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Astronomical
Alignments of
Ancient Structures

Mystic Places


Obelisks

        CONTENTS

  • Obelisks - Introduction

  • Obelisk as a "solar compass"

  • Modern Obelisks - Markers of True North

  • Raising Obelisks


Return to: Astronomical Alignments of Ancient Structures - Main Page


OBELISKS

Because of the rotation of the Earth, the sun appears to move across the sky, rising in the east and setting in the west. It is not safe to look at the sun, so a simple device that used a shadow was developed to safely observe the movement of the sun. The first sun dial was probably just a stick that was put into the ground.

Obelisks were markers of time and place, raised by late Egyptian pharaohs in commemoration of anniversaries, victories, and the favor bestowed on them by the gods.

Paris

 


Secrets of Lost Empires: Obelisk

Thirty-five hundred years ago, a glorious era dawned in ancient Egypt called the New Kingdom. With wealth pouring in from her conquests abroad, Egypt's builders and craftsmen achieved perfection in stone and gold. A line of pharaohs with memorable names ruled the land: Tutankhamun, Thutmoses, Amen- Hotep, and most illustrious of all, Ramses the Great. The pharaohs believed themselves to be God-Kings, and their greatest fear was to lose their place in the afterlife. In the quest for eternal life, the pharaoh had to insure the preservation of both his body and his name. The fear of being forgotten was so strong, that the pharaohs spent much of their lives creating memorials to themselves in stone. The most spectacular of these monuments were at Thebes, the heart of the New Kingdom. A thousand years earlier, the desire for immortality had led to the construction of the pyramids. But these mountains of stone were vulnerable to grave robbers. So the pharaohs of the New Kingdom hid their tombs in the isolated Valley of the Kings, below a pyramid- shaped hill. The passion for building on a gigantic scale was now directed to the creation of magnificent temples. The pyramid shape was not abandoned, just reduced in size and carved on top of a tall shaft of granite: the obelisk. These spires of stone represented rays of light. The pharaohs placed pairs of obelisks at the temple gate in praise of the sun god. Obelisks of a hundred feet were formed from a single piece of granite, one of the hardest stones to work. The base of the obelisk balances on top of a pedestal stone, supported by nothing more than its own weight

Two Obelisks in front of an Egyptian temple

Two (one currently missing) obelisks in front
of an Egyptian temple of Ramses

The following text shows surprising connection between ancient Egypt and modern United States.


Using an obelisk as a "solar compass"

A line corresponding with the true meridian of the place may be made by the solar method.

It turns out that highly precise alignment can be easily achieved with very simple methods. With help of the Sun, few sticks and two ropes of equal length would be all that was needed to find the cardinal points with high degree of accuracy.

It is very likely that the ancient builders oriented their monuments using the sun,
by means of wooden stakes and ropes. There are in fact references in ancient texts referring to "the shadow", the "stride of Ra" and "stretching the cord ceremony".

The local meridian can be located by observing the shortest shadow of a vertical obelisk. However much more accurate result can be obtained by bisection the angle created by lines pointing to the sunrise and sunset.

Another variation of this method (of finding the true meridian) would be based on using the shadow of an obelisk (instead of direct sighting of the rising and setting sun).

The sun rises and sets in equal but opposite angles to true north. Using a plumb line, a pole would have been set as vertically as possible. Then, few hours before noon, its shadow would be measured. This length then becomes the radius of a circle. As the sun rises higher, the shadow shrinks back from the line and then becomes longer in the afternoon. When it reaches the circle again it forms an angle with the morning's line. The bisection of the angle is true north.


Click on the image to enlarge


Modern Obelisks - Markers of True North

From Chapter (3) Standard Meridian Line; Land Descriptions,
TITLE 51 – MEMORANDUM SEPTEMBER 2, 2003
http://www.lawrev.state.nj.us/title51/title51M090203.pdf

"Title 51 of the New Jersey Statutes" comprises 13 chapters of law regulating the sale, transportation and licensing of various commodities.

Here we present relevant fragments from Chapter 3. Standard Meridian Line

Likewise appropriate for repeal is most of Chapter 3 entitled “Standard Meridian Line.”N.J.S.A. 51:3-1 provides: The board of chosen freeholders of each county shall erect, and properly in close and protect at public spots, adjacent to the courthouse of the county, two substantial pillars on the same meridian line and not less than one hundred feet apart. The board shall cause to be determined the accurate latitude and longitude of the first of said pillars, reckoning the longitude from the meridian at Washington, and shall have said latitude and longitude distinctly and legibly marked on said pillar in degrees, minutes, seconds and parts of a second. Upon the summit of the first pillar there shall be immovably placed a brass plate, indented with a line indicating the true meridian. There shall also be placed on said first pillar a hair sight, in such a manner that a straight line passing through the center thereof, extended to a distinctly visible needle point, which shall be maintained on the summit of the second pillar, will be in the line of true meridian running north and south. The board shall cause the said meridian line to be verified at any time, when required by order of any judge of the Superior Court. The statute enacted in 1877 is intended to measure true north. True north, the geographic position of the North Pole, differs from magnetic north, the magnet created by the earth’s iron core. [Geographic north is where the earth’s axis cuts the globe in two. This axis of rotation is tilted to the plane of the elliptic path of the earth around the sun. There also is a third north, the grid north, that is a line running parallel to the meridian of true north, that is a line of longitude converging on the North Pole.]

The legal significance of true north is to make accurate descriptions of properties in deeds and other documents. Magnetic north drifts. However, the statutory remedy does not reflect actual practice. An informal survey indicates that many counties have not erected pillars adjacent to the courthouse and surveyors do not rely upon pillars to make their measurements. Rather, surveyors rely upon measurements of latitude and longitude based on grid maps established by federal agencies.

Article 2 of Chapter 3 has codified this practice for purposes of land descriptions and official surveys. N.J.S.A. 51:3-7. Consequently, it is recommended that article 1 of Chapter 3 be recommended for repeal.

[51:3-1. Pillars showing true meridian; verification of meridian line

The board of chosen freeholders of each county shall erect, and properly in close and protect at public spots, adjacent to the courthouse of the county, two substantial pillars on the same meridian line and not less than one hundred feet apart. The board shall cause to be determined the accurate latitude and longitude of the first of said pillars, reckoning the longitude from the meridian at Washington, and shall have said latitude and longitude distinctly and legibly marked on said pillar in degrees, minutes, seconds and parts of a second. Upon the summit of the first pillar there shall be immovably placed a brass plate, indented with a line indicating the true meridian. There shall also be placed on said first pillar a hair sight, in such a manner that a straight line passing through the center thereof, extended to a distinctly visible needle point, which shall be maintained on the summit of the second pillar, will be in the line of the true meridian running north and south. The board shall cause the said meridian line to be verified at any time, when required by order of any judge of the Superior Court.

     Amended 1953,c.48,s.14; 1991,c.91,s.479.

51:3-2. Custody of pillars and inclosure; free access thereto

The said pillars and inclosure shall be subject to the custody of the county clerk. Any surveyor of lands, or civil engineer, residing in said county, or engaged in surveying therein, shall have free access thereto for the purpose of testing the variation of the compass.

51:3-3. Injuring pillars; misdemeanor

Any person who shall willfully erase, alter, deface, displace, destroy, carry away or otherwise injure any such pillar or inclosure, or any part thereof, shall be guilty of a misdemeanor. Upon conviction thereof, he shall for each offense be punished by a fine of not less than fifty dollars nor more than five hundred dollars, or by imprisonment in the state prison for not less than one nor more than three years, or both, at the discretion of the court.

51:3-4. Variation of compass; testing; certificate; filing; fees

Every surveyor engaged in surveying land within this state, shall test and note the actual variation of his compass from the true meridian line at least once in each year. He shall deposit a copy of his notes with the date and time of such test and a certificate embodying the variation with an affidavit verifying its correctness with the clerk of the county, in which he resides or has his office, to be recorded in a book provided for that purpose. For recording each certificate and affidavit, for copies or abstracts thereof, and for drawing the certificate and seal therefor, said clerk shall be allowed the legal fees allowed for similar services. The said fees shall be paid by the person who desires the service performed.51:3-5. Penalty for violation; recoveryEvery surveyor, who shall neglect or refuse to comply with the provisions of section 51:3-4 of this title, shall for each offense, be liable to a penalty of fifty dollars to be recovered with costs, by the board of chosen freeholders or by any person for its use and benefit in an action at law.

51:3-6. Salem and Cumberland counties

L.1869, c. 228, p. 566, entitled "Supplement to the act to establish a meridian line standard in the several counties of this state," approved March twenty-fourth, one thousand eight hundred and sixty-nine, saved from repeal. [This act requires surveyors in Salem and Cumberland counties twice each year to test compasses and note variations and to file verified certificates in a prescribed form, and thereafter to make and return surveys according to the true bearings instead of the magnetic bearings, and fixes the fees of the county clerk as follows: 25 cents for recording each certificate and affidavitappended, and 15 cents for taking the affidavit.]

 

Source: Chapter (3) Standard Meridian Line; Land Descriptions,
TITLE 51 – MEMORANDUM SEPTEMBER 2, 2003
http://www.lawrev.state.nj.us/title51/title51M090203.pdf


Raising Obelisks

How the ancient Egyptians created these mighty obelisks weighing four hundred tons is a question that has mystified archaeologists for years. Cecil B. de Mille tackled the problem in his 1959 epic, "The Ten Commandments." Although he puts on an impressive spectacle, it's not clear how his several- hundred- ton- obelisk bounces so obediently into position without breaking.
To explore the reality of obelisk raising, NOVA assembled a team with a variety of talents. Egyptologist, Mark Lehner...Stonemason, Roger Hopkins...Ancient technology buff, Martin Isler...and Aly el Gasab, Egypt's foremost specialist in the moving of heavy statues. Their plan is to test out theories of how ancient obelisks were made by raising one themselves.

Obelisks were markers of time and place, raised by late Egyptian pharaohs in commemoration of anniversaries, victories, and the favor bestowed on them by the gods. They seem outwardly as simple and apparent as their stark planes, but the quarrying, transport and raising of a megalith that weighs as much as 450 tons proves to be as complex as the babble of hieroglyphs that adorn the obelisks' faces.

For this experiment, Egyptologist Mark Lehner joined Massachusetts stonemason Roger Hopkins in search of ancient clues in the original quarries far up the Nile at Aswan. There they confronted one of history's great failures, the Unfinished Obelisk of Aswan, doomed by rock flaws to remain only partially sculpted out of the pink granite. From this failure the team tried to learn how the massive shafts of granite were cut from the rock, dragged to the Nile, loaded on barges and shipped down the river. With the help of ancient technology buff Martin Isler and Egyptian monument expert Ali el Gasab, the team ran straight into the engineering obstacles that stand in the way of raising a massive yet delicate needle of stone to upright stability.

Our team failed the first time. But they're going back to give it one more try. Does someone out there have the method that will help them succeed? On May 19, 1998 Mark Lehner responded to questions during a live event, and to additional questions e-mailed to this Web site the following day. Check out the archived questions and answers.

"Secrets of Lost Empires: Obelisk" , TV Broadcast May 19, 1998 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/obelisk/qanda/

Secrets of Lost Empires: Obelisk (see bottom of page for text navigation links)

 

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