Corrida in the

Hipparchus discovered precession around 127 BC in Rhodes. The war against the pirates, in which Pompey was to feature so prominently, took place 50 years later, and it was because of this war that Roman legions first came into contact with a religion the cult of Mithras that was to spread quickly throughout the empire in the following two centuries, only to collapse and be swept away in the end by Christianity. The cult of Mithras is a mystery religion mystery'' has here a technical meaning a...

The Attribution of the Giza Pyramids

Many people, myself included, have been taken in by a lot of twaddle spouted by tour guides while visiting an archaeological site or museum. Tour guides often pad out their spiel with spicy or gory details, adding folksy particulars or even making thing up as they go along, and it was ever thus. For example, Herodotus, the father of history,'' born in Halicarnassos in 485 BC, and author of the renowned Histories, visited Egypt, in the jolly company of priests, who recounted, among other...

The Gates of Heaven

Although the idea of chambers yet to be discovered in the Great Pyramid is tantalizing, it may also be the case that the doors at their ends only had a symbolic significance, a concrete representation of those gates that feature so prominently in the Pyramid Texts and have to be crossed by the soul of the deceased. Indeed, the fact that both shafts were terminated shows once again that the queen's chamber fulfilled a precise function within the machine'' that was to ensure the king's rebirth. A...

The Llama in the

The Pachacuti diagram appears to represent the interest of the Incas in any part of nature (rainbows, thunder, trees, celestial objects, and so on). The most enigmatic and unusual element of the drawing is the feline figure, which in the text is called with the quechua name chuqui chincay and with the Spanish term granizo. The puma, especially a female one, was often associated with the moon in the Incas' mythology there is, for instance, a legend regarding a puma-grandmother who gets killed...

People Who Never Existed and Rivers that No Longer Exist

Mesopotamia was not at all an island from where civilization radiated, as was believed before the scientific revolution brought by radiocarbon dating washed away the diffusionism (see Chapter 2). Actually, both in the west and the east of Mesopotamia other cultures bloomed together with the Mesopotamia civilizations, some almost completely unknown today, as was proved by the recent discoveries made in the Iranian site called Ajantep. As far back as the 1920s, archaeological discoveries started...

Orion Sirius and the Sacred Landscape in the Age of the Pyramids

Still other clues point to a unitary project at Giza. First, however, we have to widen our analysis to the global arrangement of the plateau, and beyond. As we have learned, interesting discoveries in the realm of archaeotopo-graphy are made by applying the methods of archaeoastronomy to landscape (natural or human-made) features when studying alignments. For instance, we have seen that monument builders in the past took great interest in sacred mountains, as in the case of the Incas or of the...

The Place of the Giants

The megalithic monuments of Malta that we are about to investigate are customarily called temples (Zammit 1929). However, there are no written sources to support this assumption, and all the evidence we have on the function of these structures is circumstantial, as we shall soon see. To follow custom, I, too, will use the word temple to refer to the monuments built on Malta between 3800 and 2500 BC. But we should not allow ourselves to be lulled into thinking that we know what purpose they...

Moving Large Stone Blocks in Ancient Times

In ancient times, the most colossal, bulkiest stone blocks imaginable were excavated, transported, carved, and then laid in place. The sight of these gigantic megaliths astounded visitors in the past, and even today one cannot but be dumbfounded by feats that seem to stretch human ability to, if not beyond, the limit. Up to now, however, insufficient research, and particularly fieldwork, has been carried out on the methods employed. The situation is further complicated by the fact that ancient...

The Geometrical Pyramids

If the widely accepted chronology is to be trusted, the first geometric stone pyramids were constructed at Dashour, immediately after the Meidum pyramid, by Sneferu. Abruptly, thus, around 2600 BC, Egyptian architects set about building with successive, horizontal courses of heavy blocks of stone. They erected five two at Dashour and three at Giza and began two others, one at Abu Roash and another at Zawyet el Arian, that were never completed. And then they simply stopped. All subsequent...

The Celestial Empire

The first traces of geographically stable cultures in today's China are located on the banks of the Yellow River and can be dated from about the year 2800 BC. The first imperial period, however, is that of the Xia (c. 2100-1600 BC) and Shang (c. 1600-1000 BC) dynasties, whose capitals were in the Valley of Henan. To this period belongs also the first evidence of a Chinese astronomy, such as, for example, the first recording ever of a solar eclipse. This information was discovered in a strange...

The Tree of the World

The Mayas also studied the movements of the stars, especially those of the Milky Way. The Milky Way was seen as a heavenly counterpart of the sacred tree, the ceiba, which was thus the tree of the world, a veritable path of the spirits that led to the gate of the Kingdom of the Dead. Guarding the gate was a monster (the term does not perhaps reflect how the Mayas perceived him), frequently depicted in sculptures and reliefs. The Milky Way and the ecliptic can both be considered as two maximum...

Stellar Clocks

As we have seen, there is an almost complete lack of scientific texts belonging to the pharaonic period. Therefore, even though Neugebauer and Parker's book is titled Egyptian Astronomical Texts, it is actually a collection of depictions and texts of astronomical content inserted in a religious context, specifically a funerary one images painted on the inside walls of wooden coffins of the Middle Kingdom, or frescoed on the walls of the tombs during the New Kingdom. In particular, spectacular...

Cart Ruts

The problem of how huge quantities of rocks were quarried, transported, dressed, and put in place in Malta and elsewhere has never been solved definitively (see Appendix 2). Yet at Ggantija and Tarxien, numerous balls of rock, the size of a football, can be seen. Some of these balls are scattered around, and others are in the foundations at the bases of blocks making up temples, and it is believed that they were used to facilitate the placing of the stones in position. Malta would appear to be...

References

Albrecht, K. (2001) Maltas Tempel Zwischen Religion und Astronomie, Naether-Verlag, Potsdam. Arnold, D. (1991) Building in Egypt Pharaonic Stone Masonry, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Arsuaga, J.L. (2004) The Neanderthal's Necklace, Basic Books, London. Ashmore, W. (1991) Site planning principles and concepts of directionality among the ancient Maya. Latin American Antiquity 2 199-226. Atkinson, R. (1966) Moonshine on Stonehenge. Antiquity 40 212-216. Aubourg, E. (1995) La date de conception...

Two and two makes four

Thus, along with the gigantic but mute monuments, crammed with things we understand little about, the most exciting of these being four shafts that point to the heavens, we have texts, written down immediately after the end of the period in which the monuments were erected, but which had undoubtedly been in existence prior to that time, full of references to the heavens and voyages to the stars. Holmes would say, what remains, is to realize that two and two makes four. However, it was not until...

Mirages from Heliopolis

Since I started thinking about the Giza diagonal'' facing Heliopolis, I had the impression that something was eluding me. For a long time I was unable to identify what was actually wrong however, until, one day, I stopped looking without seeing'' and then I understood (or at least, I think I did). The fourth-dynasty pyramids were built in places, such as Giza, that were visible from Heliopolis, so they would appear to have been built to be seen from Heliopolis. But that is not the case for the...

The Pachacuti Yamqui Diagram

It is likely that the recording system based on quipus was used also to keep tracks of scientific observations of the sky, just like with the Mayan codes. Evidence of that is recorded in the Poma de Ayala's chronicle, where an Inca astronomer is depicted with a fork-like observation instrument in one hand and a quipu in the other. Furthermore, we do have convincing evidence from the chronicles that astronomically oriented sight lines radiated from the town's main square, where a large pillar...

Poverty Point

Loa J o ' J60 *x> * < > Mtrms which are small geometric objects made of stone, of unknown use. Poverty Points architects built huge earthworks and artificial hills, or mounds, as did succeeding populations. In most cases the scope these mounds is not clear, as we shall see, although some of them, especially those having the form of barrows, were certainly used as tombs. The tradition of construction of huge earthworks is found throughout the history of Native Americans in Ohio, in the...

An Old Town on an Old Mountain

Site Pisac Schematic

It takes your breath away, and not for the rarefied oxygen at high altitudes. It takes your breath away because it is one of the most beautiful and enigmatic places on earth (Plate 23). We do not know what the Incas called it we only know that it lies between two paired peaks, and that a peak was called Machu Picchu, the old Picchu, in contrast with the other, Huanya Picchu, the young one. These names were reported in 1911 to the archaeologist Hiram Bingham by people living in the area, and he...

Giza Abu Roash and Zawiet el Arian

Great Pyramid Robot Shafts

The greatest and most sophisticated monuments that man has ever dared to build are the pyramids of Giza. To avoid needless complication, in this chapter I shall follow the commonly accepted chronology and pretend that the traditional pairings of these pyramids with their pharaohs, and the chronological sequence of the buildings, are all accurate. But I shall return to this subject in Chapters 18 and 19. According to the conventional chronology, then, Khufu, son and successor to Sneferu, moved...

Solar Orientations of Egyptian Temples

Many of the Egyptian temples had a millenary life, and were, through the centuries, modified and extended according to the will of the different pharaohs. The typical structure, made of a pylon, which is a large masonry facade, followed by a courtyard, a hall with columns, and at the end a chapel, became longer and longer through the years thanks to an added second pylon, a second hall, and sometimes extra chapels, obelisks, or accessories buildings. Even if many Egyptologists still doubt it, I...

The Horizon of Khufu

To investigate further the possible existence of an overall plan at Giza, we start with the observation we made with regard to the two great pyramids' orientation on the cardinal points. As we saw in the previous chapter, the pattern of orientation errors of the pyramids of Khufu and Khafre suggest very clearly that both monuments were built, or at least laid out, contemporaneously accordingly, this suggests that the project was originally conceived as a whole by Khufu, and then Khafre claimed...

The Pyramid Texts

It may be that the book should not end here, after all. Actually, one of the shafts points to a particular spot in the northern sky, and the other points to particular spot in the southern sky. Perhaps, it is relevant. The Giza pyramids are silent, giving away nothing that can be of use to us. However, there are pyramids from later dynasties in which the sepulchral chamber and antechamber are covered with hieroglyphics (in the pyramids from earlier dynasties these chambers were bare). These...

The Place Where the Sun Turns Back

The Tropic of Cancer is the northern parallel at which the sun passes to the zenith on one day only, the day of the summer solstice. If we consider, instead of the movement of the rising point of the sun on the eastern horizon throughout the year, the movement of an observer who watches the maximal height of the sun at midday during the year shifting each year further north, we can think of the tropic as a zenith station, a point at which the movement of the shadow projected by the post of the...

Place that Should Not Exist

The date on which the Americas were first populated by humans is still the subject of heated debate. Once it was not put any earlier than 12000 BC, but today the date is increasingly being pushed back in time. Whatever the truth, agriculture seems to have been firmly established in the valley of central Mexico around 5000 BC, and the production of pottery may be dated to around 2000 BC. Immediately afterward, around 1500 BC, civilization exploded with the Olmec culture (c. 1500-200 BC). The...

The Chacoans Main Hobby

The first archaeoastronomical investigations in Chaco Canyon took place in the 1970s (Williamson et al. 1975 1977) with the analysis of the large kiva (20 meters in diameter) known as Casa Rinconada. It is a building constructed with meticulous care for example, it has an axis of symmetry, defined by two opposing T-shaped accesses, directed precisely northward. Little windows have been carved into the inside wall their arrangement is so regular that a line joining two opposite windows passes...

The Stretching of the Cord

The orientation of a temple took place when the foundations were laid. This operation had an important symbolic meaning, and coincided with a precise ceremony described and represented in many temples, such as that of Hatshepsut and that of Dendera, for instance. The ceremony was called stretching of the cord, and it is extremely ancient, being quoted for the first time in the Palermo Stone, a list of the kings of the first five dynasties (Belmonte 2001). In a typical depiction of the ceremony,...

The Civilizations of the Andes

Figure 10.1 Map of Peru', with the sites cited in the text Figure 10.1 Map of Peru', with the sites cited in the text building today called Castillo, was built as a place for oracular pilgrimage, apparently similar to those of the classic world, and used for many centuries (Rick 2007). In the inner part of the temple, which has a cross-like plan, there is a thing generally known as the oracle It is a large monolith in the shape of a knife with a scary face carved on it, placed at the end of a...

Egypt of the Pharaohs

Any discussion about Egypt seems doomed to begin by quoting an extremely banal sentence of the historian Herodotus, who called Egypt the gift from the Nile. Actually, the Egypt that we know today is quite different from the swampy land with a tropical climate that was the typical habitat of that part of Africa until circa the year 4000 BC. It was under this climate, so different from the desert climate that will be the typical Egyptian one from the time of the pharaohs to the present, that the...

The Analogical Approach

The French anthropologist Andr Leroi-Gourhan (1970) warned against the risks of allowing oneself to be tempted by the retroactive ethnological interpretation of prehistoric peoples If we wish to let Paleolithic man speak, we must refrain from putting in his mouth an artificial jargon of Australian, Eskimo, and Bantu words pronounced with a European accent. When left to express himself, what he loses in loquacity he gains in intelligibility and, not surprisingly, in intelligence. Signs and...

The Time of the Flower Children

Figure 9.1 Map of the Maya area, with the main sites cited in the text Figure 9.1 Map of the Maya area, with the main sites cited in the text on, scattered about in little villages. Since then, the population has suffered many hardships, but has managed nevertheless to retain its own identity and traditions. Mayan city-states were highly complex constructs, politically speaking. They were autonomous, but linked by structured, mutual alliances, which often resulted in conflict between them...

The Egyptian Constellations

Senmut Tomb

Considering the way that the Egyptian astronomers have been treated by the academic world until recently, it is not surprising that the problem of the Egyptian constellations is still far from being solved. Two historical figures who are often the subject of disputable speculations are the female pharaoh Hatschepsut and her architect Semnut. Many historians believe that they had a romantic affair, but more importantly their names are linked for eternity because we owe to them one of the most...

Stone Forests

The first site we will visit together is Carnac, in Brittany. Here, sometime between 5000 and 7000 years ago, someone built a forest. The forest is made Figure 2.1 The alignments at Kermario Figure 2.1 The alignments at Kermario of giant stones, or menhirs, disposed in three main alignments Kermario 10 lines, 982 stones , Le Menec 11 lines, 1100 stones , and Kerlescan 13 lines, 540 stones . The megaliths were selected and arranged so as to create a perspectival effect, such that their...

Rings of Rock

Woodhenge Phase

On the Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England, stands the third megalithic site we will discuss in this book. Its most famous component is Stonehenge. But that's not all that's there. Describing Stonehenge is not difficult, but one must keep in mind that what we see today is the result of a long process of successive phases of construction and reconstruction that spans nearly a millennium. At first, around 3000 BC, Stonehenge was just a henge, that is, a big circular ditch about 2 meters deep...

An Enigmatic Scene

Lascaux Rappengl

One of the more curious characteristics at least for us today of Paleolithic art is the near-total absence of pictorial representations of men and women. The exceptions are precious few, and many of them are not much more than thoughtless doodles. The most interesting images depict creatures that are half-man and half-animal, such as the so-called bison-man of Trois Fr res and, particularly interesting for our purposes, the famous bird-man at Lascaux. The Lascaux cave undoubtedly has many...