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Ancient Roots
Egypt was born more than 5,000 years ago, when powerful rulers united the kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt.

But the roots of Egyptian astronomy may run much deeper.

Tall stones arranged in a circle may have served as a crude observatory at Nabta in the Egyptian desert.
In 1973, anthropologist Fred Wendorf discovered the remains of small villages and campsites at Nabta, in the desert of southern Egypt. The site was inhabited 10,000 years ago. In that distant time, a few inches of rain fell in the desert each year.

Most of the rain fell soon after the summer solstice — the longest day of the year, when the Sun appears farthest north in the sky. It was just enough water to fill shallow basins and allow the inhabitants to raise cattle.

Perhaps because of the rains, the people of Nabta built an "observatory" for tracking the motions of the Sun along the horizon — a 12-foot-wide circle of small stones.Two pairs of taller stones stand across the circle from each other. If you look through the gaps between each pair, you'll see the point where the Sun rose on the summer solstice thousands of years ago.

Over the centuries, the rains dried up and Nabta was abandoned. But Wendorf suggests that Nabta may have left a legacy. Contact with the people who lived along the Nile River may have stimulated the formation of the first ordered civilization in the Valley of the Nile.

There are hints that this advanced civilization adopted some of the customs and traditions of Nabta — including a keen interest in the Sun's annual journey along the horizon. This interest may be shown in the pyramids of Giza. Seen from the Great Sphinx, the two largest pyramids frame the Sun on the summer solstice — the SETTING Sun, as it heads into the underworld — and rebirth.

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