Other Dimensions: Pyramids and Circles

September 1, 2003
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The ancients can teach today’s engineer about measurement.

The Egyptian pyramids have long been spoken of as examples of human ingenuity and skill. This ancient era brought into being one of the first length standards, the cubit. Flatness of the massive stones used to build the great pyramid was said to be within 0.05 inch or better. And to this day, no one has successfully demonstrated how these huge building blocks were handled. Builders then knew about measurement and construction techniques we may never understand.

However, the Egyptians were not alone in their engineering and measurement skills. The ancient peoples who built stone circles and related constructions need to be recognized for their impressive feats. Several experts on these still-standing monuments maintain the circle builders were ahead of the Egyptians.

The most notable remnant from this era, now thought to be constructed in approximately 3100 B.C., is Stonehenge in England. It was made from massive stones that were hauled great distances. As with the pyramids of Egypt, modern scientists and engineers have not determined how the people of that time moved and positioned the huge stones, however there are many theories.

People with religious or other leanings, and new-age philosophers, all claim different reasons for building Stonehenge and the structures that predate it. I’ll leave the “why” to someone else and instead focus on the “what” these structures offer in terms of measurement and the accuracies involved.

Like the pyramids, Stonehenge shows great knowledge of astronomy and geometry, as well as length measurement. Experts indicate that hundreds of the stone circles take advantage of the same standards of length in their construction, ranging from 300 feet to several miles in diameter.

Alex Thom, professor emeritus of engineering at Oxford University in England, began a personal study of stone circles that lasted from the late 1940s to the mid-1960s. He hauled his surveying and other equipment to more than 100 sites in England and made some amazing, yet little known, discoveries.

Thom determined that the architects of the stone circles used a standard unit of length that was 2.72 feet long. A statistical study of more than 100 circles showed a deviation of only 0.003 feet, and their standard of length was within 0.1%. That’s not bad for builders who didn’t even have a tape measure. Their abilities in angular measurement were within a few minutes of a degree.

While measuring and mapping the alignment of various sights, Thom discovered an equilateral triangle that was exact in its measurement and angles; the sides were exactly 6 miles long. This is not something one easily accomplishes by using only some sticks and string.

Often referred to as sacred sites, and now treated as such by many, a large number of circles are in exact alignment from Cornwall to East Anglia—a considerable distance even by today’s standards. I’m not sure that modern global positioning systems could get these circles more accurately aligned.

Astronomy played a major role in this construction and alignment, but that’s a blanket statement at best. After all, this work was done a few thousand years before the telescope was invented.

Did these ancient engineers have “outside” help? Or, was it an “inside” job? Seers of old said that the mysteries of life were “within.” Maybe these ancient engineers tapped into a knowledge base of which we can only dream.

No, I don’t think aliens from outer space stopped in to give these ancient peoples a hand in the building of these structures, so you can save your e-mails.

Not too many people today, if any, could build such structures with the simple tools of that period and have them still intact thousands of years later.

If you think you can match the ancient engineers in their pyramid or circle endeavors, go for it. Unfortunately, it is unlikely that I, or anyone currently reading this column, will be around to see if your project is still standing for the test period. But do not despair, I’ll take your word for it when we meet in the next world.

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