Did the Egyptians Use the Sun to Align the Pyramids?

The Egyptians aligned pyramids of the fourth dynasty, including the Great Pyramid of Khufu and its neighbor, Khafre, to cardinal points with amazing accuracy. The casing of the Great Pyramid was aligned to true north to within four minutes of arc, better than one fifteenth of one degree. For the most part, scholars who have written on the issue have concluded that the Egyptians must have used the stars to achieve such accuracy. Wrote one, “It is nearly impossible to attain such a high precision using solar methods”.  [1]

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Martin Isler, an American illustrator and sculptor, disagreed. Though not formally trained as an archaeologist, Isler had earned professional recognition for his studies on the methods the Egyptians had used to work and move stone. On the issue of pyramid alignments, Isler argued that the Egyptians could have used a technique known as the “Indian Circle Method,” thought to have been pioneered on the Indian subcontinent.

In a new paper entitled Did the Egyptians Use the Sun to Align the Pyramids? we put the Indian Circle method to the test. We find that, with one critical modification, the method works, and is capable of yielding results with sufficiently accuracy to account for the alignment of the pyramids’ casings.

The Egyptians of the Old Kingdom left us no pictorial or written records which cast any light on the methods they employed to align their great monuments. Therefore, we cannot say with any certainty that the Egyptians actually used the sun to align the casing of their pyramids with cardinal points. However, we can now definitely say that they could have done so, and needed only the tools they had at hand — wood, rope, copper and stone.

[1] Magli, Giulio, Architecture, Astronomy and Sacred Landscape in Ancient Egypt, New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

 About the author:  Glen Dash has been surveying in Egypt for more than ten years. He directs the Glen Dash Foundation for Archaeological Research.  You can read more about his work at http://www.DashFoundation.org.

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