Located in the Nubian desert, far south of Cairo, is a bizarre ruin that’s come to be known as the Calendar of Nabta Playa.
Compared to the over 255 pyramids later built in the surrounding region by the mysterious Nubian people, Nabta Playa appears extraordinarily ancient, like something still clinging to existence from a long-lost age. The dating for the area places it at least 7000 years back, though this is simply the dating from the last time someone made a fire near the site—based on carbon dating—and by no means a trustworthy estimate of the site’s true age: someone today could go and camp out around Stonehenge, and their dating is what would first be found in the future when examining the area. Nabta Playa has not been thoroughly excavated, so what’s near the surface is all we currently have to tell its tale.
Looking at the site itself, as it stands today, it is hardly impressive; with first notice of it only coming in the mid-70’s then an actual recognition of the megaliths it contained coming decades later. What look to be haphazardly-placed slabs of worn stone, or simply random protrusions of rock in the desert, are the general feelings that this strange site evokes in those who view it—which is likely why it took so long to be noticed.
Yet someone did eventually take notice of it.
Distinct patterns and obvious intelligent manipulation led to a further examination of the site which resulted in seemingly unbelievable findings, with the calendar of Nabta Playa suddenly proving itself to be an incredibly precise and advanced tool showcasing knowledge which the current dominating view on ancient Egypt would say is impossible.
It was quickly discerned that the so-called Calendar of Nabta Playa [hereby referred to as just Nabta Playa] was oriented to the solstices—which is quite a remarkable feat, by itself. Though a more detailed examination of the entire site led to the unbelievable find that the builders were aware of the precession of the equinoxes; a roughly 26,000 year cycle of the stars that requires an immense amount of meticulous, precise, and sophisticated astronomical observations to realize, let alone understand. It’s something that modern science only came to full terms with in the mid-to-late 20th century.
As a point of reference for the effort it might take to realize the precession of the equinoxes: a star will move one degree in the sky every seventy-two years. And with lifespan, supposedly, being almost half of that one-degree period during the most recent time Nabta Playa could have been created, the staggering level of this creation then begins to truly shine; as generations would have had to work in precise harmony together, utilizing flawless observations, just to notice that a star might be just slightly off from where it once was, and then extrapolating that to a knowledge of the precession.
The way that Nabta Playa demonstrates this incredible feat is by showing the figure of Orion in the two extremes of the precession. His figure lines up accurately in both of these opposite stellar arrangements, about 13,000 years apart in the sky, in order to act as an even grander calendar for the site’s creators: marking the great cycle.
Still, Nabta Playa also demonstrates a remarkably precise understanding of a number of other stars.
Spaced in the range of 800 meters out from the central calendar circle are 6 arrangements of placed stones. These are representative of certain stars, and to the amazement of the site’s researchers, they each align with the site to match their star’s heliacal rising—the time, every 26,000 years, when a star rises exactly with the sun on the horizon.
But to make things even stranger, the distance from the central calendar to each placed stone somehow manages to correspond with the distance of their representative stars to Earth; as in, if one of the stones was 50 units of distance away—feet, meters, whatever—and the one to its left was 70, then the star it represents would be 50 light years away and the one beside it would be 70 light years away. They are all somehow relevant to the actual distances given for the stars they represent.
Parker, Richard A. “Egyptian Astronomy, Astrology, and Calendrical Reckoning.” Dictionary of Scientific Biography
Brophy, TG; Rosen PA (2005). “Satellite Imagery Measures of the Astronomically Aligned Megaliths at Nabta Playa” . Mediterranean Archaeology and Archaeometry
Malville, J. McKim (2015), “Astronomy at Nabta Playa, Egypt”, in Ruggles, C.L.N., Handbook of Archaeoastronomy and Ethnoastronomy