Later, during the Nabatean period, which prospered from the 4th century BCE until the 1st century CE, research points to the importance of astral elements in the civilisation’s religion. While the focus of academia has thus far rested on Petra, a 2013 study(1)
claims that several monuments in the Nabatean capital city of Petra, located in what is now modern-day Jordan, were purposely built to align with solstitial and equinoctial events which could have been used to mark times of worship and to create a calendar. In the absence of scientific evidence to the contrary, it can only be assumed that the same principles were applied in the construction of Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO site, which was once the Nabatean’s principal southern city.
While so much of today’s knowledge remains swathed in the historical mists, it is a fact that the modern starscape has shifted over time. As the Earth rotates, it shifts slightly on its axis - a process called precession of the equinoxes whereby its celestial poles trace a circle across the sky - causing its position to change over the centuries. Due to this, there was no North Star in the pre-Islamic Arabian night skies. Instead, to navigate after sunset, travellers were reliant on a trio of stars located in the North Celestial Pole. These were Polaris, today’s North Star, referred to in pre-Islamic times as ‘Goat Kid’, along with a stellar duo dubbed the ‘Two Wild Cow Calves’ – today known as Pherkad, from al-farqadān, and Kochab, from kawkab, meaning ‘star’.