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THE ANCHOR OF THE WORLD
Did the Pyramid Builders of the Old Kingdom use the Pole of the Ecliptic?

By Robert G. Bauval

A new study suggests that the Giza Pyramids might have been deliberately 'anchored' to the pole of the ecliptic at two distinct epochs by making use of certain stars, of religious importance to the Pyramid Builders, found in the circumpolar and non-circumpolar constellations. Such a hypothesis fortifies the possibility that the Pyramid Builders of Egypt were aware of the Precession of the Equinoxes.

AWARENESS OF PRECESSION?

There has been an ongoing heated debate between researchers in archaeoastronomy and Egyptologists as to whether the ancient pyramid builders of Egypt were aware of the phenomenon known as the precession of the equinoxes. In simple and brief terms, the precession of the equinoxes is the result of a very slow wobble-like gyration of the earth that takes around 26,000 years. The 'discovery' of the precession of the equinoxes is attributed to the Alexandrian-Greek astronomer Hipparchus in around 130 BC, and Egyptologists and historians in general totally reject the idea that the Egyptians might have known of the phenomenon thousands of years before. This view was recently voiced again in the international press based on the content of an article in the journal Nature by Dr. Kate Spence, an Egyptologist from Cambridge University [1].

Contrary to popular opinion, the apparent effect of precession is quite noticeable in the sky across a few centuries, as there is considerable change in the position of stars that can be easily picked up by naked-eye observations. Indeed, Philip Morrison of MIT noted that to discover precession requires only a tree (solar gnomon) and faith in the veracity of one's grandfather (an oral record). Thus over the 700 years or so that led from the formation of the ancient Egyptian civilisation in c. 3200 BC to the start of the 4th Dynasty in c. 2500 BC, the rising place (known in astronomy as the azimuth) of stars such as, say, those in Orion's belt, would have changed by as much as 3° on the horizon, and as much as 2.5° at culmination on the meridian. This alone has led many modern researchers to remark that it would have been unlikely for a people like the ancient Egyptians, who were very keen and avid observers of the sky and stars, not to be aware of the precessional shift, even though they might not have understood its underlying cause or have been able to compute it mathematically [2]. In 1894 the British astronomer, Sir Norman Lockyer (1836-1920), the 'father of archaeoastronomy', brought further evidence in support of this view, in his book The Dawn of Astronomy (1894), when he demonstrated that the ancient Egyptians' aligned their temples to stars rising in the east and often changed the alignment of the temple in order to take into account the drift caused by precession. Athough Lockyer was largely ignored by the Egyptologists, a century later the same findings were reported by the American astronomer R.A. Wells for temples such as the Satet temple of Isis on Elephantine Island in Upper Egypt [3]. It was not until 1964 that Lockyer's findings prompt the well-known MIT professor Giorgio de Santillana to conclude that:

"When a stellar temple is oriented so accurately that it requires several reconstructions at intervals of a few centuries, which involved each time the rebuilding of its narrow alignment on a star, and the wrecking of the main symmetry that goes with it; when Zodiacs, like that of Denderah, are deliberately depicted in the appearance they would have had centuries before, as if to date the changes, then it is not reasonable to suppose the Egyptians were unaware of the precession of the equinoxes, even if their mathematics was unable to predict it numerically. Lockyer let the facts speak for themselves, but it is he who has given the proof. Actually, the Egyptians do describe the Precession, but in a language usually written off as mythological or religious." [4]

There are several astronomers who are open to the idea that the ancient Egyptians knew of precession [5], but as far as I can tell, the only Egyptologist who openly supports Santillana's view is the American scholar Jane B. Sellers [6]. The rest either choose to ignore it or attempt to disprove and discredit this idea at every opportunity [7]. It is well-known that my colleague Graham Hancock and I fully endorse Santillana's views, and that we have also argued that the pyramid builders of Giza not only were aware of Precession but also incorporated its principles in their architecture for religious and ritual purposes [8]. In this present article I will review another aspect of the Old Kingdom pyramids which also demonstrates this fact, but from a totally different and new viewpoint.

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Notes:

  1. Nature, Volume 408, 16 November 2000 pp. 230-4
  2. See for example Jane B. Sellers, The Death of Gods in Ancient Egypt, Penguin 1992, p. 9.
  3. R.A. Wells, Sothis and the Satet Temple on Elephantine: A direct Connection, SAK 12, 1985; also BSAK 4, 1990
  4. Preface to the 1964 edition of The Dawn of Astronomy, M.I.T. Press 1964.
  5. Op.cit. J. B. Sellers
  6. Ibid.
  7. Dr. Kate Spence, an Egyptologist from Cambridge University, remarked on several occasions recently to the British media that the ancient Egyptians were poor astronomers who could not have known of Precession ("They did not have a precise grasp of astronomy" Daily Mail 16.11.2000 p. 16; "Great Builders; No clue about Astronomy: Their building expertise is beyond doubt", but Spence said her findings show they were poor astronomers. "This does show they did not have a sophisticated observation of astronomy." London Reuter 16.11.2000)
  8. The Orion Mystery, Heinemann 1994; Keeper of Genesis, Heinemann 1996

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