of the temple was for the Festival of Opet. A statue of Amon would be carried in a solemn procession from the main temple compound, down the Avenue of the Sphinxes, and into Luxor.


The earliest axis included the famous Great Hypostyle Hall built by Ramses II on an east to west alignment. Sir Norman Lockyer (1836-1920) proposed a midsummer sunset alignment of the Main Axis of the Great Temple of Amon-Re (see The Dawn of Astronomy, 1894). As Lockyer noted of Karnak, it was 'a scientific instrument of very high precision, as by it the length of the year could be determined with the greatest possible accuracy.' By some accounts, the temple at Luxor may have no less than four well-defined alignment changes involving stars. Unlike solar alignments which can generally last for thousands of years intact, stellar alignments are much more critical because of the precession of the equinoxes, and last only a few hundred years. Lockyer's measurements showed several Karnak temples had been altered over the centuries to match the precessional changes in their aligned stars.


Image Gallery:

El Karnak gallery image

Photo Credit:

Photos copyright Matthew Davey and Hélène Mc Dermott 1997. Please ask before using them.

Technology Through Time Bulletin Board Activity

This bulletin board activity is designed to focus student attention on the role that sun watching has played in humankind's survival through time. As part of this display you may wish to use your own world map ordownload one we have created for you.

Related El Karnak Links

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