Ancient Structures - Main Page
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
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
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
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
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
"Title 51 of the New Jersey Statutes" comprises 13 chapters
of law regulating the sale, transportation and licensing of various
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,
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
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
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;
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
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
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.
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
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,