Nabta Playa: The World’s First Astronomical Site 

Posted: June 23, 2020 by oldbrew in Astronomy, Celestial Mechanics, History

Nabta Playa

An inventory of Egyptian archaeo-astronomical sites for the UNESCO World Heritage Convention evaluated Nabta Playa as having “hypothetical solar and stellar alignments.” – Wikipedia.
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This 7,000-year-old stone circle tracked the summer solstice and the arrival of the annual monsoon season. It’s the oldest known astronomical site on Earth, says Discover magazine.

For thousands of years, ancient societies all around the world erected massive stone circles, aligning them with the sun and stars to mark the seasons.

These early calendars foretold the coming of spring, summer, fall and winter, helping civilizations track when to plant and harvest crops.

They also served as ceremonial sites, both for celebration and sacrifice.

These megaliths — large, prehistoric monuments made of stone — may seem mysterious in our modern era, when many people lack a connection with, or even view of, the stars.

Some even hold them up as supernatural, or divined by aliens. But many ancient societies kept time by tracking which constellations rose at sunset, like reading a giant, celestial clock.

And others pinpointed the sun’s location in the sky on the summer and winter solstice, the longest and shortest days of the year, or the spring and fall equinox.

Europe alone holds some 35,000 megaliths, including many astronomically-aligned stone circles, as well as tombs (or cromlechs) and other standing stones. These structures were mostly built between 6,500 and 4,500 years ago, largely along the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.

The most famous of these sites is Stonehenge, a monument in England that’s thought to be around 5,000 years old. Though still old, at that age, Stonehenge may have been one of the youngest such stone structures to be built in Europe.

The chronology and extreme similarities between these widespread European sites leads some researchers to think the regional tradition of constructing megaliths first emerged along the coast of France. It was then passed across the region, eventually reaching Great Britain.

But even these primitive sites are at least centuries younger than the world’s oldest known stone circle: Nabta Playa.

Located in Africa, Nabta Playa stands some 700 miles south of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Egypt. It was built more than 7,000 years ago, making Nabta Playa the oldest stone circle in the world — and possibly Earth’s oldest astronomical observatory.

It was constructed by a cattle worshiping cult of nomadic people to mark the summer solstice and the arrival of the monsoons.

“Here is human beings’ first attempt to make some serious connection with the heavens,” says J. McKim Malville, a professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and archaeoastronomy expert.

“This was the dawn of observational astronomy,” he adds. “What in the world did they think about it? Did they imagine these stars were gods? And what kinds of connections did they have with the stars and the stones?”

Full article here.
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Related: Egyptian Stonehenge – Discover

  1. oldbrew says:

    Just came across this: Dr. Plot and the Amazing Double Sunset
    Double Sun Set at Leek Staffordshire

    He described how on midsummer’s day the sun was observed from Leek churchyard to set behind a hill called the Cloud. It would then reappear and set again on the more distant horizon of the Cheshire plain.
    . . .
    Plot proposed using the phenomenon to accurately monitor changes in the angle of the Earth’s tilt. This is presently 23.5 degrees but varies either way. Since 3000BC the tilt has slowly reduced from nearly 24 degrees. In prehistoric times, the sun was about half a degree higher in the midsummer sky and at the solstice it set somewhat northward of its present setting point, just clipping the hill top. Since then, because of the changes to the tilt, the solstitial sunset has slipped southwards along the horizon and will continue to do so for many thousands of years before reversing. From the site of the church, the double sunset did not actually start until Iron Age times, ca 500BC.

    Plot suggested measuring the portion of the sun reappearing from behind the hill with a micrometer eyepiece attached to a telescope. By making a series of such observations over several years, these could be used to deduce an accurate value for changes in the obliquity of the ecliptic as it reduced over time. For my own investigation, I used modern computer software to ‘observe’ the changing aspect of the Leek solstitial sunset, over a period of thousands of years, setting against a computer generated profile of the hill, itself checked against photographs taken from the churchyard. [bold added]

    The article also mentions ‘Arbor Low, the “Stonehenge of the North”, nine miles (15km) south of Buxton and about fifteen miles (24km) ENE of Leek. Arbor Low dates to approximately 2700BC’.
    – – –
    Double sunset

    Obliquity of the ecliptic

  2. pameladragon says:

    There are dozens of these stone monoliths located around Evora in Portugal. I have visited some of them, they are older than Stonehenge too. Our ancient ancestors were very clever at moving large chunks of rock around and placing them accurately to show celestial events.

  3. oldmanK says:

    The real use of the Nabta Playa structure, and its dating, is questionable. Good and accurate calendars that predate 5200bce – older than 7200yrs – were already common. Knowledge diffusion on a wide scale was taking place at a much earlier time, as can be found from widespread but very common agrarian folklore ( the oldest evident from anthropomorphic figurines).

    As to the following of obliquity changes, possibly the technique used by the Clementine Gnomon (link below) of 1702ce is more accurate. And possibly the one which was likely used at Mnajdra South (post 3200bce) equally so.

    It is a speculative point if the Clementine Gnomon technique had a much earlier beginning. It relies on a pinhole that admits sunlight at particular moments. Not at sunrise as the Mnajdra calendar, but when the sun crosses the zenith. That would require a pin-hole way up in the roof of the structure that would be accessed daily. Not just a ladder that one would require for roof maintenance, but a more permanent affair. Is this it? (just speculating here)

  4. tallbloke says:

    Fascinating investigations OldmanK.

    Our most popular Stonehenge post always gets a lot of hits this time of year.

  5. oldbrew says:

    Stonehenge in the news this week…’Dr Nick Snashall, National Trust archaeologist for the Stonehenge World Heritage Site, hailed the discovery as “astonishing”.’

    Stonehenge: Neolithic monument found near sacred site
    22 June 2020

    A ring of large shafts discovered near Stonehenge form the largest prehistoric monument ever discovered in Britain, archaeologists believe.

    Tests carried out on the pits suggest they were excavated by Neolithic people more than 4,500 years ago.

    Experts believe the 20 or more shafts may have served as a boundary to a sacred area connected to the henge.

    “The size of the shafts and circuit is without precedent in the UK,” said Prof Vince Gaffney, a lead researcher.

    The 1.2 mile-wide (2km) circle of large shafts measuring more than 10m (30ft) in diameter and 5m (15ft) in depth are significantly larger than any comparable prehistoric monument in Britain.

  6. oldmanK says:

    tallbloke: TY for the reminder re link.

    Looking back my comment at still holds.

    There is a lot on Stonehenge that still needs, IMO, to be deciphered. Here I have a question. Why are the solstices shown as if they are in exactly opposite directions. That condition applies to a site on the Arctic circle at Lat ~ 66deg. Stonehenge is at ~51deg. The matter would be different if obliquity was lower than today’s.

    In that thread, Adrian Kerton says: January 11, 2015 at 3:26 pm , Quote “The ancient Greek writer Diodorus Siculus writes of a temple of Apollo, in the northern lands of the Hyperboreans, spherical in shape. [ Apollo the sun god ]
    They say also that the moon, as viewed from this island, appears to be but a little distance from the earth and to have upon it prominences, like those of the earth, which are visible to the eye. And that the god visits the island every nineteen years.” ” Question: would this happen (or seem to) with a lower obliquity? (Mnajdra S records such a change in tilt, by the installation of ‘extended solstice markers’, The evidence on this is mounting – Tks to Dodwell who was first to stick his neck out).

  7. JB says:

    “This was the dawn of observational astronomy,”
    Malville is completely wrong about that. Observational astronomy has been well documented to ca 15,000BCE in the Lascaux cave paintings (Chantal Jègues-Wolkiewiez, ET.AL.; C14 dating of tempera matches constellation date)

    McKim Malville; “professor emeritus at the University of Colorado and archaeoastronomy expert” Really? An “expert” that doesn’t acknowledge the work of others in archeoastronomy? What constitutes being an “expert” anyway? The fact that he is emeritus?

    A real crock that Malville would cast physicist Dr Thomas Brophy (NASA Voyager/Laboratory of Space Physics/Japanese Space program) as a “conspiracy theorist”. Seems we always get this kind of retarded thinking by traditionalist academics that can’t ever think outside of their indoctrination. “Cow Stone” indeed. There is just no way anyone who seriously examines Brophy’s detailed analysis of the the Nabta Playa (The Origin Map) can honestly come to that conclusion. Brophy dates the calendar circle to 6400 BCE, with a possible 17,500 BCE date, assuming his corrected computer star chart program is accurate that far back, and makes it very clear that it is an hypothesis. There are just way too many “coincidences” presented in his analysis to be so dismissed.

    Whenever I read some idea has been “debunked” I’ve found with my own investigation the debunker(s) conveniently leave out important details, with their arguments centered in mainstream thinking that quite frequently has never been proven itself.

  8. saighdear says:

    Aye indeed ” many people lack a connection with, or even view of, the stars” reminded me of the Radio Scotland Presenter asking where she should look to see the ‘strawberry moon’ I thought I was still on another Planet ( different one from wher they speak about Covid and Green and Black.

  9. Curious George says:

    “Malville … knew he had to travel there in person to get a sense of the place, as well as its creators and celestial significance.” [Discover magazine] A nice business trip, all expenses paid.

  10. I despair of the TV programmes that still tell us we don’t know the secrets of Stonehenge.
    C. A. Newham investigated the three car park post holes and concludes:
    “These post holes are unique for several important reasons, in my opinion these can be regarded as the most positive astronomical discovery yet made at Stonehenge.”
    The sighting lines from the station stones and heelstone to the post holes: “align on sun and moon settings with an extreme accuracy made possible by their considerable distance” “the direction of the alignments is positive and cannot be regarded as reversible”
    English Heritage ran radio carbon datings on the post holes and concluded:
    “all of these determinations fall into the eighth or late ninth-millennium BC. They cover a period of about one millennium and so it cannot be established whether these features, containing upright pine posts, were exactly contemporary and ever all stood together, but they are certainly Mesolithic” And then, of course, continues: “and not related to the main Monument.” So yes Stonehenge goes back to 8500 BC.
    I doubt the archaeologists will ever abandon their beliefs that ancient man was ignorant and incapable of observation and subsequent use of the the data.
    Unfortunately Newham’s booklet was delayed by fire at the printers and Gerald Hawkins book on the alignments was published and attracted world wide attention but is never mentioned by the archeologists who make repeated programs about how the stones were transported from Wales.
    See more on my website – the car park post holes.
    If anyone wants a copy of Newham’s booklet let me know via my website.

  11. tallbloke says:

    OldmanK, I’m by no means sure, but would obliquity variation be accounted for by the ‘opposite directions’ of summer and winter solstice observations being to sunrise and sunset respectively?

  12. Curious George says:

    I like the exact science: “an enormous rock SEEMINGLY carved into the shape of a cow.”

  13. oldmanK says:

    tallbloke: the angle (declination) of solstice sunrise is equal to the tilt/obliquity angle for a site at the equator/lat-0deg. Declination is measured from 0=East to 90deg N or -90 S. The angle increases with latitude up to Arctic circle where it is theoretically 90deg. Above that we have cont darkness at winter solstice or cont daylight at summer. Arctic circle is limit of variation. Horizon sunrise altitude always zero; otherwise there are changes.

    For Stonehenge at 51deg see link for example

    Examples from link
    5deg > 24 ie near earth tilt.
    35deg (~Mnajdra) > 29 – correct
    55deg > 44
    Stonehenge at 51 angle should be under 44 – not 90 — ??

    If obliquity is reduced, the 90deg is reached faster, at a lower latitude, ie the then arctic circle will be at lower latitude.
    That Stonehenge has opposite solstice points I find queer.

  14. Gamecock says:

    “Malville is completely wrong about that.”

    Yes. Seriously, he sounds like a JOURNALIST, not a scientist.

  15. oldbrew says:

    What constitutes being an “expert” anyway? The fact that he is emeritus?

    Emeritus basically means: retired.

  16. Dodgy Geezer says:

    Much of this report is hypothetical. My understanding is that this area is a known burial area from antiquity – radio carbon dated.

    But the stone placement is not so dated, and only relied on hypothesised alignments with selected star positions determined by retro calculation. You could suggest any date in that way…

  17. tallbloke says:

    OldmanK, more on the opposite directions of sunrise and sunset at alternate solstices.

    The tallest stone at Stonehenge points towards the sunrise on the midwinter solstice, according to a new theory from a steward at the site.

    “Mr Daw, who last year came up with evidence that the outer stone circle at Stonehenge was once complete, said his newly discovered alignment was at 80 degrees to the line of the axis of the monument, which points to midsummer solstice sunrise and midwinter sunset.

    “This alignment had been missed by previous investigators… as they used an idealised plan rather than an actual plan for their calculations.”

    “This isn’t some nebulous sighting line on a distant star; this is 100 tonnes of stone deliberately pointing to the major event at the other end of the day the rest of the monument celebrates.

  18. I’m not sure it’s a new theory, Hawkins noted it in his book in 1965
    English Heritage states; “The main axis of the stones is aligned upon the solstitial axis. At midsummer, the sun rises over the horizon to the north-east, close to the Heel Stone. At midwinter, the sun sets in the south-west, in the gap between the two tallest trilithons, one of which has now fallen.”That gap would have been very narrow like the others indicating a high degree of precision.
    When you look at many Stone Age structures the important alignment was often the midwinter sunrise, as from then you could count the days to when you needed to plant your seeds.
    Hawkin’s book appears to be available to ’borrow’ on the Internet archive.

    The book shows the monument locked into sun and moon movements and the Aubrey holes might have been a counter for eclipses which run almost every 19 years but not quite 19+19+18=56.

    Professor Alexander Thom surveyed many Stone Age structures again noting the astronomical alignments but it seems the archaeologists are not convinced.
    Good site if you’re interested in such matters.

  19. oldmanK says:

    tallbloke: From the link, quote “It highlights the significance of the summer and winter solstices at Stonehenge, and the 80 degree angle between them.” If I understand correctly it means an Equinox to Solstice angle of some 40deg. That would be correct, – as I see it-.

    The picture in the article has no True-North indication. That is always important. I also note the article was written in 2015; thus serves as a good check on my own thinking. But note, such a condition – according to my opinion; and Dodwell’s, – That applies for a date after 2345bce. I would not be at all surprised if there are tell-tales of modifications to accommodate a change in obliquity (as is evident at Mnajdra) .

    (ps. if you still have my book look at page 98. A lower obliquity, say 14deg, starts at equator-14deg, but the climb is much steeper; lat 51deg could be the then arctic circle; opposite solstices).

  20. oldbrew says:

    Reconstruction of the calendar circle at Nabta Playa.
    Malville et al., 2007
    – – –
    Ancient Egyptians at Nabta Playa were recording the movements of the constellation of Orion’s Belt as a way to mark the precession of the equinox.

    Ancient Egyptian astronomy
    The ancient Egyptians knowledge of the sky went far beyond seasonal cycles.

    Not far from the stone circle at Nabta Playa are further signs of ancient astronomy.
    (includes explanations)

  21. oldmanK says:

    Nabta Playa according to wiki is circa 7500bce.

    Quote Wiki on NP “Astronomical observation
    By the 5th millennium BC these peoples had fashioned what may be among the world’s earliest known archeoastronomical devices (roughly contemporary to the Goseck circle in Germany and the Mnajdra megalithic temple complex in Malta).

    This site, the older one at ‘B’ predates 5200bce (date of its obsolescence). Yet both rear apses convert sinusoidal motion to linear. The method of calendar operation requires/ indicates knowledge of solar system, and as heliocentric.
    In fact ‘A’ section was key to finding how it works.
    Such knowledge was already then widely diffused.

    To us Mnajdra is a lesson and a warning. Considering that Mnajdra can predict the solstice day and hour accurately, and that that knowledge had been lost for more than 5000 years, what we have today may be all gone tomorrow if and when ignorance gets to dictate. (See, wiki above still thinks that Mnajdra is for the adoration of human vanity; the makers of gods).

  22. Paul Vaughan says:

    oldmanK wrote “what we have today may be all gone tomorrow if and when ignorance gets to dictate”

    No “if and when”.
    Ignorance is presently dictating.

    “Idiot America – one nation controlled by the media” — Green Day

  23. tallbloke says:

    OldmanK ” “It highlights the significance of the summer and winter solstices at Stonehenge, and the 80 degree angle between them.””

    Yes, between the sunrises. But not between the sunrise at summer solstice and sunset at winter solstice. That’s 180 degrees, according to the article:

    “the line of the axis of the monument, which points to midsummer solstice sunrise and midwinter sunset.”

  24. Paul Vaughan says:

    Any analysis on this yet oldmanK?

  25. oldmanK says:

    tallbloke: Ah yes. Equinox is always East for sunrise, and W – sunset. (I missed something there) Opposite Solstices are then always opposites. Except for minor refraction due to latitude.
    But I would expect there would be much more to it than just solstice indicator in Stonehenge.

    Example this site in link here:
    Site allows views of both sunrise and sunset (today out of alignment by some 42deg CW). Shown in diagram for ease as in-line, but each axis is about half deg to south. For all year round time indication axial alignment to Equinox sunrise is required. At Med latitude climate allows only one cereal harvest – the staple crop-, sown about mid autumn, thus it is important to know time of year, mainly with respect to winter solstice. Even so, there is variation between places of when is optimum time. Meaning that, it is important to try to understand the basic/staple food source relevant to site characteristic for a sedentary people.

    PV asks about the new discovery. ???? .

  26. oldbrew says:

    oldmanK – PV asks about the new discovery. ????

    See here….
    – – –
    Featured on Clive Anderson’s Mystic Britain TV series (just seen it on Smithsonian channel):

    Bryn Celli Ddu Welsh pronunciation: [brʌn keːɬi ði] is a prehistoric site on the Welsh island of Anglesey located near Llanddaniel Fab. Its name means ‘the mound in the dark grove’.
    . . .
    The presence of a mysterious pillar within the burial chamber, the reproduction of the ‘Pattern Stone’, carved with sinuous serpentine designs, and the fact that the site was once a henge with a stone circle, and may have been used to plot the date of the summer solstice have all attracted much interest.

    ‘In around 3000 BC a henge monument was constructed.’
    Aka ‘The Stonehenge of Wales’

    Video, 2mins+: diagrammed claim of a 3:4:5 triangle with Arbor Low and Stonehenge monuments

    3:4:5 claim stacks up, in Pythagorean right angle terms at least –
    BC = 53.2077°N 4.2361°W
    AL = 53°10′08″N 01°45′42″W
    SH = 51°10′44″N 1°49′34″W

    AL is due east of BC and due north of SH within very small error margins.

  27. oldmanK says:

    oldbrew, I did see the news item. My ???? indicated I have no idea.

    I would like to correct a probable mistake in my earlier post; re ” Opposite Solstices are then always opposites”. I’m doubting that, and have no clear mental image how that works out at different latitudes.

    On the other site mentioned, that quote ” used to plot the date of the summer solstice”, base on my past experience I’d say quite probable. The need is to find corroborating evidence, or better, the method of how it works scientifically.

  28. oldmanK says:

    “Massive, Late Neolithic Pit Structure associated with Durrington Walls Henge”

    One pinpointed date in and para after Table 1 is very suggestive.
    SUERC-92470 8A 4.79 bone −22.9 4.3 3.3 3852±28 2460–2270 cal BC (78%) or 2260–2200 cal BC (17%)
    (mass burial pits ????, several elsewhere)