Ever since Flinders Petrie undertook a theodolite survey on the Giza plateau in 1881 and drew attention to the extraordinary degree of precision with which the three colossal pyramids are oriented upon the four cardinal directions, there have been a great many suggestions as to how this was achieved and why it was of importance. Surprisingly, given the many astronomical hypotheses and speculations that have been offered in the intervening 130 years, there have been remarkably few attempts to reaffirm or improve on the basic survey data concerning the primary orientations. This paper presents the results of a week-long Total Station survey undertaken by the authors during December 2006 whose principal aim was to clarify the basic data concerning the orientation of each side of the three large pyramids and to determine, as accurately as possible, the orientations of as many as possible of the associated structures. The principal difference between this and all previous surveys is that it focuses upon measurements of sequences of points along multiple straight and relatively well preserved structural segments, with best-fit techniques being used to provide the best estimate of their orientation, as opposed to simple triangulation between directly identified or extrapolated corners. Our results suggest that there is only a very slight difference in orientation (c. 0.5 arc minutes) between the north-south axes of Khufu's and Khafre's pyramids, that the sides of Khafre's are more perfectly perpendicular than those of Khufu's, and that the east-west axis is closer to true cardinality in both cases. The broader context of associated structures suggests that the east-west orientation in relation to sunrise or (in one case) sunset may have been a, or even the, key factor in many cases.
Journal for the History of Astronomy
- Pub Date:
- August 2014
- Physics - History and Philosophy of Physics
- This paper, submitted to "Archaeoastronomy: The Journal of Astronomy in Culture" on 30 March 2012, has been accepted for publication and is due to appear in vol. 25 (2012). This version (v2) incorporates a Note added in Proof added on 15 March 2013. 48pp + 6 figures, some in parts (total 12 parts)