Tag Archives: egyptian

Egyptian sundials

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An Egyptian lady catching some rays from Ra.

Let’s travel west from Sumer, away from the MidEast, along the northern coast of Africa to Egypt. About 1,000 years after civilization was up and running in the Tigris-Euphrates valley, the Egyptians got started on their civilization which thrived from 3100 bc to 332 bc. Like the Sumerians, Egyptians depended on a river—the Nile—and a system of irrigation to water their crops to keep the economy going. Their writing system was hieroglyphics—symbols that represented sounds, or ideas, or things. Their government was monarchical—they had a single ruler, called a Pharaoh. The Egyptians worshiped a pantheon—which means a bunch of gods and demi-gods. The Pharaoh was worshiped as a god, too.

The Sumerian culture must have influenced the Egyptians somewhat. The Egyptians divided the day into two halves, each having 12 hours—twelve is an easy Base Sixty number. The Egyptians are thought to have invented the sundial. The earliest example of a sundial has 12 hours marked using lines on a semi-circle, 15° apart.

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A fragment of a limestone sundial. The gnomon goes into the hole at top.

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This sundial is a half-bowl cut out of a block of stone.

A sundial is a simple way to measure the passage of the Sun. There’s a post (called a gnomon, pronouced NOM-ON) sticking up from a flat, horizontal surface. Lines are drawn on the flat surface, radiating out from the gnomon. When the Sun is shining, the gnomon casts a shadow on the lines. Each line represents the passage of an hour.

The Egyptians built huge obelisks—big stone monuments. These were sundials, too. The obelisk cast a shadow on the ground, which was marked for every hour. As the Sun moved across the sky, the shadow would move along the dial, showing the time. Of course, sundials only work when there’s daylight. How did they tell time at night?

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Hide and shriek!

Here’s the opening spread from Where’s My Mummy? This scene shows Mama Mummy getting Baby Mummy ready for bed—but Baby wants to play one more round of hide & shriek.

Since they’re mummies, I designed an interior to look like the inside of a pyramid, with lots of Egyptian details.  The legendary art director at Candlewick, Caroline Lawrence, felt the setting didn’t convey enough ghoulishness, so she asked me to redraw the scene with a gothic interior.

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Revised sketch with gothic details below.  Architecture geeks will note the new shape of the columns, rough-hewn stone walls and groined vault arched ceiling.

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I changed the oil-burning lamp to a candelabrum, but doused the candles in the color version because they were causing me lighting/shadow problems.  I kept the sarcophagus bed from the first sketch.

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The light is coming from a single source.  More dramatic and easier to paint.  Also, the viewer’s eye naturally looks to the light source, which is where I put Baby Mummy.