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Cultures > Egypt

:: 3100 BC - PRESENT

Cultural Background | Surviving | Finding Meaning in the Cosmos


Keeping Time

Sirius: The Ancient Egyptian Calendar centered around the star, Sirius.

Sirius is part of the constellation Canis Major, which looks like a dog in the sky. Sirius takes the form of the dog's nose in that constellation. In the night sky, Sirius is located to the lower left of Orion.

Canis Major could first be seen in the sky around June 21st of every year; the Egyptians called this "the going up of the goddess Sothis." The star was visible just before sunrise and it is still one of the brightest stars in the sky.

The reappearance of the star Sirius in the sky was particularly important to the Egyptians because it told them that the Nile river would soon begin to flood, bringing water and rich new soil to the dry land where they would plant their crops.

Years of careful observation of the sky and the river had taught the Egyptians that the waters started rising around the end of June, just after Sirius can be spotted in the sky. The flood period lasted until October, covering the land with rich black mud and preparing it for the sowing and growing period. The harvest time started at the end of February and ended with the new Nile flood. This predictable, ongoing cycle defined the agricultural year.

The Egyptian Calendar is also based on the lunar cycles as their year had 12 months with 30 days each. This only adds up to 360 days in the year, but the Egyptians had an extra five days in addition to the 360 calendar days at the beginning of every year on which they celebrated.

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Learn more about the sun, the moon, the stars, and how they were used to keep time.

Learn about the Egyptian Calendar.

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