Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz
Project title: Lights of Eternity – Investigating Concepts, Tradition and Innovation in the Ancient Egyptian Celestial Diagrams
Supervisors: Univ.-Prof. Dr. Tanja Pommerening, apl. Prof. Dr. Marion Gindhart
Scenes depicting diverse astronomical elements are considered a unique source of information regarding the ancient Egyptian concepts of astronomy. These elaborate scenes are commonly known as Celestial Diagrams; such scenes can be found on a number of sources such as; the inside of coffin lids, water clocks, as well as the ceilings of temples and tombs. Despite these various sources, concepts of celestial phenomena were comparatively rarely depicted in ancient Egypt and the number of sources we have at hand are only the tip to a great amount of knowledge regarding the ancient Egyptian concepts of stellar bodies, observation of celestial phenomena and the influence and integration of ideologies and cultures on this niche.
While, these celestial diagrams are one of the expressive ways the ancient Egyptians visually documented celestial phenomena and concepts. Yet, research on this subject remains scarce and scholarship needs to realise the cultural value of these celestial diagrams and provide new insights. Consequently, this study will investigate the depicted celestial diagrams dating from the New Kingdom up to the Graeco-Roman period (c. 1473–125 AD). This study brings together celestial diagrams from a wide range of time periods and addresses a central question of shared elements, change in tradition and incorporation of new components. Thus, the objective is to assess the different versions of the celestial diagrams, inspect the influence of certain religious/political ideas, and evaluate the way these celestial representations changed or developed overtime. This dissertation aims to highlight the tradition, innovation and novel concepts embodied in the celestial diagrams during different time periods. The materials under study will be keenly contextualised and assessed in the hope of offering a comprehensive and detailed understanding of the celestial diagrams.
The core of study is laid on the few surviving celestial diagrams; accordingly, analysis is based on pictorial evidence. To fulfil this purpose iconographic material will be investigated in a comparative approach on case-by-case basis to glean the similarities, investigate what is common and what changed, unique elements and novel aspects incorporated in the diagrams. Comparative investigation will reveal connection to astronomical observations, conceptualisation of religious and mythological beliefs and the influence of the Greek and Roman cultures on these sets of illustrations and connected concepts. This research will show how adaptations from the Graeco-Roman culture might be visible in surviving celestial decorations.
It is the hope of this study to expand the corpus of scholarly research on this topic, shed light on this niche and provide new interpretations.