Many ancient ruins demonstrate that the people who
constructed them had not only a special regard for celestial bodies
and mathematics, but also a spot-on accuracy. From Egypt to Mexico,
there is no doubt that past civilizations were involved in
incredibly complex space calculations, mathematics and architectural
endeavors. Although many historians and archaeologists debate
exactly what these civilizations did intentionally and what they did
by mere chance, here are a few examples of how ancient architecture
was created with mathematics and the cosmos in mind.
The above text is an inscription from the Temple of Horus at Edfu
the relief showing "Stretching the Cord" Ceremony.
A Great Circle drawn through the celestial poles divides the sky, marking out
a point on the celestial equator from which measurement can begin. This is what
is meant by 'Stretching the Cord', creating the first path across the trackless
The Mayan celebration of the establishment of creation is a description of
the process of surveying the world:
'Great is the recital, the history of the time when all the corners of the sky and earth were completed, and the quadrangulation, its measure, the four points, the measuring of the corners, the measuring of the lines, in heaven, in earth, at the four corners'
(From the Mayan text of The Popul Vuh)
A more recent translation makes this even clearer;
'The fourfold siding, fourfold cornering, measuring, fourfold staking, halving the cord, stretching the cord in the sky, on the earth, / the four sides, the four corners as it is said '
The pillars which support the sky are to be regarded as benchmarks, boundary
stones put down to enable an order to be imposed upon chaos, and a measure to be
made of the earth. However, it should be apparent after all this discussion of
the 'corners of the earth', that it is not the earth we walk about on that is of
concern here. This particular 'earth' is not only square but flat. Exactly what
this means will soon become clear. We should recall that it is the matter of
Time that is being measured in this surveying process. This is the process that
the prophet Enoch describes when, during his vision he asks his guide to explain
the actions of the angels they see:
'Wherefore have they taken those long ropes and gone forth? He said 'They are
gone forth to measure. These measures shall reveal all the secrets of the depths
of the earth' (Book of Enoch ch. LX v. 2-6)
The process these Angels were going forth to conduct must have been similar
to that ceremony which in Egypt was known as 'stretching the rope' and which
accompanied the commencement of any building project, thus relating its
construction to the original founding of the earth.
In the Old Testament Book of Job, God challenges Job to answer:
'Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? ..Who decided the
dimensions of it... or who stretched the measuring line across it? What supports
its pillars at their bases? (Jerusalem Bible tr.)'
This process of surveying the foundations of creation reappears in the verses
of the Rig Veda which tell how Varuna made fast the earth and heaven, and here
we are told specifically that he did so by using the sun as a measure, and as a
commentary on these verses points out, 'we must take this measure as a measuring
As if to emphasise the importance of this role of surveying, the Chinese
deities responsible for creation come equipped with compass and plumbline.
What all this means is that the 'bindings' which hold heaven and earth
together are to be taken also as plumblines which stretch out the measures of
creation across the circle of the stars. It is a particular state of order that
is being held fast.
Representations of the cosmos constructed in this way appear again and again,
often in unlikely places.
An elemental one is the rectilinear cross which
appears on the English flag ( the Royal Orb is a more complete image, including
as it does the spherical universe bounded by the cross). Another more detailed
example from China comes in the form of a series of mirrors known as the TVL
mirrors, because of their decorative patterns, described as follows:
'The four T's that stand around the square earth are the four cardinal
points. These lie at the extremities of the two cosmic lines or ropes which
cross the universe and hold it together; the T's comprise a vertical prop which
supports a horizontal beam; the four V's mark the four corners of heaven. The
four L's represent devices used by carpenters to set a straight line...thus they
symbolize the ends of the two cosmic lines as if they had been drawn with the
help of such an instrument.'
Bronze Mirror, 7th Century
For the Maya people today this kind of creation is still repeated as part of
ceremonies to restore the correct balance of the world. David Freidel describes
a ceremony he witnessed to bring to an end a prolonged drought. The officiant
(referred to as h-men, 'a do-er') constructed an altar known as a 'sky-tree'. A
table is overarched by four saplings bent to intersect above its centre. From
this intersection is hung a circular platform referred to as the 'the
'Sturdy vines of a kind called xtab ka'anil, 'the 'cords of the sky',
completed the arches to form the 'sky tree'. In the Yukatek language, the words
for 'sky' and the number 'four' are near homophones and frequently substitute
for each other in the ancient writing system'.
Related Links (this section):
The sites: Giza, Siwa, Tassili n'Ajjer, Paratoari, Ollantaytambo,
Machupicchu, Nazca, Easter Island, Aneityum Island, Preah Vihear,
Sukhothai, Pyay, Khajuraho, Mohenjo Daro, Persepolis, Ur, Petra
are shown clockwise from Giza on the equal azimuthal projection.
below. The projection is centered on the axis point in southeastern
Alaska. Distances to any location from the center of an equal
azimuthal projection are equally scaled. Since all of the sites on
the great circle alignment are equally distant from the axis point
at one quarter of the circumference of the earth, the alignment
forms a perfect circle halfway between the center and the outer edge
of the projection.
The locations of world's ancient sites on a global scale is
puzzling on its own. However, our discussion is focused on
astronomical alignments of these sites and their monuments.