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9 -15 November 2000
Issue No.507
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The calendar for all seasons

By Rehab Saad


The missing link? Archaelogists rejoiced when underwater diving teams uncovered another fragment of the so-called Naos of the Decades photo: Christopher Gerigk
THE LAST great Egyptian king before the conquest of Egypt by Alexander the Great was Nectanebo I. In the fourth century b.c., he ordered the construction of a naos, a shrine enclosed on three sides with a pyramidal top. In such a structure, the hollow space usually carried the statue of a god or goddess. This one, hewn from a single block of granite, was broken into numerous sections. Two were found and taken to the Louvre in 1815 and a large piece is displayed in the Graeco-Roman Museum in Alexandria. But the discovery of two other segments in the sunken cities uncovered off Abu Qir Bay, has caused great excitement among scholars.

Known as the Naos of the Decades (or the "shrine of time"), the monument has long intrigued archaeologists. The inscriptions, which date from the fifth century b.c., are the oldest known evidence of the origins of modern astrology. With the discovery of two additional segments, more light will be thrown on the naos's important inscriptions.

Based on the movements of particular stars in the heavens, known as decans, the inscriptions show that the year was divided into 37 segments. By observing celestial clues, priests could prophesy on matters ranging from the destiny of kings to the productivity of the soil.

The naos, originally found in the the eastern Delta town of Saft, was moved many times, eventually ending in the temple of Isis in the ancient city of Menouthis. Was the naos destroyed as a pagan monument when Christianity prevailed? Were the pieces cast about haphazardly? How much more will we be able to gauge from the texts when plaster casts of the new pieces are placed alongside the texts in the Louvre and the Graeco-Roman museum. One thing is certain, that Egyptian priests carved the texts. Ancient Egyptians, it seems, had a greater knowledge of astrology than they have usually been credited with.

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