University of Texas at Austin

Main Page
Instructor Info
Class Info
Class Topics
African Stars
Borana Calendar
Sky of Kenya in 300 BC
The Future
Class Research
Class Emails
Outside Emails
Class Products
Fiction Stories
Art Drawings
Maps of Africa
Other Links



There exists a site in southern Egypt that is the oldest astronomical site in the world. This site, called Nabta, was created some 6500 years ago by a Neolithic people who were concerned with the progress of the year. The circle of standing stones allowed the people to determine when the solstices occurred as well as rainy seasons. This sub-Saharan culture is likely to be the predecessor of the Egyptians. The site was excavated by Fred Wendorf and John (Kim) Malville.

Stones, some more then 9 feet tall, were set in a circle to predict the coming solstices. The people had to drag these monstrous stones for more than a mile, thus showing a great dedication to their task. Scientists have discovered that there is an east-west sighting among the megaliths, as well as a north-south lining.

During the first three weeks before and after a solstice, the standing stones would cast no shadow in the noonday sun, due to their proximity to the equator. Seasons were thus followed, including the rainy season, very important to a cattle-raising, agricultural society. There have been several other alignments found, but their significance is yet to be determined.

It also seems that the Nabtians were worshipers of cattle, much like the Egyptians who come later. Several cattle burial sites are located at Nabta, at least one of which has a clay housing with a roof. This care to the burial site of cattle shows the importance of cattle in the Nabtian society.

There were several pieces of pottery found at Nabta. Most of which comes from the Neolithic people who built the site. The pottery is completely covered with designs, thus making it easily identifiable. The lips of the pottery jars, however, were not decorated.

Human remains were also found at Nabta, but only the jawbone was left available to Wendorf to examine, the rest being confiscated by the Egyptian museum in Cairo. The study of this jawbone led Wendorf to an interesting conclusion: the Nabtians were of sub-Saharan descent, not of middle eastern. He deduced this based on the size and structure of the teeth and jaw compared to different ethnic groups. The conclusion undercuts the mainstream theory that Egyptian society was founded by Mesopotamians and Syrians. The idea that the Egyptian society was truly of African descent is revolutionary indeed. Yet it is backed with good evidence from the Nabta site, such as the jawbone and knowledge of the cycle of aridity in the region.

The Nabta region goes through an aridity cycle. That is to say that the area fluctuates between being fertile and arid due to weather patterns. Currently the area is extremely arid, yet at the time of the Nabtians, the area was fertile indeed. There is much evidence of agriculture in the region, along with evidence of a flourishing culture. There were found numerous deposits of charcoal (which comes from organic sources) and many deposits of floral fossils, including grass roots, palm, wood fragments, fruit, and barley grains. This cycle would cause people to migrate into and out of Nabta, making it feasible that the Nabtians migrated north to found the Egyptian culture after Nabta itself became arid.

The 6500 year old astronomical site at Nabta is evidence of a developed culture. They had knowledge of astronomy, the calendar year, and the science needed to construct the stone circle to keep track of their knowledge. Nabta was once home to a flourishing people, but the change in the weather forced the people to migrate (possibly to Egypt). The Nabtian culture is preserved only in the stones and pottery they left behind. Thus, all we know is from the work of Wendorf and Malville, and what we can extrapolate from that.

(J. Clendenon)

Back to Nabta Page
Back to Nabta Page