Author of the Month

Christopher Knight and Alan Butler, Authors of the Month for January 2010

Was our solar system designed to produce humans? (cont.)
By Christopher Knight and Alan Butler

The origin of the Megalithic Yard

The starting point of our joint research was simply to consider whether Alexander Thom had been right or wrong in his identification of a prehistoric unit he called the Megalithic Yard (MY). He was a professor of engineering at Oxford University who surveyed British and French Megalithic sites over the course of half a century until he died in 1985. Thom's approach was entirely different to that adopted by any archaeologist. Looking at the scale and obvious planning involved in megalithic sites Thom had been forced to conclude that the planners and builders must have been highly skilled engineers - just like himself. He therefore carefully analysed what remained of each Megalithic site and then tried to imagine what it was the builders had set out to achieve. Once he had a picture in his mind of what he thought their plan had been, he went away to create his own solution to the assumed problem. Having drawn up his own design he then returned to compare the site layout to his own blueprint. He deduced that the builders had all been working to a common set of units based his Megalithic Yard that was 2.722 +/- 0.002 feet (829.7 +/- 0.5 mm).

Thom was viewed as an unwelcome outsider by nearly all archaeologists and even today most believe, quite erroneously, that he has been proved largely wrong.

Our starting hypothesis was that, if the Megalithic Yard were real, then it is highly probable that its apparent accuracy can best be explained by it being derived from nature rather than an invented unit. If we could identify a natural origin, then Thom was probably right - if we couldn't, the debate will continue because it is impossible to prove a negative.

It did not take to long for us to realize that there is only one aspect of nature that delivers up an near perfect means of creating measures. And that is the revolving of the Earth on its axis - something it does every 86,164 seconds. This provides the potential for creating a unit of time, which can then be used to make units of length, weight and capacity - and potentially everything else from frequency to temperature.

The most obvious way to observe the turning of the Earth is to watch the stars, which appear to pass overhead once for each rotation. They also move across the sky in an annual rotation due to the Earth's orbit of the Sun. Megalithic astronomers could not help but notice that there where 366 of the daily star movements to one annual one.

To create a repeatable linear unit from the turning of the Earth the only tools one needs is a length of rope, a few poles, a ball of clay and a piece of string.

We knew that ancient peoples from all across time have liked to create patterns where the same values work at upwards and downwards. And we had good reason to believe that early had used a 366 day calendar and a 366 degree circle. These astronomers knew that there are 366 star rises (any star such as Sirius) over one circle of the Sun, so it was logical to divide horizon into 366 parts to measure the time in 1/366th part of a day.

They measured time in the same way that all clocks did until recent times - with a pendulum. A hand-held ball of clay on a string is a perfect instrument. When stationary it is a plumb line to gauge verticals and when swinging its beats measure time with great accuracy. The only factors that have any significant effect on the beat are the length of the pendulum from fulcrum to the centreline of the weight and the mass of the Earth (gravity). The energy put into the swing by the user has no effect - if the swing is made more vigorous it just swings faster in a wider arc but the rate of beat remains exactly the same.

A basic pendulum is a very accurate tool to measure time

Our first and most obvious assumption was that the Megalithic people had divided the horizon up into 366 equal parts and then used a pendulum length that beat 366 times.

A frame 1/366th of the horizon angled to time a star.

This proved to be spot on. A pendulum that beat 366 times during one 366th of the Earth's turn was, much to our joy and amazement, half a Megalithic Yard in length! A circle scribed by such a pendulum would have a diameter of one Megalithic Yard. Archie Roy, emeritus professor of astronomy at Glasgow University (and a friend of the late Alexander Thom) joined us to give a public demonstration of how the Megalithic Yard is a product of measured observational astronomy.

We later refined the timing method, having realised that the Megalithic astronomers had improved their own accuracy by using the movement of the planet Venus at certain times rather than a star. Gordon Freeman, a distinguished professor of chemical physics and a much-published amateur archaeologist specialising in the Megalithic structures, was impressed with this saying; "Tying the MY to Venus path arcsecond is a major discovery. I'm an admirer of Thom, but was neutral about the MY. Now I'm a convert".

Alexander Thom had been right all along because the chances of this technique producing a perfect fit for his unit could not be a coincidence. But there was more - much more to this system. Given that the builders of these Megalithic sites some 5,000 years ago used a 366-degree circle caused us to look at the Earth itself. Taking the polar circumference as the text book 40,000,000 metres we turned it into Megalithic units and found was this:

- Earth's polar circumference = 40,000,000 metres

- 1 Megalithic degree (1/366th) = 109290 metres

- 1 Megalithic minute of arc (1/60th) = 1822 metres

- 1 Megalithic second of arc (1/6th) = 303.6 metres

Now, 303.6 metres for a second of arc may look a little boring but it is 366 Megalithic Yards. The actual figure is 829.5 mm, which is nicely with Alexander Thom's definition of 829.7 +/- 0.5 mm.

We now call this beautifully geodetic unit from the 366 system a 'Thom' (Th) to differentiate it from the arguably very slightly less accurate Megalithic Yard.

The Megalithic second of arc appears to have been adopted by the Minoan culture of Create some 4,000 years ago. The palaces of Crete were carefully surveyed by Canadian archaeologist, J. W. Graham who identified a standard unit he called 'the Minoan foot', which was 30.36cm. It follows that 1,000 of these feet make precisely one Megalithic second of arc. A decimalised version of what was already an ancient measure.

Even earlier the Egyptian culture had adopted units driven by the same thinking. They took the Megalithic Yard and made it the circumference of a circle. The diameter of that circle was called a royal cubit and the hypotenuse of a square from that diameter was called a remen.

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