Ancient Egyptian Astronomers Recorded Eclipse of Binary Star Algol – 3000 Years Before Modern Astronomers

Here’s a comprehensible summary of this recent academic paper that proposes Egyptian astronomers successfully recorded the eclipse period of a distant star.

Here’s an excerpt of the summary:

Egyptian astronomers used what they learnt to make predictions about the future. They drew these up in the form of calendars showing lucky and unlucky days.

The predictions were amazingly precise. Each day was divided into three or more segments, each of which was given a rating lying somewhere in the range from very favourable to highly adverse.

One of the best preserved of these papyrus documents is called the Cairo Calendar. Although the papyrus is badly damaged in places, scholars have been able to extract a complete list of ratings for days throughout an entire year somewhere around 1200 BC.

An interesting question is how the scribes arrived at their ratings. So various groups have studied the patterns that crop up in the predictions. Today, Lauri Jetsu and buddies at the University of Helsinki in Finland reveal the results of their detailed statistical analysis of the Cairo Calendar. Their conclusion is extraordinary.

These guys arranged the data as a time series and crunched it with various statistical tools designed to reveal cycles within it. They found two significant periodicities. The first is 29.6 days–that’s almost exactly the length of a lunar month, which modern astronomers put at 29.53059 days.

The second cycle is 2.85 days and this is much harder to explain. However, Jetsu and co make a convincing argument that this corresponds to the variability of Algol, a star visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Perseus.

So, why post this on PaleoBabble? Basically, because of this post from the Daily Graal suggesting that this discovery will dredge up talk of the “mystery” of the Dogon’s knowledge of Sirius.

As readers know, I think there is zero evidence in support of ancient astronaut visitation of the Dogon, primarily because recent research has demonstrated that the theory is based on the word of one Dogon, whose story and mythology is unknown and unconfirmed by other Dogon elders (for starters).

But should I reconsider ancient astronauts in light of this discovery?

Uh … no. Did you read the excerpt above?  Read it again. The Egyptians did what they did using two very human techniques: (1) naked eye astronomy (“the variability of Algol, a star visible to the naked eye in the constellation of Perseus“) and (2) a little thing we earthlings call math.

Sorry. No aliens needed for this either. But it’s pretty cool — and shows once again how much we underestimate the ancients.