Author(s):Vincenzo Orofino, Paolo Bernardini
Since long time various qualitative speculations have been proposed about the link between the three major Giza pyramids and the stars. In particular, according to a popular and controversial hypothesis (the so-called Orion Correlation Theory), a perfect coincidence would exist between the mutual positions of the three stars of the Orion Belt and those of the main Giza pyramids. In the present paper, this apparent coincidence has been subjected to some statistical verifications, in order to assess the probability that the correlation between stars and pyramids, both in relative position and in luminosity/height, can be merely due to the case. These statistical analyses have been performed by means of Monte Carlo simulations and have been coupled with previous
astronomical/astrophysical tests of the presumed correlation, finding that the coincidence does not seem to be fortuitous and that it is compatible with the naked-eye astrometry and photometry of the Orion Belt stars. On the contrary, unlike what stated by another popular and controversial theory (the so-called Cygnus-Giza Correlation), we have found no coincidence between the mutual positions of the three pyramids and those of the three stars of the short arm of the asterism of Northern Cross, in the Cygnus constellation.
Introduction: The Orion Belt and the Egyptian Astronomy
The interest of the ancient Egyptians in the celestial phenomena is suggested by various inscriptions found out on the sarcophagi of the Middle Kingdom (1990-1780 BC) and in the tombs of the New Kingdom (1530-1080BC), such as the famous tomb of Senmut, a dignitary of the queen Hatshepsut (ca. XV century BC). Furthermore, it is now sure that the ancient Egyptians orientated their monuments and sacred buildings toward
the rising points of some bright stars, such as Sirius and Canopus, and that they used other stars (namely those of the constellation Ursa Major, or the Big Bear) to align temples and pyramids with the cardinal points (see Belmonte, Shaltout, & Fekri, 2008, and references therein).
It was well documented that, as early as the Middle Kingdom, the Egyptian astronomers were able to track the movements (recording the times of rising, culmination, setting, the period of invisibility and so on) of a set of 36 stars, or small groups of stars, called “decans”, mainly used for time keeping (Magli, 2006).
However, even if compelling evidence of the observation of decans existed only in the archaeological finds of the Middle Kingdom or later, according to Magli (2009a), it was not unreasonable to suppose that such observations could have their roots in much more ancient astronomical practices dating back to the Old Kingdom (2700-2200BC). Actually, as early as the Second Dynasty (2650 BC) the High Priest of the sanctuary of Heliopolis was called the “Chief of the Observers”, and this testified that during the Old Kingdom astronomical observations were surely one of the main duties of some Egyptian priests (Magli, 2009a). In addition, during this early period, Egyptians knew the five planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn, due to their movement with respect to the “fixed” stars.
Among all the decans, a very important role was played, in addition to Sirius (α Canis Majoris), also by the stars of the Orion Belt, a linear asterism of three evenly spaced objects in which the northernmost star, Mintaka (or δ Orionis), is slightly out of the axis connecting the southernmost object, Alnitak (or ζ Orionis), to the central one, Alnilam (or ε Orionis). Even if alternative interpretations exist (Baux, 1994; Legon, 1995), it was commonly thought that the ancient Egyptians associated the Orion constellation (Sah), and in particular the Orion Belt, to Osiris, one of the most important gods of the Egyptian Pantheon, while the star Sirius (Sopdet or Sothis) represented the goddess Isis, sister and wife of Osiris (Bauval, 2006).
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