Author of the Month

Black Genesis (cont.)
By Robert Bauval & Thomas Brophy

From Chapter I, section In Comes Archaeoastronomy:

…In the past forty years or so there has been a growing interest in the new scientific field of archaeoastronomy, which, according to one school of thought, is defined as the study of the astronomies, astrologies, and cosmologies, as well as the alignments of monuments and buildings of ancient cultures. ..

… A sort of stillborn precursor of modern archaeoastronomy can be found in the turbulent intellectual milieu that swirled through the French intelligentsia at the turn of the nineteenth century after Napoleon, in 1799, took a cadre of top scientists and scholars along with his army on their adventurous military campaigns through Egypt. Napoleon also took along artists to record the journeys in sketches. One such artist, Vivant Denon, was fascinated by a zodiac sculpted onto the ceiling of a temple at Dendera. In Paris, Denon published as a book his sketch of the Dendera zodiac along with an account of his travels, and it became a huge bestseller in both France and England. In the important scientific and scholarly societies of Paris there arose a protracted and very active debate focusing on attempts to date the Dendera zodiac. One camp was composed of scientific luminaries of the time, many of whose names are familiar to any student of science today. These scientists often gathered at the home of the Marquis de LaPlace. Particularly active in the Dendera zodiac debate were physicists Jean-Baptiste Biot and Joseph Fourier, astronomer Johan Karl Burckhardt, and his engineer partner Jean-Baptiste Coraboeuf. The approach that all in this camp followed in order to attempt to date the zodiac was to match calculations of the astronomical precession of the equinoxes with the images of constellations on the Dendera zodiac. They followed the reasoning of pre–French Revolutionary scholar Charles Dupuis, who had based his study of the origins of religion on interpreting religious mythologies in astronomical terms….

… Stirring even more the turbulence of the debate was that many French intellectuals, such as Dupuis, had little use for biblical fundamentalism, while others believed all scholarship should be firmly based on interpreting biblical Mosaic (emphasizing the Books of Moses) chronology. One of these was the young Jean-Francois Champollion.

Meanwhile, a French antiquities collector named Saulnier had dispatched a master stonemason named Lelorrain on an expedition to Dendera to steal the zodiac. After using stone saws and chisels and finally dynamite, Lelorrain managed to cart the remains of the temple ceiling back to Paris. These remains, however, did not include the parts of the ceiling that ended up winning the Dendera zodiac debates. In September 1822, Champollion, after years of poverty-stricken excruciating efforts,9 finally cracked the code for how to decipher hieroglyphs. Champollion first deciphered the cartouches that contain royal names. (A cartouche is an oval enclosure in which the name of a pharaoh is inscribed. Only a king’s name can be written within a cartouche.)

Among the first cartouches he deciphered were those next to the Dendera zodiac. There he read the ancient Greek word for “ruler,” thus dating the construction of the zodiac ceiling to the Ptolemaic period and winning the debate for the side of the philologists, who could happily boot the physicists and astronomers out of the circle of those considered able to offer legitimate authority about antiquity.

Yet in what must be one of the great ironies of history, in 1828, when Champollion had the resources finally to mount his own expedition and he arrived at Dendera to see his famous cartouches, he was horrified to find them empty. They never had contained any hieroglyphs, no royal names at all…

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