The ancient Egyptian personification of the Milky Way as the Sky-Goddess Nut: an astronomical and cross-cultural analysis

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Abstract

The Milky Way’s name and role in ancient Egyptian culture remain unclear. One suggestion is that the Milky Way may have been a celestial depiction of the sky goddess Nut. In this work, I test this association using an interdisciplinary approach. In the first part of this paper, I combine astronomical simulations of the ancient Egyptian night sky with primary Egyptian sources to map the goddess Nut onto the Milky Way. With her head and groin firmly associated by primary texts with the western and eastern horizons, respectively, I argue that the summer and winter orientations of the Milky Way could be construed as figurative markers of Nut’s torso (or backbone) and her arms, respectively. In the second part of this paper, I situate Nut within the global, multicultural mythology of the Milky Way. Specifically, I show that Nut’s roles in the afterlife and the autumn bird migration are consistent with similar roles attributed to the Milky Way by other cultures. Finally, I show that Nut’s identification with the Milky Way may even have echoes in contemporary African conceptions of the Galaxy.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)28-45
JournalJournal of Astronomical History and Heritage
Volume27
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 29 Mar 2024

Keywords

  • Milky Way
  • Nut
  • Fundamentals of the Course of the Stars
  • Pyramid Texts
  • Coffin Texts

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