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The Great Pyramid: Measures of Time And the Precession of the Equinoxes
By Richard E. Ford

About the author: Richard E. Ford is an independent scholar who has done extensive research on the Great Pyramid. He has recently published a book on his findings, Lord of Eternity; Divine Order and the Great Pyramid, which can be ordered from iUniverse.com.

The world: it all runs like clockwork, doesn't it? But where did the clock come from and who decided on and defined the measures of time? The ancient Egyptians memorialized time in the Great Pyramid, by constructing it to very specific mathematical and geometric measurements, both internally and externally, and by their choice of location for it. It was the builders' ancestors who devised the measures of time and constructed the clocks with which to mark its passage. Their ancestors could track the seconds, minutes, and hours of the day. They knew the length of what we call the tropical year, which we use for our calendar, to within a matter of seconds. And, astoundingly, they knew the measure of what we call the Platonic Year or Great Year, which measures the amount of time that it takes for the equinoxes to precess through one complete cycle around the band of the ecliptic or zodiac: approximately 25,920 years. The proof lies in the Great Pyramid.

Wells-of-the-Sun

Many measures of time begin with the Sun and the ancient Egyptians were certainly very well versed in using its movements for this purpose. To observe and record the Sun's movements, the ancient Egyptians carved deep perpendicular shafts, rectangular in shape, in the ground in various locations throughout the land. Examples of these shafts can still be found, one at Saqqara under the Step Pyramid of Zoser, which was probably in use long before he built his pyramid over it, and one at the Zawyet el-Aryan Pyramid. All were most probably referred to as Wells-of-the-Sun. Exactly when these devices were placed in service and how many were constructed, will probably be lost to history forever. Given the emphasis that the Egyptians placed on the measurement of time, though, there must have been a number of them in regular and systematic use throughout the land for many, many years.

In operation they were fairly simple devices. As the Sun rises or sets in the sky, it would have reached ever deeper into or gradually retreated from the depths of these shafts. As it did so, the priests observing the phenomenon would record its maximum descent on each particular day. At the instant that this happens, the Sun reaches its maximum angular altitude above the horizon, along the meridian or longitude of the observer's location. The maximum depth of the Sun's reach down the shaft corresponds directly to its angular altitude above the horizon. This event is the meridian passage of the Sun and is known as Local Apparent Noon (LAN). Of note is the fact that the measure of the Sun's observed angular altitude at LAN corresponds directly with the observer's geographic latitude. Roughly speaking, the observer's latitude at LAN is the result of: (90°) - (observed altitude of the Sun) + (latitude of the Sun's apparent position at LAN). For example: if an observer is facing south and the Sun's altitude at LAN is observed at 50° on the day that the latitude of the Sun's apparent location is 20° North, then the latitude of the observer's position would be: (90°) - (50°) + (20° North) = 60° North. (Several correction factors are often applied to fine tune this calculation, but they are fairly inconsequential for our purposes.)

Measuring the Year of the Seasons

For all practical purposes, the Great Pyramid is located on the 30th parallel of latitude in the northern hemisphere. If the LAN were to be observed from the Pyramid's location on the day of the vernal equinox, when the Sun stands directly above the Earth's equator, its angular altitude at LAN would be 60° (90° - 60° + 0 = 30°N). It would also be 60° if LAN were observed at the Pyramid's corresponding latitude in the southern hemisphere, 30°S (90° - 60° + 0 = 30°S). Observing and recording the time of LAN on the day of the vernal equinox is of critical importance, because it is from that exact instant that the true tropical year begins. The year ends at the exact instant when LAN is observed at the next vernal equinox, when observed from the same meridian location. If we observe LAN on the day of the vernal equinox from the Great Pyramid, the sun's altitude would be 60° and it would reach that same exact altitude at LAN, exactly one tropical year later. In other words, when the Sun is observed to reach 60° altitude from the location of the Great Pyramid in the spring, the tropical year begins, and it ends when it reaches 60° altitude on the following vernal equinox. This phenomenon repeats itself every year and will continue to do so. The difference between successive LAN readings on the same meridian is exactly 365 days, 5 hours, 48 minutes, and 45.51 seconds, which is the length of the tropical or solar year.[1] LAN observation is very straightforward and measurements within a matter of seconds are easily achievable. It should be emphatically stated, though, that the location of the Great Pyramid, if LAN observations were made there at all, was only one of the many locations throughout Egypt where they were made. However, it is in its use as a symbol for this important measurement that we can appreciate the full significance of the Pyramid's relationship to it. If we sketch out an image of the instant of LAN on the vernal equinox from the Pyramid's location, this can readily be seen.

image

It's all a matter of geometry. The equilateral triangle (60°-60°-60°) that is formed at the vernal equinox between the Great Pyramid's location at 30° North and its corresponding location in the southern hemisphere at 30° South, with the implied angle at the Sun's apparent position above the equator, graphically defines the length of the tropical year-the year that we use for our calendar as it conforms to the seasons. The equilateral triangle is not closed at the top in the symbol because the Sun is in reality many millions of miles from this apparent location and its true angular relationship to 30°N and 30°S would be effectively zero. The importance of this symbol to the measurement of time is such that we would not be far off the mark in calling it an image of time itself, which will become ever more apparent in the following sections of this article. The equilateral triangle is used in many cultures as a symbol of heaven or perfection or unity, or all of these and more. Could its 60° angles also be the source for the number 60 that is used in the measure of seconds and minutes? It is tempting to think so. And one wonders if the true source for the Masonic symbol that appears on the back of the U.S. one dollar bill of the truncated pyramid with the shining eye above it could be this same image? (In Egypt, of course, the eye is the eye of Horus or the Sun.) The legends surrounding the symbol strongly suggest a connection with time: "He Approves our Beginning" and "New Order of the Ages." If the two images are connected, then the pyramid in the Masonic symbol holds a double meaning: it represent both the Great Pyramid as well as the equilateral triangle that forms at LAN on the vernal equinox, which is symbolic of the beginning of a new year. How profound!

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  1. American Heritage Science Dictionary (online); see solar time; Houghton Mifflin; 2002 [back to text]

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