Dahshur (Image: lapping, Pixabay)

Aldebaran and the Dashour Pyramids

An Argument presented by Jane B. Sellers, Author of  The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt

It has taken me time to respond to being asked to point out my differences with the writings of Bauval and Hancock. I had thought I hesitated with good cause, for although I saw too little similarity in our ideas, it was through them that the title of my book had gained recognition.

Robert Bauval and Adrian Gilbert’s book, The Orion Mystery, which quoted and praised my work, was published two years after the 1992 publication of The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, a book that had a debut accompanied by resounding silence. (In its defense I can say only that I had lost my editor at Penguin and his replacement seemed not only to be laboring under the impression that this book be reviewed by astrology and occult publications, but also had little interest in it.) It was a disappointing beginning after 14 years of painstaking work; half done before computer astronomy programs became available.

What has prompted me at this time is my belated awareness of Dr.Jaromir Malek’s 1994 review of The Orion Mystery. Dr. Malek’s comments quickly initiated a more careful reading of Bauval’s chapter on an Egyptian text referred to as The Memphite Theology, a text in which the gods decree the unification of Upper and Lower Egypt.

Although I recall having been intrigued with his identification of Orion’s Belt with the layout of the Giza pyramids, I had rejected much from this best selling book. I had certainly dismissed his theory explaining the Egyptian account of “The Unification of the Two Lands” which had never really been presented as a theory, but more as a Eureka moment: the discovery of Truth. What I did not recall was that words of mine were used to both preface and to infer agreement with his statements–statements that in no possible way were supported by me. I feel dismay and even anger…not only at Bauval, but also at myself for having paid too little attention.

So let us get down to this specific case. In The Orion Mystery, Chapter 8, Section IV,”The Equator in the Sky,” Bauval applies his theory to the text of the Shabaka Stone (The Memphite Theology). He suggests that many important events in Egyptian myths were based on observations of the slowly changing height above the horizon of meridian transits, or in this particular case, the changing angular distance north or south of the celestial equator, of two particular stars in the Hyades. Such a measurement is then given as the “declination” of a star rather than its altitude or height above the horizon. (Bauval uses both the horizon and the equatorial system at different times). He also determines the year dates during which these two stars would have crossed over this line in the sky going northward. (2450 BC for Star 311, the designation given the star, Epsilon Taurus, and 2080 BC for Aldebaran.) Note: it will not be until c.3600 AD. that Aldebaran reaches its maximum height above the celestial equator or the horizon-a journey that from minimum to maximum takes approximately 13,000 years. (This is half the time of the precessional cycle.)

If I understand him properly, Bauval is saying, in this case, that it is not a matter of the ancients observing a star reach its maximum height in relation to the horizon and then realizing that later measurements show this height to lessen, but rather that the ancient Egyptians had exact knowledge of where the celestial equator is located in the sky. He is saying that the observation of Epsilon Taurus and Aldebaran crossing this invisible line at 0.0 degrees was the celestial event that triggered the Unification. My concerns are neither of these observations, but of the observable results of precession noted at the horizon. Such results are changes in star arrival times, and to a lesser degree, changes in the azimuth or rising points on the horizon. I suggest that these changes may have been the pre-dynastic origins of Egyptian myths.

In “Equator in the Sky” Bauval instructs the reader where to locate the celestial equator:

[It can be found] running due east and west, but the line is directly overhead only if you are on the earth’s equator; otherwise it always inclines towards the south, crossing the meridian line at an altitude equal to ninety degrees less the latitude where you are standing.

He then describes instructing Sky-Globe 3.5 to track the two stars he wished to identify as two celestial counterparts to pyramids at Dashour: [The parentheses are his.]

The celestial equator passed just above the Hyades, meaning that they were in the lower sky (corresponding to ‘Lower Egypt’). Knowing that the precessional effect caused an upwards shift of the stars, I decided to see when the Hyades, and especially the two stars, Aldebaran and 311 (Epsilon Taurus), which I equated to the two Dashour pyramids, would cross the equator and move into the upper sky (‘Upper Egypt’).

As Bauval watched the simulated Aldebaran and Epsilon Taurus transit the celestial equator he wrote:

I was astounded to see on the monitor screen the events of the unification as explained in the Memphite Theology. It was a thrilling sight!…In correlation, this meant that the Dashour (Hyades) pyramids now ‘belonged’ to Upper Egypt, a territorial dispute settled not by land deeds but by the precessional mystery of the stars.

Although I cannot see why this would unite the south with the north, there is an even greater objection. Bauval (along with the Egyptians and Egyptologists) equates Orion, a constellation that was well south of the celestial equator until very recent times, with the god, Osiris, who wore the White Crown of the South, (Upper Egypt).

Therefore, if Bauval (and of more importance, the Egyptians) were consistent, it should be reasoned that Egyptians identified stars south of the celestial equator with gods associated with Upper Egypt.

It bears repeating: Bauval is equating north of the celestial equator with Upper Egypt because his chosen two stars moved upward and crossed this relatively modern line for dividing the sky. Now Bauval knows that Upper Egypt is Southern Egypt, as he knows the well acknowledged correspondence between Orion, who is located south of the celestial equator and Osiris, who wears the White Crown of the south. If Upper Egypt was represented by the area above the celestial equator, why did not the Egyptians pick a group of stars above the equator, or for that matter, above the ecliptic or the Milky Way, to represent Osiris? They did not. Orion is below all of these dividing lines.

Bauval has it backwards.

I believe that “The Great Winding Waterway” was the line that for the ancient Egyptian divided the sky into two halves. I believe that this Waterway was our Milky Way, rather than the ecliptic, which is the path of the sun, planets and zodiacal constellations. I reject entirely the idea of the celestial equator, believing it to be a later, more sophisticated, concept. (Of the two ways we now use to divide the sky, the ecliptic and the celestial equator, the ecliptic has always been believed to be the earlier.)

It may also be said here that if we are to identify, as most cultures do, the scorpion as the killer of Orion, Egyptian myths place the Scorpion god in Lower (Northern) Egypt. The head of Scorpius with its bright star, Antares, is north of the Milky Way, a dividing line that can be located without difficulty.

Before leaving the subject of divisions in the sky, Robert Bauval states on pg. 153:

The celestial equator is, therefore, the astronomical ‘border’ which divides the upper and lower skies.

Earlier, on pg. 120, he has written:

Just as the Nile divides Egypt into two regions, so the Milky Way divides the sky.

There are many references to the Winding Waterway in the Pyramid Texts, such as that of Lines 1376/1377, which read:

… my ferryboats are made ready for the son of Atum … on this southern side of the Winding Waterway. O Thoth … put me on the tip of your wing on yonder northern side of the Winding Waterway.

Bauval, although recognizing the Milky Way as a natural dividing line, believes that the ancient Egyptians had conceived of an invisible dividing line.

I wrote three very difficult chapters, difficult to write and difficult to read, (Part Four: The Time of Crisis), attempting to explain the complex text of the Memphite Theology. Despite this, Bauval chose to partially quote my summary of these chapters in a way that strongly implies that my conclusion supported his thesis. In fact, where Hancock and Bauval base their ideas on the changing altitude of a star when crossing one’s meridian, I see pre-literate man as a horizon watcher, and the primary importance of these observations would seem to hold true, even as Egypt moved into its historic period.

The Egyptian Star Clocks (also called Diagonal Calendars) used the rising of stars, called Decans, to divide the hours of the night, and the importance that the Egyptians gave to the first rising of Sirius is undisputed. There is no indication that transits were used for timekeeping until c.1300 BC (in the cenotaph of Seti I) when the diagonal star clocks were so clearly out of date. Although it can be theorized that the pyramids and/or the so-called airshafts in the Great Pyramid were aligned to transits of key stars, there is certainly no evidence that the position of a star was compared to the celestial equator.

The Memphite Theology speaks of a period after Osiris’s death during which the gods gave half of Osiris’ domain to Seth and half to Horus,

…then it seemed wrong to Geb that the portion of Horus was like the portion of Seth. So Geb gave Horus his inheritance.

In The Orion Mystery however, Bauval rewrites the translation. On page 149 we are told,

Immediately after taking this seemingly fair decision, Geb has second thoughts and retracted it.

[The emphasis is mine.]

Bauval is careless when it comes to wedding the exact myth to his proposed explanation. In The Death of Gods, available at my website [Ed.: no longer accessible], I have advanced an argument that is complex and quite different from the proposal presented in The Orion Mystery. Indeed, if we are to suggest that precession was “father to the myth,” there are other effects of this phenomenon that could account more satisfactorily for the elements in the text. It should be remembered that in 100 years stars on the ecliptic appear to move 1.397 degrees (or 1degree, 23 minutes, 49.2 seconds) east of the horizon. (Guy Ottewell, The Astronomical Companion) Thus in a few centuries it would be obvious that a key star, perhaps one marking the date of equal hours of light and darkness and associated with a key god, was rising late. It would fail to arrive on its important pre-dawn morning after its seasonal absence. It would arrive, but only after invoking grief and mourning: it would arrive, but on an ever later date.

Bauval’s figures show that at meridian transit, Aldebaran’s change in degrees in reference to the celestial equator occurs at a much slower rate. In 920 years there is a change of only 5 degrees, 35 minutes, (The Orion Mystery, pg. 154.) Al Nitak, a star in the Belt of Orion, moves even slower. I believe that the slow change in a star’s meridian height would be far less noticeable than the failure of a key god to arrive on his special date.

Bauval has connected the Unification of the Two Lands with the concluding verdict of the trial, and rightly so. But in historic times, if not earlier, certain rituals were performed during the Sed Festival, (a festival to commemorate the anniversary of a king’s rule), that point to the honoring of an ancient event, an event that gave the king the right to rule both Upper and Lower Egypt. The ritual is an enigmatic circuit run by the king and named “The Dedication of the Field.”

Just prior to this circuitous running by the king, the king, clad in an archaic mantle, enters the sanctuary of the Royal Ancestor, Upuat, and anoints the sacred standard of the Opener-of-the-Ways. The king, preceded by Upuat’s standard and those of the two hawks, then disappears into a palace temple for a period of time, reappearing in a short kilt and holding the flail sceptre in his right hand. In his left is an object resembling a small scroll, called variously “The Will,” “The House Document,” or “The Secret of the Two Partners.” He then runs with this and displays it to all, proclaiming that it was given to him by Osiris, in the presence of the god Geb.

The ceremonial running with the will dates far back into the earliest recorded times and affirms the king’s right to rule a unified Egypt. It is an old ceremony and its antiquity is affirmed by a First Dynasty (c.2900 BC) representation of King Den running with the will in his hand. Bauval argues here for the Unification occurring at the close of the Fourth Dynasty, an astonishingly late date. He gives 2400 BC, (or even later), for the Unification of Upper and Lower Egypt primarily because Aldebaran and Epsilon Taurus (both stars in the Hyades) moved north of the celestial equator during a period from 2450 to 2080 BC, a period of 370 years.

In Death of Gods I present a hypothesis that would explain why, following the death of Osiris, equal portions of Egypt were given to Horus and Seth. It would explain why Horus, described as having first been given the kingship of “Lower Egypt in the Land of Northern Egypt,” had then been given the whole of Egypt. The hypothesis offered an explanation, other than a terrestrial one, for the great importance given to the events in this account and has nothing to do with the changing altitude on the meridian of the constellations involved.

This then is what I believe:

  • I am convinced that this text reflects an agonizing time of great change and crisis…a change not only in the stellar domain of each of the two gods involved but also in the very location of the office of Osiris. Later accounts of the trial reflect the dilemma, the texts ask: …can the office go to the murderer?…Is this the way to avenge the death of Osiris?
  • I have suggested that the precessionally caused changes in the observable sky led to a dramatic change in the belief system of pre-literate Egyptians.Although the stars that were used to announce the sun’s coming were given special status, the greatest honor was now to be given to those star groups obscured by the rising sun, in other words, to those “riding in the solar boat.” Egypt would now have both a stellar and a solar-based religion. But of course, Seth could not be awarded the position in the solar boat, despite the fact that precession had put him there. The Chester Beatty Papyrus account of the argument reads: “Seth proclaims, I slay the enemy of Re daily, standing in the prow of the Bark-of-Millions, and no other god can do it. I should receive the office of Osiris”! One might call it the time of the ‘big switch.’
  • It is well documented that the ancient Egyptians had an overriding belief in the sympathetic magic of images. Unification was represented by a knot in the center of two winding, but opposing, lashings. I am in agreement with those who believe that these lashings not only symbolized the two opposing forces affecting the apparent movement of the skies but also, in fact, commanded it. It is acknowledged that this representation is titled “The Joining of the Two Lands,” but I do not believe it to be the land of geographical location.
  • I suggest that it is the sky above and the horizon below, and that these were symbolically tied together so as to make future slippage utterly impossible. (But of course, the skies changed again.) All this, of course, does not negate the use, then and in the future, of “Announcer” stars, The Openers of the Ways, rising before sunrise and preceding sunset: the Jackals of Upper and Lower Egypt.

I would ask Robert Bauval his thoughts on “The Secret of the Two Partners” or “The Secret of the Will.” I am hoping that readers consider the possibility that the ritual running around the “Field” implies more than just a north, east, south, and west affirmation of the unified land. I would add that a complete explanation of my own theory could certainly not be covered here.

I have said more than enough. It would have been sufficient to say that I am convinced that the pre-literate Egyptians first looked eastward for the heliacal rising, (or the first rising after its seasonal absence), of the great constellation, Orion. Evidence suggests that importance given to transits, which is observed facing south, came at a later date.

One final remark, in Death of Gods, I give computer determined dates for the spring equinox morning disappearance of the last stars of Orion, the star Aldebaran, and the star Hamal. Their loss of visibility is rigorously confirmed by examining the sun’s distance below the horizon and the individual star’s magnitude and distance above the horizon. These dates will certainly not agree with the date of an “Age”(a later invention), and when one speaks of “The Age of Taurus” all of the stars of Taurus are usually considered to be “rising with the sun at vernal equinox.” When Aldebaran no longer rose heliacally on the day of equal light and darkness it was certainly during what we now call The Age of Gemini: it was not until c.3700 BC that the Pleiades (on the shoulder Taurus) disappeared in the light of equinox sunrise. One must also remember that such various “ages” are determined by thirty-degree “signs” which rarely correspond with the varying sizes of constellations.

Here, at the end, seems an appropriate place to repeat the beginning of Death of Gods:

The quest for an understanding of ancient thought is both fascinating and frustrating. Although the search carries the investigator ever further back in time, although the journey may deepen one’s feeling of kinship with the past, any perceived understanding must always be accepted as incomplete. The theories directed to the beliefs of preliterate peoples must be understood to fall short of full certainty, and the most deeply felt convictions must aspire only to a reasonable degree of probability.

Or in the words of Sir James Frazer in the Golden Bough:

…we must always remember that we are treading enchanted ground, and must beware of taking for solid realities the cloudy shapes that cross our path.”

…we must always remember that we are treading enchanted ground, and must beware of taking for solid realities the cloudy shapes that cross our path.

Jane B. Sellers

The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt


It is possible that since the publication of The Orion Mystery, Bauval no longer insists on this explanation for the Unification, but there are many other areas of disagreement.

Both Hancock and Bauval still promote the intriguing idea that the pyramid builders had a very specific moment in the heavens that they wished to commemorate on the floor of the Giza plateau. They suggest that the Egyptians of the Fourth Dynasty knew of a time when Orion had been seen due south at the same time that the pole of the ecliptic was due north, and the vernal point due east. I had found it exciting to contemplate that the Egyptians used the meridian passage of Orion to signal the heliacal rising of certain stars that marked the vernal equinox date. However, I then realized that this wonderful astronomical conjunction occurred for only a very brief moment in time, and that moment was c.10,500 BC, more than 8,000 years before.

On the other hand, I am intrigued with the possibility that the “stretching of the cord” ceremony (used when laying foundations during historic times), was a sighting on a “hole” in the sky around which the circumpolar stars revolved. Kate Spence, British Egyptologist, has suggested that with the use of two stars, one in the Big Dipper, the other in the Little (one above the “hole,” the other below), the observation could have been made of a simultaneous crossing of an invisible “chord” running through this area. The use of this brief alignment would have allowed the Egyptians to position the Great Pyramid to north with an astonishing degree of accuracy. However, many questions regarding the feasibility of such a method remain to be answered.

Jane Sellars reviews some of Robert Bauval’s misuse and abuse of her work in The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt.

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