Scientists have discovered the hidden role of the Milky Way in ancient Egyptian mythology

A new study reveals how the Milky Way emphasized the role of the Egyptian sky deity Nut and draws similarities between Egyptian beliefs and other cultures, underscoring the universal importance of celestial phenomena.

The ancient Egyptians were known for their religious beliefs and astronomical knowledge of the sun, moon, and planets, but until now it was not clear what role. milky way Played on Egyptian religion and culture.

A new study University of Portsmouth Astrophysicist sheds light on the relationship between the Milky Way and the Egyptian sky deity Nut.

Nut is the goddess of the sky, often depicted as a star-studded woman bent over her brother, the earth god Keb. She protects Earth from the encroaching waters of the Void, and plays a vital role in the solar cycle, swallowing the sun at dusk and giving birth to it once more at dawn.

The role of the Milky Way

This paper draws on ancient Egyptian texts and allegories to argue that the Milky Way may have shone a spotlight on Nut's role as the sky. In winter, the Milky Way highlighted Nut's outstretched arms, and in summer, it traced her spine across the heavens.

Dr R Grauer, associate professor of astrophysics, said: „I was writing a book about galaxies and looking at the mythology of the Milky Way when I chanced upon the sky goddess Nut. I took my daughters to a museum and they were mesmerized by this image of a curvaceous woman and kept hearing stories about her. This piqued my interest, and I decided to combine both astronomy and Egyptology to do a dual analysis—astronomical and cross-cultural—of the sky-goddess Nut, and whether she could actually be connected to the Milky Way.

Vana Devi Nut, covered with stars

The attached image shows the sky goddess Nut, covered in stars, held aloft by her father Shu, and bent over her brother Kep, the earth god. On the left, the rising sun (the hawk-headed god Re) travels at the feet of Nut. On the right, the setting sun travels toward the outstretched arms of Osiris, who will recreate the sun in the afterlife at night. Credit: EA Wallis Budge, Gods of the Egyptians, Vol. 2 (Methuen & Co., 1904).

Dr Grauer drew from a rich collection of ancient sources, including pyramid texts, coffin texts and the Book of Nut, and compared them to sophisticated simulations of the Egyptian night sky.

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He found convincing evidence that the Milky Way represented the divine presence of Nut.

Cross-cultural comparisons and future research

Also, Dr. Kirar linked Egyptian beliefs to other cultures, showing similarities in how different societies interpreted the Milky Way.

He said: „My research also shows that Nut's role in the transition to the reanimation of the dead and his connection to the annual bird migration is consistent with how other cultures understand the Milky Way. For example, as a spirit road among different peoples in North and Central America, or as a bird route in Finland and the Baltics.

„My research shows how combining disciplines can provide new insights into ancient beliefs, and highlights how astronomy connects humanity across cultures, geographies and time. This paper is an exciting start to a larger project to catalog and study the multicultural mythology of the Milky Way.

Reference: „The Ancient Egyptian Personification of the Milky Way as the Goddess Nut: An Astronomical and Cross-Cultural Analysis”, Orr Grauer, 2 April 2024. Journal of the History and Heritage of Astronomy.
DOI: 10.3724/SP.J.1440-2807.2024.01.02

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