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Alignments of
Ancient Structures

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Ancient Alignments - EXAMPLES


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Egyptian Pyramids

Location:  29° 59' N    31° 09' E

Precision of the Egyptian Pyramids

The precision with which the Pyramid of Khufu (the Great Pyramid) was executed is often the source of marvel and speculation. The orientation of the Great Pyramid in relationship to true north is such as to cause it to be declared the "most accurately oriented edifice on earth." That is to say, its four sides are directed to the four cardinal points of the compass with less than 3 minutes of one degree off true north [the Second Pyramid of Giza exhibits a consistent accuracy of alignment which is also extremely impressive: just 6 arc minutes from true north].
By comparison, the Paris Observatory is 6 minutes of one degree off true north.

The Great Pyramid's original dimensions (definitive 1925 Cole Survey):

Side Alignments: Corner Angles and (Errors): Side Lengths:
N: 02' 28" S of W
S: 01' 57" S of W
E: 05' 30" W of N
W: 02' 30" W of N
NW: 89d 59' 58" (-00' 02")
SW: 90d 00' 33" (+00' 33")
NE: 90d 03' 02" (+03' 02")
SE: 89d 56' 27" (-03' 33")
N: 230.26 meters
S: 230.45 meters
E: 230.39 meters
W: 230.36 meters

Interestingly, the Great Pyramid rests at latitude 29° 58' 51" N
(29.9808 degrees N), which is only 01' 09" (2,125 meters) south of exactly 30 degrees north latitude . Did the builders intend to build the Great Pyramid at 30 degrees north latitude, or is this curious fact merely a coincidence?

Pyramid of Khufu (aka the Great Pyramid)

The pyramid's base is level within 2.5 cm, with the only difference in the length of the sides being 4.4 cm. 



King North 32°36'08"
King South 45°00'00"
Queen North 39°07'28"
Queen South 39°36'28

Pyramid complex near Giza is precisely aligned to cardinal directions.

Pyramid of Khafre (Chephren)


How the pyramids' builders so precisely oriented each of their pyramids? The magnetic compass wasn't invented for another few thousand years (it wouldn't have helped them much since magnetic compasses usually don't point exactly north-south), and they'd have to wait for an additional thousand years for global positioning satellites. Also, it is unlikely that they used Polaris, the North Star; due to precession of earth's axis, Polaris was far from the true North at the time of pyramids building.

The only two likely (and precise) methods of finding meridian are:

  • Solar method ( "solar compass") and
  • Stellar method ("bisecting the angle formed by the two extreme positions
    of a star".)

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Teotihuacán, Mexico

Location:  19° 40' N   98° 52' W


The largest metropolis of the pre-Columbian New World, Teotihuacán numbered in its heyday perhaps as many as 200,000 inhabitants. It is meticulously laid out on a grid which is offset 15º.5 from the cardinal points. Thus, its main avenue, the "Street of the Dead," runs from 15º.5 east of north to 15º.5 west of south, while its most impressive structure, the Pyramid of the Sun, is directly oriented to a point 15º.5 north of west.


The ancient city of Teotihuacán is meticulously oriented to a grid
that was offset from the cardinal points by 15.5º


Several attempts had been made to explain the layout of Teotihuacán by means of astronomy:

  • The explanation that is given visitors to the site in the little local museum is that it defines the sun's setting position on the day that the zenithal sun passes over. For Teotihuacán, located at latitude 19º.5 N, that occurs on both May 18 and July 26. Unfortunately on both dates a sunset azimuth of 290º.7 is a full 5º.2 off of the observed alignment.

  • Archaeologist James Dow, in 1967, proposed that explanation of the layout of  Teotihuacan had to do with either the setting of the Pleiades or the rising of Sirius.

  • In 1973, astronomer Anthony Aveni settled on the hypothesis that the site had been oriented as it had because it marked the setting position of the Pleiades about the year A.D. 150, the date when he assumed the city had been laid out.  Unfortunately the Pleiades are so faint as they near the horizon that they can hardly be seen when they are setting anyway (Aveni, 1973).

    Another problem with arguments based on star positions is that even 50 years error in dating would generate 0º.5 in error due to the effects of precession.

  • A couple of years after Aveni's explanation had been advanced, two new solutions to Teotihuacán's orientation were put forward. One was the result of excavations at the site which revealed that beneath the Pyramid of the Sun lay a lava cave which opened to the northwest. Conclusion -- It had been the aperture of this cave which provided the alignment upon which the entire city was plotted with such care (Heyden, 1975).However, no archaeologist has ever explained how such a finely measured orientation could ever be derived from the jagged walls of a basaltic tube -- and they probably never will, because it can't really be done.

The most credible solution to the mystery of the orientation of Teotihuacán (and other Mesoamerican cities and archaeological sites) is provided by Dr. Vincent H. Malmström in his 1997 volume, "Cycles of the Sun, Mysteries of the Moon: The Calendar in Mesoamerican Civilization" published by the University of Texas Press. Here is a link to Chapter 5 of his book where he presents the main gist of his argument.

It is based on the Mesoamerican "celebration" of both the August 13th sunset and the solstices (which had been going on for well over a millennium before Teotihuacán was even founded).

According to Dr. Malmström orientation of the grid of Teotihuacan is based on the position at which the sun sets on August 13. Also, the siting of the Pyramid of the Moon at the far end of the avenue was likewise done with such care that a sight-line directly over the top of the Pyramid of the Sun marks the meridian, thus allowing the priests of the city to fix the times of noon and midnight with complete accuracy.

The sun set directly opposite the Pyramid of the Sun (the azimuth of the sunset  is 285º.5) on August 13 and April 30.Considering that the latitude of Teotihuacan is 19º. 5N, on both days the sun would be overhead at latitude 14º.8 North.
That happens to be the latitude of Izapa, in southernmost Mexico, and August 13 happens to be the date that the Maya believed the world began -- and here we find that date commemorated in the layout of the largest pre-Columbian city ever to be constructed in the New World, a thousand kilometers and a thousand years away from where it all began."

Source: Chapter 5.  The Olmec Dawning

Edzná, Mexico

Location: 19° 40' N   90° 15' W


The Maya seem to have founded their earliest major ceremonial center in the incipient "city" we now know as Edzná (in the Yucatán peninsula.)
Dating to about 150 B.C., Edzná was a bustling urban node for more than 20,000 persons at the peak of its existence in the early centuries of the Christian era.

Der Gestaltungsreichtum der Architektur der Maya zeigt sich auch an der „Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos” in Edzna auf der mexikanischen Halbinsel Yucatán.

At Edzná the commanding structure known as Cinco Pisos has a view out across the flat expanses of the Yucatán Peninsula for 20 - 30 km (12 - 20 mi). At the base of the stairway leading up its western front stands an ingenious gnomon consisting of a tapered shaft of stone surmounted by a stone disc whose diameter is the same as the base of the shaft. At noon on the days of the sun's zenithal passage, the entire shaft is darkened by the shadow of the disc above it.  

In order to calibrate the zenithal sun passage, the Maya priests had erected at the base of the Cinco Pisos pyramid in Edzná an absolutely ingenious gnomon.
(a gnomon can be any upright pillar or post; its function is to not cast a shadow on the days the sun is directly overhead.) The Edzná gnomon was a tapered shaft of stone about half a meter (20 in.) in height surmounted by a disk of stone which had the same diameter as the base of the shaft (see the photo above). Thus, on the days that the sun stood directly overhead, the disk at the top of the shaft would envelop the entire shaft in its own shadow, whereas on any other day a stripe of sunlight would fall across the shaft. Hence, there was no question as to what day would begin the new year.


The astronomical importance of Edzná may be gauged from these facts:

  1. only at its specific latitude could the beginning of the Maya new year be calibrated, here with the assistance of a remarkable gnomon;

  2. the "day the world began" was commemorated in the "gun-sight" orientation between the doorway of Cinco Pisos and the small pyramid across the plaza; and

  3. lunar cycles were measured by using the line of sight between Cinco Pisos and "La Vieja" on the northwestern horizon.

Although we cannot be certain when the Maya finally succeeded in working out the lunar eclipse cycle, it would seem that most of the basic "research" on the problem was carried out at Edzná. Located some 300 m (1000 ft) to the northwest of Cinco Pisos is the ruin of a lofty pyramid which Matheny has termed "La Vieja," or the "Old One."[...] Even in its dilapidated condition it is still high enough to intersect the horizon as seen from the top of Cinco Pisos; indeed, it is the only manmade construction which does so. This fact immediately prompted me [Dr. Vincent H. Malmström ] to measure its azimuth as seen from Edzná's commanding edifice, and the value I obtained was 300º. This means that the summit of the pyramid lies exactly 5º beyond the sun's northernmost setting position at the summer solstice. Because the moon's orbit is just a hair over 5º off that of the sun, it seems very likely that the Northwest Pyramid, or "La Vieja," had been erected as a horizon marker to commemorate the moon's northernmost stillstand. Not only is "La Vieja" an eloquent testimonial to the patience and accuracy of Maya "science," but because of its specialized function, it is also probably worthy of being designated as the oldest lunar observatory in the New World. (Indeed, if Matheny's dating of "La Vieja" is accurate, then it is apparent that the Maya had succeeded in measuring the interval between lunar stillstand maxima at least by A.D. 300.)

Source:  Calendar Reform and Eclipses-  The Place of Edzná



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