The decans in Senenmut’s tomb

Font: Wikimedia Commons

The Egyptians divided the stars of the night sky in different constellations (called “decans”) in a similar way that we do today. All these constellations traveled through the sky on ships. We have some examples of representations of these decans in the painted ceilings of different Egyptian tombs and we can establish that the number of them from one tomb to another. However it seems that there were 36 decans which always were painted.Egyptians divided the whole year in 5 days plus 36 periods of 10 days corresponding to the 10 days of consecutive risings of the decans:

  1. tpc-knmwt. A set of three stars represented by a man with a solar disk on his head. It is associated to Geb.
  2. knmwt. A boat with a head of a snake in the ship’s bow with a standing boy with one finger in his mouth. It is associated to Isis or Ba.
  3. hr-hpt-knmwt. A set of three stars represented by a tailed man with a bird’s head with a double crown.  It is associated to Isis or Horus’ sons.
  4. h3t-d3t. A set of four stars represented by a falcon-headed man with two big feathers.  It is associated to Isis or Hours’ sons.
  5. phwy-d3t. A set of three stars represented by a man with a white crown on his head and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Horus’ sons.
  6. tm3-hrt. A set of three stars represented by a man with two big feathers on his head and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Duamutef or Mesti.
  7. tm3-hrt. A set of three stars represented by a falcon-headed man with horns and a solar disk over them. He also holds a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Duamutef or Qeehsenuef.
  8. wsti. A man with the solar disk rounded by a royal snake.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  9. bk3ti. A man with the double crown and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  10. tp-c-hntt. Two stars represented by a falcon-headed man with a solar disk on his head and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Duamutef or Hapy.
  11. hntt-hrt. A set of two stars represented by a tailed man with a stick and a scourge in his hands.  It is associated to Horus.
  12. hntt-hrt. A set of four aligned stars represented by the four aligned stars, a head and an arm on a ship.  It is associated to Seth.
  13. tms-n-hntt. Three aligned stars represented by a baboon on a ship in front of a lunar disk.  It is associated to Horus.
  14. s3pt-hnnw. A set of two stars represented by a falcon-headed man with a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Isis or Nephtis.
  15. hr-ib-wi3. A set of four stars represented by a falcon-headed man with a solar disk on his head and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Seth or Ur.
  16. shsmw. Two stars represented by a man with a snake and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Seth or Ur.
  17. knmw. A headless man with a solar disk on his shoulders.  It is associated to Hapy or Duamutef.
  18. smdt. Three stars represented by a tailed man with a double crown.  It is associated to Horus.
  19. tpc-smdt. A tailed man with a double crown.  It is associated to Hapy.
  20. srt. A set of four stars represented by a falcon-headed man with the ateph crown and an animal tail in his skirt.  It is associated to Isis.
  21. s3wy-srt. Two stars represented by a woman with a scepter in her hand.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  22. hr-hpt-srt. A tailed man with a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Qebehsenuef.
  23. 3hwy. A tailed jackal headed man with a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  24. b3wy. A set of three stars represented by a tailed ibis headed man with the ateph crown and a scepter in his hands.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  25. hnt-hrw. A tailed falcon-headed man with a tadpole.  It is associated to Hapy or Mesti.
  26. hr-ib-hntw. A tailed falcon-headed man.  It is associated to Horus.
  27. hnt-hwr. A boy with one of his fingers in his mouth sitting on a lotus flower.  It is associated to Horus.
  28. kd. Three stars represented by a boy with one of his fingers in his mouth sitting on a lotus flower and a solar disk on his head.  It is associated to Horus.
  29. s3wy-kd. Two stars represented by a tailed man with the ateph crown and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Horus.
  30. crt. A tailed man with a papyrus plant.  It is associated to Qebehsenuef.
  31. h3w. Four stars represented by a tailed falcon-headed man with the double crown.  It is associated to Hapy.
  32. rmn-hrw-inw-s3h. 18 stars represented by a tailed man with the white crown and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Mesti.
  33. msdr-s3h. A lioness headed woman with a royal snake and a crosier in her hand.  It is associated to Duamutef.
  34. rmn-hr-s3h. Three stars represented by a man with the white crown with a feather sitting on a throne.  It is associated to Horus.
  35. c-s3h. An ibis headed man with the ateph crown and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to Horus.
  36. s3h. Its corresponding is Orion and it’s represented by two ships. On the first one there are three people: a boy with one of his fingers in his mouth and a double crown on his head, a horned woman with a solar disk on her head and another woman with two feathers and the solar disk between them. On the other ship there is a snake in a lotus flower.  It is associated to Maat-Horus.
  37. spdt. Its corresponding is Sirius and it’s represented by a tailed falcon-headed man with a solar disk on his head and a scepter in his hand.  It is associated to isis.

The first three decans (knmwt) are associated with Canis Major and Cancer, d3t with Leo, tm3wsti and bk3ti with Virgo, hntt, s3pt-hnnw and hr-ib-wi3 with Scorpio, shsmw and knmw with Serpens, smdt and srt with Capricorn and Aquila, b3wy with Pisces, hnt-hwr with Aries and kd and h3w with Taurus.

Sesenmut was an important official who worked very close to the queen Hatshepsut (c. 1450 BC). He decided to be buried near her queen’s tomb and the ceiling of his burial monument (see the first picture) is an example of the decans explained above. The sky representation consists in two panels separated by five horizontal lines with prayers for Senenmut. In one of the panels (see picture below) we can distinguish perfectly the constellations Ship and Ram at the bottom right part. The Ship is described in top lines 7-12 from the right to the left and the Ram in top lines 14-16; lines 21-23 describe the Egg represented in the middle of the panel; lines 24-28 describe Orion with its three aligned stars and line 29 shows Isis with the crown with two feathers representing Sirius.

Therefore, lines 3o and 31 represent Horus as a star crossing the sky and they are associated with Jupiter and Saturn respectively. After them the constellation Turtle is described in line 32 and lines 33-37 describe five decans more. Finally Mercury and Venus are in the last lines with a representation of a bird called benu with a star in its head for Venus.

The second panel contains twelve circles divided in 24 circular sectors which correspond with the 12 months of the lunar year. In the middle of the picture the circumpolar constellations are represented. First of all we distinguish the top bull which is the Ursa Major with the stars delta, epsilon and zeta painted in its tail. At its back there is a woman with a solar disk and a scorpion on her head who represents the constellation Serqet (which has stars in Draco and Ursa Minor). We also observe a little crocodile over the scorpion. The bull is looking at falcon-headed god called Anu who is identified with the Swan:

At the bottom we see a crocodile and a man fighting which represent respectively some stars of Ursa Minor and some stars of Draco. There is a lion with crocodile tail over them and another crocodile over the lion. In the other side of the two rays which point to the bull’s tail there is the goddess Hippopotamus (Isis-Dyamut) who has a vertical crocodile in her left hand and a cane in her right hand. There is also a crocodile in her back and all the set could be the representation of some stars of Bootes, Lyra, Hercules and Draco.

Finally there are two series of gods walking to the center. From the left side to the right, the gods and goddess are Iremaua, Tekenu, Shedjeru, Nehes, Aaner, Imysehne-cher and Horhekenu. Behind the Hippotamus there are Isis with Horus’ four sons: Imseti, Hapy (baboon), Duamutef (jackal) and Qebehsenuef (falcon). Behind them there are Maintef (without hands), Irendyetef (without arms), Irrenefdyesef and Haqu.

Location: Senenmut’s tomb (map)

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3 responses

  1. Wow. This is going to take some time to really dig into but I sure like it so far!

  2. carlesdorce | Reply

    It’s very interesting to compile scientific subjects from archaeological sites.

  3. Your delineation of the arrangement of the firgure is exactly what I was looking for. But I do not believe the second panel represents stellar constellations. The circum polar stars were volcanoes. The research behind this comment has taken 15 years, and is not easy for most intelligent folks, the very ones capable of digesting the many new ideas and my astrophysical explanations but also confident of there current knowledge, to accept. Please suspend your disbelief and check out my blog cycliccatastrophism.org and search for ‘Summary of Cyclic Catastrophism’ and ‘Alembic’ to get the idea. This is a WordPress blog with about 110 posts, essentially relating myth to recent astronomical changes. One question: You state that the bull is looking at Anu but do not mention that the figure Anu is apparently spearing the Bull, or as some other have suggested, the line represents a equinoctal or solsticial meridian.
    I have several detailed scientific papers on my website firmament-chaos.com under recent papers, concerning Venus Jupiter and the cosmogony of the solar system.
    John Ackerman

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