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The early Egyptian calendar consisted of a lunar calendar based upon a twelve-month year with thirty days in a month. The ancient hieroglyphic for "month" consisted of the crescent-moon.

About 4000 BCE the Egyptians added five additional days to their year to bring it into correspondence with the solar year. Since they did not correct for the fact that a solar year consists of 365 1/4 days their year fell behind one day every four years. For a complete cycle to occur required 1,461 years (365 1/4 x 4 = 1,461). The division of the year provided three seasons—inundation, vegetation, and harvest--each consisting of four months of thirty days. Following the last month came the five additional days.

Egyptian astronomers observed that the annual inundation of the Nile commenced at the time the Dog-star Sirius had its helical rising. The helical rising of a star consists of the first day the star can be observed before sunrise in the light of the sun. Every 1,461 years a new Sothic period began when the helical rising of Sirius occurred on the first day of the new year. Since the first day of the new year consisted of a fixed holiday and the helical rising of Sirius remains calculable the Egyptian calendar provides a fairly precise record for the biblical period.

The Egyptian day, which began at sunrise, had twenty-four hours with day and night being divided into twelve hours each. The exact division meant that hours did not consist of constant length but varied with the season.

The history of ancient Egypt can be viewed as three basic periods:

  • Old Kingdom (ca. 2640–2160; Dynasties 3–6)

  • Middle Kingdom (ca. 2040–1650; Dynasties 11–14)

  • New Kingdom (ca. 1551–712; Dynasties 18–24)

After each of these periods there existed periods of decline. Egyptian chronology and the absolute dates of ceramic and other artifacts become fixed based upon these periods. There exists doubt about the absolute dates of the earlier dynasties meaning that Egyptian chronology always undergoes reevaluation. While objects of known age, but heavily linked to absolute dates in Egyptian chronology, establish corresponding absolute dates in the Levant there exists some danger in the interdependence—circular reasoning. The dates of imported pottery from Cyprus and Greece draws heavily upon Egyptian chronology as well.


Page last edited: 02/12/06 02:42 PM


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