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How did the builders find out in the days of King Hoffo where the north is?

A new model more precisely determines the date of construction of the pyramids at Giza

Tamara Traubman

British Egyptologist Kate Spence from the University of Cambridge believes that an analysis of data she collected may solve two age-old mysteries: how did the ancient Egyptians manage to direct the pyramids at Giza with impressive precision towards the north, and yes, when exactly were these pyramids built?

The start date of the construction of the pyramids at Giza has never been determined with certainty, but it is generally known that they were built in the middle of the third millennium BC. In the absence of ancient writings describing the method of building the pyramids, the secret of construction is a fertile ground for debate. The answer to both questions, says Spence, is in the stars. According to her research, published in the scientific journal "Nature", the Egyptians directed the pyramids according to two bright stars, which were at the time in a straight line above each other and told them where the north was.

According to the model built by Spence, it is also possible to determine when each of the pyramids was built within an error range of a maximum of five years - much more accurate than the dates that can be reached with the existing methods that give a range of one hundred years.
Evan Gingerich of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics in Massachusetts says that Spence's words seemed highly improbable to him at first, "but upon closer examination," Gingerich wrote in a commentary accompanying the study, he became convinced that "Spence proposed a solution Smart for a mystery".

Spence used computer simulations to recreate the night sky during ancient Egypt, and discovered that around the middle of the third millennium BC, the time when the pyramids were built, there were two relatively bright stars in the sky: a "star", located in the small cart, and "Mizar" in the middle of the handle of the large cart . If in 2467 BC an imaginary line was drawn between Kochav and Mizar, it would point exactly to the north.

However, the Earth's axis is not fixed and moves slowly, so the accuracy of this method reached its peak in 2467 BC, and was only maintained for about one year. If Spence's explanation is correct, the degree of accuracy in the direction of pyramids built before or after this year should consistently decrease. And this is indeed what Spence found: the most precisely aimed pyramid is that of King Khofu, also known as the "Great Pyramid", which is at a deviation of only two tenths of a degree from true north. The builders who came after the time of King Khufu were not able to reproduce the accuracy, Spence explains, "and the deviations of earlier and later pyramids consistently move according to the degree of inclination of Kochav and Mizar in relation to the north."
{Appeared in Haaretz newspaper, 19/11/2000}

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