Ancient Egyptian Calcite Block Contains World's Oldest Weather Report

Posted on April 2, 2014

Tempest Stela block


An ancient Egyptian calcite block contains the world's oldest weather report. The 6-foot-tall block is known as the Tempest Stela. It is 3,500 years old. Scholars at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute made a new translation of an inscription on the block. It describes a long dark, stormy period. It reads, "the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses." It also describes the "sky being in storm" and a "tempest of rain." Bodies are also described floating down the Nile river like "skiffs of papyrus."

The scholars believe the inscription is describing an atypical weather event. They believe the intense and unusual weather described on the stone block is linked to a volcanic eruption at Thera (now the island of Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea).

Robert Ritner, a scholar at the Oriental Institute, says, "This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives."

The new translation suggests that the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose ruled closer to the Thera eruption than previously thought. It would mean the pharaoh ruled 30 to 50 years earlier than previously thought and it could change scholars' understanding of this time period in ancient Egypt.

A research paper about the translation appears in the Journal of Near Eastern Studies.

Photo: Metropolitan Museum of Art

More from Science Space & Robots